West Virginia Football: How Geno Smith Will Become Heisman Front-Runner
With many of last year's Heisman hopefuls moving on to the professional ranks—namely Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III—a new wave of names will fight to earn the recognition as college football’s most impressive player.
While the favorites to win may appear murky at this time of the year, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has the potential to separate himself as a Heisman front-runner by Week 9 of the 2013 season.
Last season, Smith exploded for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and only seven interceptions—all while maintaining a 65.8 percent completion percentage (via ESPN.com). As impressive as his 2011 stats are, Smith will have to do even more in 2012 if he wants to claim the Heisman Trophy as his own.
The competition will be stiff. Smith cannot allow his name to be buried beneath the Matt Barkleys and Montee Balls of college football. Much like Griffin did last season, Smith will have to burst onto the scene in 2012.
A Hot Start
At this time last year, Robert Griffin III was not on many of the early Heisman watch lists. Then he threw for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in the month of September. The immediate success skyrocketed Griffin’s name into the Heisman discussion.
Smith will need to have similar success early in the season. Even though he threw for less than 250 yards in last year’s season opener versus Marshall, Smith got off to a good start in 2011 with six touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games. However, in his next two games, Smith threw half as many touchdowns and added three interceptions.
If Smith wants to emerge as a Heisman front-runner, he needs to start off hot and remain hot for as long as possible. Luckily for Smith, West Virginia’s 2012 schedule lends itself to a hot start for the Mountaineer QB.
Take Advantage of the Schedule
Smith has the advantage of playing a backloaded schedule in his team’s first season as a part of the Big 12. West Virginia starts off the season against Marshall followed by Division I-AA James Madison. Smith should be able to take advantage of these two defenses and pad his stats.
In Week 3, Smith and the Mountaineers will take on Maryland—a matchup that West Virginia won by six points in 2011. Last year, Smith threw for one touchdown and one interception against the Terrapins. He’ll need to have a better performance against Maryland in 2012 if he wants to remain an early candidate for the Heisman.
Other than Baylor (which should be a completely different team without Griffin’s services in ’12) in Week 4, West Virginia does not play a team that finished in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll until Week 7 when it faces Kansas State. Also, six of the Mountaineers’ first nine games will be played on their home field.
Take Advantage of the Offensive Scheme
In 2011, Smith was a pivotal part of the Mountaineers’ passing attack, which ranked sixth best in college football. This season, Smith should benefit even more from playing in an offensive scheme that clearly favors the pass.
Last season, Smith had 526 passing attempts. He threw at least 40 passes in seven different games last year, including a 65-attempt performance in a losing effort versus LSU.
With all those attempts, Smith had a lot of opportunities to make plays, which he did more often than not. His 65.8 percent completion percentage resulted in 346 completions in his junior season—over 100 more completions than he had in his sophomore campaign.
The offensive game plan should be simple for the Mountaineers in 2012: air the ball out and hope Smith can win the game with his arm. If Smith can improve on last year’s nine-win season, he’ll be getting plenty of Heisman attention when December rolls around.
Play Big Against Big Competition
In 2010, Cam Newton won the Heisman trophy as he led his Auburn Tigers to a BCS National Championship. Since Newton was the best player on college football’s best team, there was no shortage of attention for the 2010 Heisman winner.
For players who are not on the best team in the country, they need to play up to the competition if they want to garner Heisman attention. With West Virginia being a long shot to win the 2012 BCS National Championship, Smith will have to be impressive in the Mountaineers’ biggest games.
Last year's Heisman winner, Griffin, had a huge 479-yard, four-touchdown, zero-interception performance against Oklahoma, granting Baylor it’s first ever victory over the Sooners. If Smith can have a similar performance on an equally large stage, he will turn some voters’ heads.
Smith will likely face his toughest competition in Week 9 when WVU takes on Oklahoma State. In 2011, the Cowboys finished 12-1 and third in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. While the loss of wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weedon assures that OSU will be a very different team in 2012, Smith can still benefit from having a big game against the Cowboys in Week 9.
If Smith can walk off the field a hero after facing Oklahoma State, he will easily be a Heisman front-runner.
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