West Virginia Football: Geno Smith Is Top Heisman Trophy Candidate After Week 1

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIISeptember 4, 2012

Sep 1, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith (12) after defeating the Marshall Thundering Herd 69-34 at Milan Puskar Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: James Lang-US PRESSWIRE

I would like to go on record and respectfully disagree with the experts over at ESPN who tabbed West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith as the No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate after the conclusion of the first week of action in college football.

The senior from Miramar, Florida had the best week out of any offensive player in the country, but the Heisman standings don't quite reflect his performance. Geno finished second with the most second-place votes (eight), but just two first-place votes.

The one man ahead of Smith is another quarterback—Matt Barkley of USC.

The Trojan senior was widely heralded as the top contender for the trophy heading into the season, and he held that post after a pretty strong performance in Week 1.

USC cruised to an easy victory in its opener, overwhelming Hawaii in a dominant 49-10 victory. Barkley threw for 372 yards—nearly 50 more than Smith—and the two both recorded four passing touchdowns.

But the Trojans' advantages ended there.

Smith added a fifth touchdown after a miscommunication with his running back. He spun and darted through the middle of the Marshall defense, taking the broken play 28 yards to the end zone to raise his rushing total to 65 yards, giving him more total touchdowns and total yards than Barkley. 

Though Smith threw for only 323 yards, he did so in very impressive fashion, completing 32-of-36—good for the second-highest completion percentage in the country at 88.9 percent. Only Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville had a higher percentage (90.2), completing 19-of-21, though he didn't record a single touchdown.

While Smith was having the most accurate day of his career, Barkley left plenty of throws out on the field, recording 15 incompletions, nearly four times that of Smith.

The USC signal-caller finished nearly 30 percentage points behind Smith, completing slightly more than 60 percent of his passes.

Smith eclipsed Barkley statistically and recorded a 200.7 passer rating, all against a respectable Week 1 opponent. 

As a team, West Virginia outscored USC by 20 points in a 69-34 win over Marshall, and the Herd are far from an FCS slouch playing a game for a paycheck. Marshall is not only West Virginia's only in-state rival, but also a team that has won two bowl games in the last three years. 

WVU is without a doubt the most high-profile opponent on the Herd schedule, and you can bet they were geared up for the game. Despite that, Smith was still able to shine, which allowed everyone around him to shine as well.

Barkley outsourced most of his work to one receiver, Marquise Lee, who registered 197 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown reception. Lee, however, was the only Trojan receiver with more than six receptions or more than 50 yards.

Meanwhile, three Mountaineer receivers recorded seven or more receptions and four had 50 receiving yards or more. As prolific as Smith and Co. were through the air, it even allowed WVU to put forth one of the best games of the week on the ground.

As a side effect of head coach Dana Holgorsen's air raid offense, West Virginia finished at No. 92 in the nation, averaging 122.69 yards per game on the ground in 2011.

On Saturday, starting running back Shawne Alston eclipsed that total single-handedly.

The senior ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers as they totaled 331 yards on the ground—the fifth highest total in the country during Week 1. Alston, in conjunction with Smith, inside receiver Tavon Austin and No. 2 running back Andrew Buie, averaged more than 10 yards per carry against Marshall. 

As the Herd keyed in on Smith, Austin and the WVU passing game, huge spaces opened up for the clearly-improved WVU running game. 

Now that the Mountaineers have established that they can be very dangerous on the ground, life has become much more complicated for the 11 teams remaining on their schedule.

For his efforts, Smith was named Walter Camp national offensive player of the week, on top of being named offensive player of the week by the Big 12 Conference (via WVUSports.com).

Though he won't be aiming for honors like these, you can bet they'll keep coming throughout the year as a result of his performances—even though it will be nearly impossible for him to keep up his current trend of having more touchdowns than incompletions.

You may remember last year's Heisman winner starting the season on a similar tear. That's right—the Heisman campaign of Robert Griffin III began in a very comparable fashion to that of Smith.

The Baylor quarterback made headlines early last year when he had 13 touchdowns and just 12 incompletions after three games (via Stephen Douglas, TheBigLead.com).

At the end of that short article by Douglas, he finished by saying "Griffin's numbers might stay this awesome until the middle of October..."

Well, he was only half right.

Griffin's numbers didn't quite stay that awesome, but they did stay very awesome well past October—awesome enough to win the Heisman and catapult him to No. 2 in the NFL draft.

It may be a bit too early to start comparing Smith to Griffin, but after Week 1, he is certainly well on his way.