West Virginia vs. Baylor: Nick Florence's Huge Game Makes QB Heisman Candidate

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst ISeptember 29, 2012

MORGANTOWN, WV - SEPTEMBER 29:  Nick Florence #11 of the Baylor Bears drops back to pass against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the game on September 29, 2012 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Nick Florence had a coming out party in Morgantown on Saturday, throwing for 581 yards and five touchdowns in his team's 70-63 loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers. In doing so, Waco, TX quietly entered the Heisman race for the second year in a row.

Lost in West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's record-breaking performance was a record on the other sideline, as Florence re-broke his university's all-time passing record. He set the mark as a sophomore with 432 yards, but was bested by Robert Griffin III last year, who put up 479 yards.

But Florence gets his passing record back from Griffin, with an inspired performance only low-lighted by a first quarter interception off the hands of Tevin Reese.

Already a candidate for the Campbell Award, which is the academic Heisman trophy, Florence went ahead and tried to put his name in the more prestigious award that shares the same name.

Florence was the lone highlight for the Bears, who couldn't stop anything Geno Smith and the Mountaineers did against them all afternoon. It was a true shootout in West Virginia's first game in the Big 12.

Smith had a game of his own, and solidified his place at the top of the Heisman race. His 656 yards passing and eight touchdown passes were all-time West Virginia records, and receiver Stedman Bailey had over 300 yards and five TDs.

Terrance Williams, Florence's go-to receiver all afternoon, also had himself a game with 17 receptions for 314 yards, both Baylor records. He recorded two of Florence's five touchdowns, too, showing scouts why he's considered a first round talent.

But Baylor, who has had trouble playing defense, even in the RG3 era, did so again on Saturday, giving up 70 points to the high-scoring Mountaineer offense.

The only reason this game wasn't a blowout is Florence, who carved up West Virginia's defense with nearly the same amount of precision as Smith, completing 29-of-47 passes. Florence and Smith are now 1-2 on the NCAA leaderboards in passing yards.

By comparison there are a ton of good candidates on the Heisman roster. DeAnthony Thomas, Le'Veon Bell, Matt Barkley and Braxton Miller all come to mind. But Florence has, at the very least, made a blip on the Heisman radar that can't be ignored, especially if he continues to lead the Bears' offense like this in the coming weeks.

The question many will ask is, "How does he compare to RG3?" Well, at this time in the season last year, the Bears were 3-1, and Griffin had completed 92-of-112 passes for 1308 yards and 18 touchdowns with one interception.

Florence's stats may surprise you. He's completed 100-of-157 for 1585 and 16 touchdowns to only five interceptions, while throwing in over 150 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown.

While the Heisman trophy seems out of reach with so much talent across the board, you can put Florence's stats up against any player in the country. This loss on the road to West Virginia hurts, but it's similar to the slip-up Baylor suffered against Kansas State last season.

As Baylor gets into the thicket of Big 12 play, it will likely take an 11-1 or 10-2 campaign to really get Florence's Heisman hopes to become a reality.

But with the potent offense that Baylor employs, it's hard to imagine them not having a chance to win almost every game they play from here on out. If the defense can find a way to at least create turnovers or force field goals, this Baylor team can survive in games they probably shouldn't win.

None of it would be possible without Florence, who has been given the impossible task of replacing a campus legend. No player in college football is RG3, but by the time the season is over, people will be saying there's only one Nick Florence, too.