The 2012 college football award season hasn't gone as well as West Virginia had envisioned, but a few Mountaineers still managed to earn some recognition from the Big 12 Conference coaches and the national media.
Before the season, the Mountaineers had hoped to at least see quarterback Geno Smith in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation—if not hear him deliver a speech on Saturday night. Then, as his team's season dropped off a cliff and out of sight of the national media, he fell out of the running.
Late in the season, after Smith was out of the picture, Tavon Austin had one of the best single-game performances in NCAA history against an elite Oklahoma defense. A performance WVU fans hoped would be enough for him to earn some Heisman recognition.
He even pulled out the infamous pose after a touchdown on Senior Day against Kansas. No. 1 was one of the few constants in West Virginia's tumultuous season, but athletes on 7-5 teams don't garner a whole lot of acclaim when it comes to the Heisman, so he was left out of the Heisman conversation as well.
Another one of the few consistent performers for WVU was wide receiver Stedman Bailey. With 23 receiving touchdowns, he was a shoo-in for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver, right? He had to be—after all, he matched the school's previous career record for receiving touchdowns in a single season.
Bailey was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff after catching seven more touchdowns than any other player in the nation to go with a total of 1,501 yards. However, he was beaten out for the award by USC sophomore Marqise Lee, who had 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns.
So after a swing and a miss for Smith and Austin on the Heisman, WVU was caught looking for a backwards "K" with Bailey and the Biletnikoff—for a 2012 award season strikeout.
The lesson in this? All that matters is the bottom line—in order to win, you have to win. Or at least be smack in the middle of the second-largest media market in the nation.
Market size aside, West Virginia didn't go home completely empty handed. The Mountaineers may not have nabbed any trophies, but I'm sure there are at least some fancy certificates in the mail.
Austin and Bailey were named first team All-Americans by CBS Sports—Bailey as a wide receiver and Austin as the nation's best all-purpose player. Austin was also named to the second team as a receiver, and I'm sure there will be more media outlets to honor these two prolific players before the award season is through.
WVU's versatile playmaker Austin was also named co-special teams player of the year by the Big 12, sharing the honor with Oklahoma State kicking star Quinn Sharp. Austin was also named to the All-Big 12 first team twice, as a receiver and a returner. Bailey, not surprisingly, also joined him and fellow Biletnikoff finalist, Baylor's Terrance Williams, on the first team as the conference's top three receivers.
Named to the Big 12 second team were Smith and center Joe Madsen. The honor is completely different for these two. It is great for Madsen, who was the anchor of the offensive line this season and didn't get much preseason recognition at all. For Smith, the second-team distinction is really just a consolation prize.
No defensive players for WVU were named to the first or second teams, but safety Karl Joseph did receive an honorable mention. Joseph led the team with 95 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. Given those individual statistics, he could have garnered a second-team honor, if it weren't for the overall struggles of the team's defense.
Regardless, it's a great start to his career in Morgantown and he should be able to build on what is a nice honor. Another nice honor went to receiver Ryan Nehlen, who was given an honorable mention for scholar-athlete of the year. Nehlen may not have had the most significant impact on the field, but he has always been loyal to the WVU program—which shouldn't go unnoticed.
To round out the awards, Austin also received an honorable mention for offensive player of the year. This is great for the Baltimore native, but also means that Smith didn't receive any sort of mention for the award.
That, in and of itself, isn't the end of the world, but it looks a lot worse considering the WVU signal-caller was named preseason Big 12 player of the year.
Finally, West Virginia missed out on the biggest award of all: the conference title. WVU was projected to be right in the race, picked No. 2 in the Big 12 before the season. However, it didn't play out that way, as WVU was out of the race by November.
This was a tough league to project, especially for newcomer West Virginia. However, new league or not, the Mountaineers' expectations weren't met.
Now, WVU has just once chance to salvage what it can from the season: a date with rival Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. It's no Fiesta, but it's all the Mountaineers have after an overall letdown in 2012.