By Cam Huffman
Following West Virginia’s 55-14 loss to Kansas State on Saturday, everybody, it seemed, officially declared Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith’s Heisman campaign as dead.
I readily admit that I was one of the guilty parties. After seeing KSU’s Collin Klein outshine Smith, who struggled for the second straight game, I just couldn’t see any way that the Miramar High School (Fla.) product could end the season with the hardware, especially considering that Klein is now the frontrunner.
But as I’ve looked a little closer over the past few days, I’ve come to realize that Smith could still have a realistic chance.
Early in the year, it was popular to compare Smith to Robert Griffin III — the Baylor quarterback, and now Washington Redskin, who won the Heisman in 2011. The similarities were obvious. Smith and Griffin played in the same conference and in similar offenses, and their head-turning passing numbers were similar.
Everywhere you looked — SportsCenter, Heisman websites, national newspapers — there were graphics comparing the two, with Smith actually ahead of the pace set by RG3.
But after WVU’s recent struggles, those charts have suddenly disappeared. So thinking about the Heisman race Monday, I decided to look for myself.
After seven games in 2011, Griffin’s Baylor Bears were 4-3 and, ironically, coming off of two blowout losses — a 55-28 setback against Texas A&M and a 59-24 defeat to No. 3 Oklahoma State. Griffin, who started all of those games, had thrown for 2,375 yards. He’d tossed 23 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Compare those numbers to Smith’s at this point. His team’s record, 5-2, is better, even after coming off a pair of blowout losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. His passing yardage, 2,414 is slightly above RG3’s, as are his passing touchdowns, 26. His two interceptions, after breaking an NCAA record with 273 straight passes without a pick, are half of what Griffin had through seven games in 2011.
When you look at the numbers, it’s clear the race is far from over.
But Smith obviously has a lot of work to do. Through the final five regular season games of 2011, Griffin led his team to a perfect 5-0 record, including wins over No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 24 Texas. He threw for 1,918 yards over that stretch, including 13 touchdowns compared to two interceptions. Heisman voters tend to remember recent history the most, and RG3 made sure he wasn’t forgotten.
The opportunity is there for Smith to do the same. Like Baylor a year ago, WVU still has Oklahoma left on the schedule in Morgantown on Nov. 17, a chance for Smith to shine against a marquee opponent in a game that’s sure to draw plenty of national attention. He’ll also face Iowa State and Kansas — the Big 12’s sixth and seventh rated defenses, respectively — with a chance to put up big numbers.
The door is still cracked for Smith. But he’ll have to swing it open and come crashing through it, just as RG3 did a year ago, to claim the prize. WVU is going to have to get hot, and Smith will have to put up numbers that make voters forget about the last two weeks.
If he’s able to do that, he’ll deserve the hardware. If not, it was never meant to be.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.