The signature player of the 2012 season will be…

In 2010 Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers came out of nowhere to steal headlines and win the national championship.

In 2011 Robert Griffin III went from being a nice play maker with some promise to a superstar dual-threat quarterback, Heisman trophy winner, and #2 pick in the NFL draft.

Within the next 48 hours, the college football season will kick off.  Names like Matt Barkley and Landry Jones are on everybody’s radar.  Emerging studs like Aaron Murray, Tyler Wilson, and AJ McCarron are popular footnotes.  But everyone loves an underdog story and, more than anything, we love to be stopped dead in our tracks with scene-stealing plays.

Submitted for your consideration as the defining player of 2012:  Geno Smith, SR Quarterback for the West Virginia Mountaineers.

When you think of West Virginia Quarterbacks (if you bother to think about them at all), you probably think of Pat White or Jarrett Brown and the dual-threat they posed.  Pat White ran for at least 900 yards in all four seasons as a starter.  In 2009, Jarrett Brown ran for 452.  Those were different spread-option systems though and while Geno Smith might have the athleticism to be an elite runner, he is most certainly committed to the pass.  In fact, Geno ran for -33 yards in 2011 most of which can be attributed to hanging tough in the pocket and taking sacks.  What was the result of that commitment to the aerial attack?

As a starting point for this conversation, consider my passing performance grades for 2011 NCAA QBs

  1. Robert Griffin III:  123.79  (2nd highest score all-time of 202 researched seasons)
  2. Russell Wilson:  122.96  (3rd highest score)
  3. Kellen Moore:  116.55  (10th)
  4. Andrew Luck:  114.54  (13th)
  5. Geno Smith:  108.96  (21st)

Time to rethink Geno as a passer?  I’d say so.  Anytime a player flirts with the top 10% of performers, I pay attention.  Take a look for yourself.

No, he’s not perfect, but keep in mind that this was game 4 of the season.  He’s  only gotten better in the 9 additional games since then.  I would have attached the video of his 6TD performance in the Orange bowl, but that was a little too obvious.

So what’s the rest of the puzzle?

2nd year head coach Dana Holgorsen is an interesting dude.  People are drawn to him.  If you google ‘Dana Holgorsen’ the top suggested suffixes for that search are his name plus twitter, drunk, offense, divorce, or salary.  Commentators love to refer to him as a gambler.  He is an offensive mastermind from the Mike Leach coaching tree.  He player a key role in Texas Tech’s hay day, he was behind Case Keenum’s ascent as a national darling, and he helped put Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden on the map at Oklahoma State.

And how about this: WVU just got a major boost in exposure with the move to the Big 12.  Geno Smith’s offensive ceiling was somewhat limited in the Big East because teams lacked the offensive firepower to trade blows with WVU.  In the Big 12 WVU will face better offenses and will be forced to put up more points to win games.

The last Big East player to win the Heisman was Gino Torretta in 1992.  Since then, six players from the Big 12 have won college football’s most prestigious award.

By all accounts, Smith has elevated all aspects of his game in year 2 of the Holgorsen era.  Should he improve his play over the outstanding 2011 campaign, we won’t only be talking about a Heisman trophy, but we will be talking about him as a possible #1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.