|Geno Smith could benefit from familiarity in two regions of Heisman voters. (US Presswire)|
We released the 2012 CBSSports.com Preseason Heisman Watch on Monday. Now it's time to go into further detail on the Heisman chances of each of the top 10 candidates.
|More on Heisman|
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Smith has shown remarkable improvement over the course of his career. As a freshman, he threw for 309 yards as the backup to Jarrett Brown. He took over the starting job as a sophomore and put up 2,763 yards with 24 touchdowns. Last year, his numbers exploded to 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns as head coach Dana Holgorsen's 'air-raid' offense was installed. With Smith at the helm, the Mountaineers won 10 games, with one loss being by three points and another coming at the hands of SEC champ LSU.
New challenges await as West Virginia moves to the Big 12. For Smith, that means a more prominent national profile, since he'll be going up against the likes of Texas, Oklahoma and TCU instead of Connecticut, South Florida and Syracuse.
Smith also has a unique advantage over every other candidate when it comes to the Heisman. As we explained a couple weeks ago, he's the first legitimate candidate in our memory who will be playing in one Heisman region (the SouthWest) while his school is located in another (the Mid-Atlantic). As we pointed out:
Smith's exploits this season will be well-known to writers in the Mid-Atlantic--they've been covering him for a couple seasons now and he'll cast a large shadow in that region despite playing in a league a thousand miles away.
Meanwhile, Smith is set to become very familiar to media in the Southwest as he tests his mettle against the likes of Texas and Oklahoma. He's off to a good start already--he was named the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year at the league's media day.
If Smith has the kind of season everyone expects and West Virginia makes a splash in the Big 12, it's no stretch to foresee him garnering strong Heisman support in the Southwest and the mid-Atlantic regions.
This advantage could be decisive in a close race, but what does Smith need to do to actually win the Heisman?
Producing a season that is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field is a good start. Because of the system in which he plays and the receivers at his disposal, he has a chance to do just that. A 4,500-yard, 40-plus touchdown senior year is very realistic, though 50 total touchdowns--a stat that almost always results in a Heisman--isn't out of the question.
Smith will also have several high profile games in which to display his Heisman worthiness. TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are definitely important opportunities, but an early October date with the Longhorns in Austin is perhaps his best chance to make a splash. If the Mountaineers get through the tough parts of their schedule mostly unscathed, Smith's Heisman campaign will benefit. Of course, winning the Big 12 title would go a long way toward sending him to New York, too.
Holgorsen-coached quarterbacks have played influential roles in the Heisman race of late. Graham Harrell of Texas Tech finished fifth in the 2008 vote (knocking off Colt McCoy and Texas along the way), while Case Keenum took seventh in 2011. Brandon Weeden didn't get many votes last year, but before OSU's stunning late season loss to Iowa State, he was a sure-fire bet to get to New York.
Smith has a better foundation upon which to mount a serious Heisman run than any of Holgorsen's previous pupils. If he keeps improving and the Mountaineers somehow run roughshod over their new conference, he'll be the talk of college football.
And maybe the toast of New York City in early December.
Read what Knile Davis has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what De'Anthony Thomas has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Clemson's Tajh Boyd has to do to win the Heisman here.