Harris: WVU's Smith for Heisman? Not so fast

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012

The low-key Heisman Trophy slogan for West Virginia senior quarterback Geno Smith — courtesy of coach Dana Holgorsen — should go something like this:

“Don't believe the hype. In Geno we trust.''

It makes sense. Holgorsen doesn't want to downplay Smith's Heisman chances, but he also doesn't want to detract from the rest of the team. Despite the desire to promote his star player, Holgorsen must consider the big picture.

This is the Mountaineers' first season in the Big 12 Conference. WVU was picked to finish second in the league by reporters who cover the league, so Smith isn't the only story in Morgantown.

“Ultimately, it's how many games you win and (Smith) going into his senior year,'' Holgorsen said. “Geno's going to be remembered for how many games you win.''

Which is why Holgorsen made the decision after meeting with members of WVU's sports communications staff not to go overboard with Smith's Heisman candidacy.

“Obviously we felt like Geno is definitely a Heisman Trophy candidate. But so is (WVU senior wide receiver) Tavon Austin. And so could some of our other players before it's all said and done,'' director of football communications Mike Montoro said. “Coach is a big proponent of team, not individual. He felt that if the team is successful, Geno will be right there when the year is over.''

So there will be no official Geno Smith for Heisman campaign at West Virginia. No weekly mailings with clever catch phrases or personalized gifts for Heisman voters. There are plans for a weekly conference call with members of the national media and plenty of raw data and video highlights detailing Smith's weekly accomplishments.

Besides, how much more info do you need to realize that Smith is one of the best quarterbacks in the country?

“They don't have to do as much as they used to,'' ESPN's Beano Cook, sectional representative for Heisman voters in the Mid-Atlantic region, said about West Virginia's somewhat casual approach toward promoting Smith. “Because of television, you see everybody now. I don't think Smith's the favorite going in, but he could win it. I think (USC's) Matt Barkley's the favorite. If the (Mountaineers) have a good year, and they're supposed to, Smith has a shot.''

As a junior, Smith passed for a school-record 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns. West Virginia went 10-3, won the Big East championship and routed Clemson, 70-33, in the Orange Bowl. Smith established Orange Bowl records for passing yards and total yards, and he was responsible for seven touchdowns in the blowout.

Barkley threw for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns last season, so there's not much to choose from between the quarterbacks, other than perception.

Holgorsen isn't worried about perception. His focus is winning every game and letting Smith's performance take care of itself.

“I don't want to put too much pressure on him. He puts enough pressure on himself, but he has improved everything,'' said Holgorsen, whose reputation as a quarterback guru won't hurt Smith's Heisman chances. “His footwork is better, his arm strength is better, his quickness is better, his release is better, his accuracy is better. He's really improved his game, and it shows out there.''

Holgorsen will talk more about Smith during the season, of course, but he won't go out of his way just so he can hear his own voice.

Truth be told, Smith doesn't want him to.

“I couldn't care less,'' Smith said. “I don't know where my Orange Bowl (MVP) trophy is. My parents have all my trophies. Personal awards are ego boosters, and I'm not an egotistical guy. I will endorse Tavon Austin (for the Heisman) because I think he's definitely the most electrifying player in the country with the ball in his hands.''

Modesty will get Smith nowhere in the Heisman race. But his numbers can take him anywhere.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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