West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has not played a single game against a member of the Big 12, yet the senior quarterback enters his final season in the old gold and blue with a huge target on his back thanks to summer preseason predictions and early Heisman Trophy talk surrounding the Florida native.
Most recently RaiderPower.com's Weston Wilson came out with a before-the-season ranking of signal-callers in the Big 12 and, wouldn't you know it, Smith sat atop a list that includes Kansas State's Collin Klein, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Seth Doege of Texas Tech.
"With a legitimate shot at winning the Big 12 conference title as a senior and an outside shot at a national championship appearance, Smith's play will be vital to the Mountaineers success in 2012," explained Wilson.
If numbers mean anything-and they do-Smith's 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns are indeed eye-catching. But, throwing for a BCS and Orange Bowl record six touchdowns in WVU's 70-33 rout over a heavily-favored Clemson Tiger squad really must have sealed the deal in Wilson's computations.
"The senior quarterback showed that he will be an early Heisman Trophy candidate in 2012 last year as he led his team to an Orange Bowl rout of Clemson," continued Wilson. "Although Smith isn't a true dual threat quarterback, he has enough speed and agility to move out of the pocket and create plays downfield."
With the return of senior teammate Tavon Austin as well as former Miramar High School teammate Stedman Bailey, Smith will have enough weapons surrounding him that will not allow defenses the option of focusing just upon the Mountaineers' 214-pound quarterback.
Rounding out the site's top five are Klein, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 27 touchdowns to help Kansas State win 10 games last fall, Jones, Doege and TCU's Casey Pachall.
Jones appeared to be a sure-fire NFL quarterback following a sophomore campaign that witnessed him pass for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions. But, the Sooners' senior-to-be struggled a year ago, finishing with 15 interceptions.
As for Doege, all the senior did in 2011 was throw for 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Red Raiders while Pachall had Horned Frog fans saying Andy (Dalton) Who? as he led Texas Christian to an 11-win season.
In a conference that prides itself on producing and developing quarterbacks such as Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from Baylor. This year's crop of strong-armed quarterbacks appear ready to take on any defense in the country.
Coming in sixth on Wilson's list is Kansas University senior Dayne Crist, who threw for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010 for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, but then lost his starting job last season, followed by Baylor's Nick Florence-the heir apparent to Griffin III, the Iowa State duo of Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz, a quarterback battle between David Ash and Case McCoy at Texas and Oklahoma State's Wes Lunt.
If early season predictions like this one prove to be accurate then Mountaineer fans will have a lot to cheer about in 2012.
Contact Jim Butta at firstname.lastname@example.org