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West Virginia Football: Is Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?


Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 12 West Virginia. The Mountaineers are on the move from the Big East to the Big 12, and should own one of the league's top offenses this season. The defense is a work in progress, especially with a new scheme and the loss of a couple of key performers.

Is West Virginia's Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Smith looks like he’ll be the Big 12’s top quarterback, but the answer to that question probably depends on two factors: How will Smith adjust to a new set of defenses in his third year as a starter, and how will Landry Jones perform now that he has an entire offseason to prepare for life without receiver Ryan Broyles. In many statistical areas, Smith would have ranked third in the Big 12 last season – His 337.3 yards per game would have trailed only Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones, his 152.6 pass efficiency rating, 8.3 yards per pass attempt and 31 touchdown passes would have trailed only Weeden and Griffin. Of course, one argument would be Smith did that against the Big East and not the Big 12, though Smith also passed for 463 yards against LSU. But what’s most remarkable is Smith’s low interception rate. He threw only seven picks on 526 attempts. That’s 75.1 passes per interception. Robert Griffin was an extraordinarily efficient passer. He started his career with the record for most pass attempts without an interception. Through the first three games, he had more touchdown passes than incomplete passes. Griffin finished his Heisman-winning season with 67 passes per interception, Weeden finished at 43.4 and Jones at 37.5.  That kind of decision-making is tough to find. I’ll take Smith as the top Big 12 quarterback.

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Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It can be tough to compare the values of the signal callers in the Big 12 due to the differences in scheme. The Texas quarterback is asked to do something dramatically different than the starter at Kansas State, which is different from West Virginia. If Landry Jones and Collin Klein swapped places, I do not think either would be as effective as they are in their current systems. Casey Pachall is efficient and is a perfect fit for what Gary Patterson wants to do on offense at TCU. Wes Lunt clearly has the skillset Mike Gundy is looking for in Stillwater. And lost in the shuffle is a guy who threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in Lubbock last year, Seth Doege.

This is a tremendous league for quarterbacks. Pachall is an intriguing talent with size, efficiency and two more years to play and develop. Jones plays with the best supporting cast and has career numbers that would normally be Hall of Fame-esque if not for turnovers and a 7-8 road record. Klein is the least talented passer of the bunch but is easily the best leader in the conference and likely has the most athletic ability. He is a gritty, tough-nosed performer who wills his team to victory — what else do you want from a quarterback?

But when it comes to raw overall talent, production and winning, it's hard to argue with Smith. He has the strongest arm in the league and one of the best in the nation. He can make every throw in the playbook and has a conference and BCS bowl championship under his belt already. He is efficient (65.8%), doesn't turn the ball over (seven interceptions in 526 attempts) and produces big numbers in the passing game (4,385 yards, 31 TDs). Certainly, his system under Dana Holgorsen is pass-happy and quarterback friendly and can inflate the numbers, but so can every other system in the Big 12. If Smith can eliminate his one weird game per year — looking at you Syracuse — not only will he be the top quarterback in the Big 12, but could push for a conference championship and find himself drafted in the first round next April.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 has an interesting group of quarterbacks returning for the 2012 season. Proven options like Landry Jones at Oklahoma, TCU’s Casey Pachall and Kansas State’s Collin Klein are back, while the conference has up-and-comers like Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma State’s Wes Lunt ready to take control of their teams.

A case could be made that Klein, Jones or Pachall is the Big 12’s top quarterback, but my vote goes to Geno Smith. Transitioning to a new offense is never easy, but Smith was outstanding last season, throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores. He also torched Clemson for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 Orange Bowl victory. Even more impressive was Smith throwing just seven interceptions on 526 attempts, while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.

With another offseason to master Holgorsen’s scheme and the move to the offensive-minded Big 12, Smith should easily surpass last season’s totals. Helping Smith’s cause is a solid group of receivers, which includes likely All-Big 12 selections in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The offensive line struggled last season, but should be better with three starters returning and guard Josh Jenkins back in the lineup after missing all of 2011 with an injury.

The Big 12 is usually home to solid quarterback play and this season will be no different. Smith may have a few ups and downs as he adjusts to life in the Big 12, but he should be the Big 12’s best quarterback in 2012. 

Mark Ross
Don't get me wrong, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had an outstanding 2011 campaign, finishing 17th in the nation in passing efficiency with 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and other weapons at his disposal, there is no reason to think he won't put up similar, if not better, numbers in the Mountaineers' first season in the Big 12. However, I am still going to go with Oklahoma's Landry Jones as the conference's top quarterback.

For one, it's not like Jones was downright awful last season. He finished 33rd overall in passing efficiency with 4,463 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, numbers that he put up despite the fact that All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles missed four games. And while Jones' 2011 season would be considered a career year for just about any other quarterback, it wasn't even Landry's best. He threw for more yards (4,718), touchdowns (38) and had fewer interceptions (12) in 2010. It's this experience factor that puts Jones on top for me. He's produced at a high level consistently for three years, while Smith had his first breakout campaign last season.

Jones also is well familiar with the Big 12, while Smith will be facing all of these defenses, the likes of an Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, to name a few, for the first time. Jones will be going up against Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia for the first time in his career, and he will do so on their respective home turfs, but Smith has the steeper learning curve as far as this season goes. In the end, Smith may very well end up with better numbers, but for now, I will go with the Big 12 veteran Jones as the conference's top signal caller.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Geno Smith should get the nod as the top quarterback in West Virginia’s new league. The senior signal caller threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns against only seven interceptions last season, and elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will thrive in the pass-happy Big 12. Head coach and offensive guru Dana Holgorsen has a familiarity with the league from his time at Oklahoma State, and the WVU offense should continue prowess in its new conference.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is also a top candidate, but he did throw 15 picks last year and has struggled on the road in his career. Jones struggled late last year after the Sooners lost top wideout Ryan Broyles, and Blake Bell took many of the red zone snaps last year. Jones still has the experience and weapons around him to have a solid season, but I’ll go with West Virginia’s Smith to lead the Big 12’s signal callers in 2012.

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