With seven weeks still remaining in the 2012 college football regular season, the Heisman Trophy is absolutely Geno Smith’s to lose. The West Virginia quarterback has moved his Mountaineers into the fifth spot in the latest AP Top 25, behind three SEC teams and Oregon, and has done so by putting up video game-type statistics.
All he’s done through five WVU games is complete over 81% of his pass attempts while throwing for 24 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not one.
He threw for four touchdowns while knocking off the eleventh-ranked Longhorns last weekend in Austin and a week prior he had more touchdown passes than incompletions (45-51, 656 yards, 8 TD, 0 INT) while leading West Virginia to a 70-63 win over Baylor at home. His quarterback rating vs. the Bears was a mind-blowing 248.0.
But a new name has entered the fold as a legitimate Heisman contender, and he wears Scarlet and Gray.
Braxton Miller may be just a true sophomore, and his statistics through the air at this point in the season don’t come close to what Smith has posted, but the two quarterbacks are in completely different situations.
West Virginia is now a member of the pass-happy Big-XII. If you don’t put up video game numbers against Baylor’s defense, and Smith certainly did, then something has gone terribly awry with your offense.
Miller and the Buckeyes will spend their conference season slugging their way through Big Ten match-ups against teams that were built to run the clock, play good defense and master the field position game. The Michigan State game from just a week and a half ago is a perfect example.
The Spartans boast the 15th ranked scoring defense of the 124 FBS schools six weeks into the season. Ohio State went into East Lansing two Saturdays ago and gutted out a 17-16 win against the then-20th-ranked Spartans in a game that saw Miller complete 70% of his 23 pass attempts for 179 yards and tack on another 136 yards on the ground.
Meanwhile Smith was down in Morgantown hoisting up 51 passes against the 119th-ranked scoring defense in the FBS. Yes, only five teams are ranked lower than Baylor – Central Michigan, Tulane, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Marshall – all of which give up 40 or more points per contest.
The Heisman Trophy race is a numbers game and, as of late, favors the quarterback position (five of the last six winners were QB’s, minus Alabama RB Mark Ingram in 2009). Without a doubt Smith and Miller are one and two in the running and likely will be for the remainder of the season, all things remaining constant. But Smith is currently the front-runner, rightfully so, and Braxton is very likely playing for an invite to Geno’s ceremony.
If you look at each quarterback’s remaining schedule, Geno Smith and the Mountaineers face two more ranked opponents (#6 Kansas State; #13 Oklahoma), both at home in Morgantown, while Ohio State has only one currently ranked opponent remaining – #25 Michigan at home.
If you take the rankings of the scoring defenses for the seven remaining teams to face WVU this season – Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas– they average out to land at about 38th of the 124 FBS teams.
Ohio State on the other hand has just six opponents remaining (Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan) whose combined scoring defense lands about 50th. Braxton Miller is finding his groove offensively and has a great opportunity to continue building on his already Heisman-like numbers, but it simply won’t be enough as we sit and wait to see if Geno will actually throw an interception this season – or eight more touchdowns on any given Saturday.
What this Heisman chase is doing for Miller is setting him up perfectly to be the 2013 front-runner.
Braxton is just a true sophomore and is in the midst of transitioning himself into a new, fast-pace offense from the sluggish brand of Tresselball he came into Columbus with a year ago. While he’s picked it up quickly and shown his ability to dominate in stretches, he still has a long way to go – and that’s a good thing.
The play-makers around him haven’t yet transformed into the highlight reel crew that we got used to seeing out of Urban Meyer’s Florida teams of past, and his Harvin’esque running mate Jordan Hall has been out nearly the entire 2012 season this far, but Miller is figuring it out on his own, mostly with his feet.
Already in six games Braxton has surpassed the century mark on the ground four times, setting the Ohio State single-game rushing record for quarterbacks with 161 against Miami (OH) and breaking his own record last Saturday with 186 against Nebraska.
He’s the second leading rusher in the Big Ten (behind Le’Veon Bell – MSU) and is seventh in the nation on the ground behind six running backs, and that with the least amount of carries amongst the top nine. He’s had runs of 65, 37, 55 and 72 already in just six games.
“Dynamic” comes to mind, and Braxton hasn’t even fully developed into the passer most think he will ultimately become. The tools he has at his disposal are young and learning on the fly as well, but improving on a week-to-week basis. That’s a scary thought when you consider those same offensive pieces put up seven touchdowns on Saturday night versus Nebraska, none of which was scored by a senior.
On Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference, Meyer called Braxton, “one of the top five runners in America, maybe even higher.” Soon there after, he added, “Percy Harvin and Braxton Miller are the two best runners I’ve ever had.”
Just a couple of weeks ago on Meyer’s call-in show with 97.1 The Fan he was asked to compare Miller to former Gators quarterback and Heisman Trophy winning Tim Tebow. Meyer’s response? “Very similar guys,” Meyer said. “They’re both competitive human beings. They’re both very talented people. Braxton has more talent. Tim is probably more of a grinder.”
High praise from a coach with a track record such as Meyer’s.
Without having even played half of his scheduled games in 2012, West Virginia’s Geno Smith is the clear favorite for this year’s Heisman Trophy. If he continues on his current path, it’s a lock. But crazier things have happened in college football.
As recently as week one, USC quarterback Matt Barkley was ‘the lock’ for the 2012 Heisman. Just two weeks later, after a 20/41, 254 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT performance in a losing effort to Stanford, Barkley was nearly a Heisman afterthought. Today he is.
Plenty can happen between now and the ceremony in New York. Braxton Miller is, at a very minimum, setting himself up as an attendee for the ceremony as just a sophomore. That invitation alone will likely catapult him to the front-running position for 2013 before Vanderbilt ever gets to Columbus to kick off the season.
Will he win it in 2012? Likely not, but it’s not impossible. Is he guaranteed to bring it home in 2013? The Heisman race has no guarantees. But if you look at his current status, think about what’s left for Miller at Ohio State in terms of, potentially, two more seasons under Meyer, then visualizing Braxton standing on stage holding up the famed stiff arm trophy doesn’t seem very far-fetched.
Heisman Trophy or not – invitation or otherwise – Braxton Miller has plunged head first into the race. As it stands today, he’s playing for second. But in the meantime he’s bringing a hell of a lot of excitement to the 2012 Ohio State football team in a year that’s otherwise looked at as a twelve-game preseason in preparation for a title run in 2013.
Braxton is definitely Heisman-worthy already, whether Meyer wants to put his stamp on it yet or not (remember, Urban has a psychology degree). The question is, can he win it this year, or is he in prep-mode for 2013 as well?
One thing is for certain – if Geno Smith slips up, Braxton has positioned himself perfectly to be the second sophomore Heisman winner ever. The other? Former Urban Meyer quarterback Tim Tebow.
The race is on - we just may have to wait until next season to see the conclusion.