There's a new frontrunner in town now, and his name is Geno Smith.
But does he deserve it?
The West Virginia quarterback started the year as a distant No. 5 on my preseason Heisman watch list but as the season progressed, Smith's success--combined with others' failures--had him ranked No. 2 in my eyes coming into Week 3. There wasn't a lot of daylight between Barkley and Smith, either.
One by one, my preseason Heisman candidates have fallen, and Week 3 was Barkley's turn. USC's loss is less significant than Barkley's stat line: 20 of 41 for 254 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He completed less than 50 percent of his throws, and the Trojans were shut out for the final 41 minutes, 42 seconds of the game.
Meanwhile, up in East Lansing, Mich., my other top-3 Heisman candidate, running back Le'Veon Bell, was having problems of his own. His Michigan State Spartans were stomped by Notre Dame 20-3, and Bell only wound up with 77 rushing yards on 19 carries, adding 20 receiving yards on four receptions.
That just leaves Smith.
Smith opened the season by helping his Mountaineers bash cross-state rival Marshall 69-34, and, in the process, the quarterback completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for an additional 65 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
After a bye week, West Virginia came back and slaughtered FCS opponent James Madison 42-12, in a game that was over after the first quarter. Smith was nearly perfect again: 34 of 39 for 411 yards and five touchdowns, plus two carries for 18 rushing yards.
These are some pretty gaudy combined numbers: 66 of 75 (88 percent completion rate), 734 passing yards, 10 total touchdowns, and no turnovers in two games. Under normal circumstances, I'd be impressed.
My hesitation to just hand the Heisman Trophy over to Smith right now, however--aside from the fact that there are still a whole bunch of games left to play--is that he and West Virginia are pounding creampuffs at home.
It doesn't get much more difficult for Smith this week, with Maryland coming to town. These are the same Terrapins who were nearly shutout by winless FCS opponent William & Mary before scoring late in the fourth quarter and escaping 7-6. West Virginia ought to make turtle soup out of the visitors on Sept. 22, and any gaudy numbers put up by Smith will still be met with skepticism.
Don't get me wrong: West Virginia doesn't have to go undefeated this year for Smith to win the Heisman Trophy. Last season, Baylor lost three games--including two blowout losses--but Robert Griffin III still brought home the hardware.
What Smith must do, however, is perform well against stiff competition. He simply hasn't seen any yet, and he may not see any until Sept. 29 when WVU hosts Griffin's alma mater. Even if Baylor (2-0) turns out to be a fraud, Smith will certainly be challenged on Oct. 6 when he travels to take on the Texas Longhorns in Austin.
If Smith performs at a high level against Baylor and Texas then I'll start feeling more comfortable envisioning him holding up the Heisman Trophy. At this point, though, I'm left feeling like Smith simply hasn't lost it more than I feel like he has earned it.
If he folds under the pressure of real competition the way Barkley and Bell both did, we'll be discussing a new Heisman frontrunner next week.
- American Football
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- West Virginia