MORGANTOWN - If you don't believe your eyes when they tell you West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen is light years ahead of the game when it comes to passing offense, check out the latest NCAA football statistics.
There's proof there.
The top three passers in college football in terms of yards per game thus far this season are: 1. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma St. (398) 2. Case Keenum, Houston (383.5), and 3. Geno Smith, West Virginia (367.75).
Weeden and Keenum are the quarterbacks at the two schools where Holgorsen previously coached, and they're all working on principles taught to them by WVU's 33rd head coach.
Frankly, it looks like he can turn just about anyone into a star quarterback in a few weeks.
We all know Smith's story. He was a four-star quarterback prospect out of Florida, who had at least medium interest from the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Florida State and Clemson. He had the look of a star from Day 1, and even though he was peppered with questions soon after Holgorsen's name was linked to WVU last December and he declined to answer any of them, you knew right then and there he was salivating to play in a Holgorsen offense.
Keenum wasn't supposed to be this good, though. He was a two-star recruit out of the Houston area whose only offer was from Houston, though Baylor was said to be interested, too.
Holgorsen coached Keenum for two years, during which Keenum threw for a combined 10,691 yards and 88 touchdowns and led the nation in total offense both years. This might help explain why Holgorsen was so hot on backup QB Paul Millard, a three-star recruit who wasn't hot on the radar of many schools but had ridiculous passing numbers in high school in Flower Mound, Texas - 4 hours from Houston. They raise 'em to be good QBs down there.
Weeden's story is much different. The Scouts and Yahoo!s of the world didn't even bother ranking him when he was coming out of high school because they were sure his future was in baseball. And it was. The New York Yankees drafted Weeden in the second round of the 2002 first-year player draft. (Does anybody draft more future college quarterbacks than the Yankees?)
Anyway, Weeden, a right-handed pitcher, played baseball until 2006, never reaching the majors, or even Class AA, after sporting a 19-26 record and an ERA of 5.02.
He wound up at Oklahoma State in 2007 and redshirted that year and played in just one game the next. His redshirt sophomore season, he completed 15 of 24 passes for 248 yards, then found out the Cowboys had hired Holgorsen as offensive coordinator.
Despite not having played any significant football in six years, Weeden threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns in his one season under Holgorsen's watch. His top receiver, Justin Blackmon, won the Biletnikoff Award. He's off to a great start this year with more passing yards than anyone on the planet, even as his 28th birthday looms in two weeks.
All three players own school records for pass attempts and completions in a game, and they'd all three have their school's single-game yardage record if David Klingler hadn't thrown for 716 against Arizona State in 1990. As it is, Keenum's on a very real pace to become the all-time college football leader in career passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense.
(Both Smith and Weeden set their records last Saturday).
Weeden and Keenum were listed in an SI.com article that came out in February about two-star (or lower) players on their given signing day that figure to make an impact this season. They've got Holgs to thank for that.
You can get two-star quarterbacks just about anywhere, but Holgorsen's rising reputation as an offensive mastermind, combined with the results you see from ordinary prospects in his system, might mean he'll never have to look that low again.
The top guys might want to go to West Virginia and sling it around. Like Geno, they might bring their receivers with them.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org