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There Will Be No Heisman in Morgantown

November 30, 2012
dsp By JIM ELLIOTT , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

When the 78th Heisman Memorial Trophy is handed out Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square, there's a solid chance - like the first 77 - a player from West Virginia University's name will not be on it.

Unlike a lot of years, the Mountaineers do have a few players who deserve to be in the discussion. But they also have five losses.

While the award is not necessarily designated to go to the best player on the best team, history suggests voters don't generally consider a lot of the best players from average teams. Notre Dame's Paul Hornung remains the only Heisman winner to play for a losing team.

Among the leading candidates this season are redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and linebacker Manti Te'o of Notre Dame. The Irish are unbeaten and are set to play in the national title game, in part because of difference-making plays by Te'o. Manziel, who would be the first freshman to win it, led his team to a 10-victory season in the rugged SEC and is generally considered the front-runner as things wind down.

While Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith gained a lot of momentum earlier this season with an historic run, including a 650-plus yard effort against Baylor, as the team fell, so did his chances.

Today, his numbers compare favorably, if not better than, similar drop-back passing Heisman winners. He has completed 327 of 466 passes for 3,579 yards, 37 touchdowns and five interceptions.

He's also completed 70.2 percent of his throws, is averaging 327 yards per outing, is No. 3 in the nation in points responsible for per game (21.3), completions per game (29.7), No. 6 in passing yards per game and total offense yards per game (340.7). He's ninth nationally in passing efficiency (159.1).

''If you look at Geno's stats, they're as good as anybody in the conference,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ''Has it not been enough in specific games? Yes. But that happens to everybody across the country.''

The Mountaineers' Tavon Austin, a do-it-all type who does it all well, has played out of his mind the last two games, leaving many to wonder why he's not more involved in the discussion?

First, the credentials: West Virginia's career receptions (280) and yards (3,273 yards) is the nation's leader in catches per game (9.6) and is second to Kentucky's Antonio Andrews in all-purpose yards per outing (233.9). He's No. 8 in receiving yards per game (104.5), tied for No. 25 in punt returns (11.0), No. 25 in kickoff returns (26.4) and No. 26 in scoring (8.9).

On his resume is a 572-yard, all-purpose effort against Oklahoma that shattered a Big 12 record and is the second-best in NCAA history.

Austin moved into the backfield that night against the Sooners and rushed for a school-best 344 yards, solidifying his name as one of the top players in the FBS.

''Dynamic,'' is the word thrown around most about Austin because he can do everything - in a hurry.

''(Austin is) an unusual talent, and has unusual speed,'' Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. ''He's very, very dynamic. He is faster than most people on the field. Everyone has angles at him and he just outruns everyone. He's a pain in the butt that you always have to account for.''

But Austin's team has lost five games and had to wait until the next-to-last week of the season to become bowl eligible in an era where it's nearly impossible not to be. Austin has worked his way into the conversation, mainly because of this two-game outburst - he wasn't used this way, nor did he produce this way the first nine games of the season - but it's nearly impossible to ask voters who haven't seen him regularly to select a player for college football's highest individual honor from a team that has failed wildly to live up to expectations.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net