Tonight, Geno Smith will lead the West Virginia Mountaineers against their former Big East rival Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. And while any bowl invite is a privilege, it certainly can’t be the final game Smith was hoping for when he was the Heisman front-runner as recently as the second week of October and the Mountaineers offense looked unstoppable. Five straight wins to start the season, including winning their first two inaugural Big 12 games, surely had hopes higher than a December bowl game. In retrospect, however, Smith can’t be that disappointed in his senior season; from an individual point-of-view at least.
Smith’s team might have only won seven games, but his performance at the quarterback position – 350/490 (71.4%) 4,004 yards, 8.2 YPA, 40 TDs, 6 INTs, 2 Rushing TDs – established him as a guaranteed first round draft pick and potentially the first player off the board. After all, what he did at West Virginia was extraordinary: 5th in FBS in passing efficiency, 6th in FBS in passing offense, and 7th in FBS in scoring offense. The credentials are there, and B.J. Kissel over at Arrowhead Pride made a very convincing case for Geno Smith last week; but I’m going to spend a little more time examining those credentials.
First, let’s take a look at Geno Smith’s career before his senior season (I consider it a mistake to ignore the body of work). In Smith’s sophomore season, he went 241/372 (64.8%) for 2,763 yards, a 7.4 YPA, with 24 TDs and 7 INTs. The Mountaineers finished 9-3 that season with a 6-1 record at home and a 3-2 record on the road. In his junior year, Smith completed 346/526 (65.8%) for 4,385 yards, an 8.3 YPA, 31 TDs and only 7 INTs. Smith also added two rushing TDs. The Mountaineers once again finished 9-3 with a 5-2 record at home and a 4-1 record on the road.
As you can see, Smith progressed from one year to the next just as you would want for a starting quarterback and an NFL prospect. Smith attempted 154 more passes, improved his completion percentage by one percent, improved his yards per attempt by nearly an entire yard, added 1,622 passing yards, and tacked on 7 TDs while keeping his ridiculously low 7 INT mark. Just based on this improvement, there would have been room on an NFL roster for Smith last year, but decided he had some unfinished business to prove.
While that unfinished business didn’t turn up in the win/loss column, no one can say he didn’t improve. Completing 71.4% of his passes, he sits just below Robert Griffin III’s 72.4% completion percentage in 2011 (won Heisman, 2nd overall pick) and just above Andrew Luck’s 71.3% completion percentage also in 2011 (runner-up in Heisman, 1st overall pick). Needless to say, that statistic alone puts Smith in good company. Smith’s TD to INT rate also puts him in that same group of names, and is actually better than Luck’s 37/10 rate or Griffin’s 37/6 rate.
What Luck or Griffin didn’t do, however, was lose five games in a row. No matter how good his stats are, this is a black eye on his draft stock. So let me take you into the season Smith had in detail and breakdown what he did in perspective to the schedule and the opponent.
Geno Smith’s season can almost be broken down into three parts: The first five games, the next five games, and the final two games. These three parts are divided by different winning streaks, and obviously don’t take into account the bowl game (I had to have the post up this morning; otherwise I would have waited until tomorrow to see how Smith performs in his final game as a Mountaineer).
First Five Games:
- vs Marshall, W 69-34
- vs James Madison, W 42-12
- vs Maryland, W 31-21
- vs #25 Baylor, W 70-63
- @ #11 Texas, W 48-45
The season began about as well as any Mountaineer fan could hope for: a win over in-state rival Marshall; victories against the first two Big 12 opponents they faced, both of which happened to be ranked in the top-25 (and what would be their only two wins over ranked opponents on the year); and a Heisman frontrunner in Geno Smith who during this five game stretch was 66/204 (81.4%) for 1,996 yards, a 9.7 YPA, with 24 TDs, 1 rushing TD, and no INTs. In fact, after West Virginia’s win over #11 Texas, the University started selling shirts that read on the back “Brand New Conference. Same Results.” Times were good in Morgantown.
Next Five Games:
- @ Texas Tech, L 49-14
- vs #4 Kansas State, L 55-14
- vs TCU, L 39-38 2OT
- @ Oklahoma State, L 55-34
- vs #12 Oklahoma, L 50-49
While West Virginia began its Big 12 birth with a bang, the true baptism came over the course of these five weeks: a blowout loss to an unranked Texas Tech, a heartbreaking double overtime loss at home against TCU, another blowout loss on the road against Oklahoma St, and finally another disappointing outcome against a ranked Oklahoma. The biggest loss for Geno Smith, however, has to be the home loss to Kansas State. Smith, still the Heisman frontrunner at the time of the game – Oct. 20 – was playing in primetime against a visiting Kansas State team and their own Heisman candidate. In the spotlight, Smith was 21/32 (66%) for only 143 yards, a 4.5 YPA, 1 TD and 2 INTs. Those were his first two interceptions of the year. Smith would finish the five game losing skid 139/231 (60.2%) for 1,365 yards, a 5.9 YPA, 11 TDs, 1 rushing TD, and 5 INTs; quite the drop-off from the first five games.
Final Two Games:
- @ Iowa State, W 31-24
- vs Kansas, W 59-10
If you could pick two Big 12 opponents to end a season on, I think these would be the two that you choose. Nevertheless, Smith and the Mountaineers were barely able to squeak by Iowa State, but when you’re on a five game losing streak, no win comes easy. Finally, Smith was able to beat up on Kansas during the final game to the rate of 23/24 passing (96%) for 407 yards, an insane 17.0 YPA, for 3 TDs and 1 INT. This performance allowed him to get to the round numbers of +4,000 yards passing and 40 TDs. The totals for those two games is 45/55 (82%) for 643 yards, 11.7 YPA, 5 TDs and 1 INT.
While going .500 against ranked opponents in the Big 12 isn’t bad at all, I want to go into a little more detail about the defenses Smith actually faced during his big season. After all, it was Smith who said “I don’t see it as myself against those defensive players, because they don’t come up with their game plan. I see it as myself against the defensive coordinator.”
In three games, Smith faced teams that didn’t have total defenses ranked in the top 100 in NCAA FBS rankings: Marshall (102nd), Baylor (119th), and Kansas (113th). Iowa State was close being 98th. In those four games, Smith was 122/142 (86%) for 1,622 yards, an 11.4 YPA, 17 TDs, 1 INT, and 1 rushing TD. Smith was 4-0 in these games.
Now that you’ve seen what he did against bad defenses, here’s how he did against good defenses. Smith faced two defenses ranked in the top 20 – Maryland (20th) and TCU (18th) – while facing another three that were in the top 44 – Texas Tech (39th), Kansas State (42nd), and Oklahoma (44th). In those five games, Smith was 133/220 (60.5%) for 1,339 yards, a 6.08 YPA, 12 TDs and 5 INTs. Smith was 1-4 in these games.
The other two games include a win over Texas and their 75th ranked defense and a loss at Oklahoma State which featured the 82nd total defense. Oh, and I guess I’ll throw in that game against FCS school James Madison. In those games, Smith was 95/128 (74.2%) for 1,043 yards, 8.15 YPA, 11 TDs, 1 rushing TD, and 0 INTs. He was 1-1 against real opponents.
As you can see, Smith ran all over bad defenses, but struggled mightily (if you can consider 5 INTs in 5 games) against good defenses. While this makes sense, you still want to see a potential #1 overall pick be able to have more success against those teams. After all, losing five straight games doesn’t happen very often for first round quarterbacks.
In fact, during the last ten years, no quarterback taken with the first pick in the draft has lost five straight games during their final college season. Only 3 of the 30 QBs taken in the first round over that time frame have lost five in a row and those were Josh Freeman, Jay Cutler and J.P. Losman, taken #17, #11 and #22 respectively.
Here’s some more statistics for QBs drafted in the first round: only 7 of those 30 QBs over the last ten drafts have had seven wins or fewer in their final college season. For the first quarterback off the board, those QBs average 10.3 wins in their final season. For QBs taken with the #1 pick, they average 11.4 wins in the final college season (including Sam Bradford’s junior year since he missed majority of senior year). And for first round QBs in general, the average wins for final college season are 9.6. Smith sits at 7 barring the result of tonight’s bowl game.
But hey, he can only control the offense, and the Mountaineers defense didn’t do him many favors this season. The defense was 116th in points allowed (38.1 per game) and is ranked 107th in Total Defense. This lack of execution by the defense put a lot of pressure on Smith to carry the team, which he did to the best of his ability. Plus, QB wins are a historically overrated stat as it is.
If the Chiefs make him their first round pick in April, I think they got a very good player with a lot of talent that could turn the franchise around. While my selection would be aimed at a different QB out west, I don’t think Smith would be the wrong pick whatsoever. I just wanted to put what he did in perspective to not only his opponents but to precedent.
I hope you enjoyed it and learned some stuff. Be sure to hit up the comment section below.