As West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith continues to terrorize defenses each week, he is starting to enter some elite company. The Heisman Trophy appears to be his for the taking, barring a late season collapse.
If he keeps up his torrid pace, however, the question will not be whether Smith will walk away with the hardware, but if his season would be the greatest in college football history?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at who he is competing with in the annals of the sport.
With the way Smith is playing, the passing records will be rewritten after this season. Thanks in large part to his 24-0 TD/interception ratio, his 202.4 passer rating is well ahead of the record set by Russell Wilson last year (191.8).
His completion percentage of 81.4 is better than Colt McCoy’s benchmark of 76.7, and Smith is also on pace to break Colt Brennan’s single-season touchdown record. In 2006, the Hawaii quarterback threw 58 touchdown passes, but, through five games, Smith has already thrown 24, putting him on pace for 62.
Given the system that Smith plays in, it is highly unlikely he’ll break the record for passing yards in a season (5,833 by Texas Tech’s B.J. Symons)— he’s currently on pace for 5,190. But in terms of effectiveness, this is the finest season we have ever seen from a quarterback.
This is where the debate gets interesting. Most of the sport’s greatest seasons have come from running backs, dating from the days of Red Grange all the way to Reggie Bush.
In between there have been several incredible seasons by running backs (Greg Pruitt’s 9.4 yards per carry in 1971, Mike Rozier’s 2,148 yards in 1983, and Tony Dorsett’s 1,948-yard season in 1976, to name a few) but two seasons stand out above the rest.
In 1981, Marcus Allen gained 2,427 yards, and needed each one of them to beat out Herschel Walker in the Heisman voting. If Smith keeps up his level of play, his 2012 campaign will be on par with Allen, but he has a lot of work to do to match Barry Sanders’ season from 1988.
Despite playing second string for his first two years, Sanders exploded as a junior, rushing for 2,628 yards and scoring 37 touchdowns. Never has a player, even Smith, so dominated the landscape of college football.
Other players to consider while comparing Smith’s 2012 season:
Derrick Thomas – The Alabama senior recorded 27 sacks en route to the Butkus Award.
Michael Crabtree – A year before Texas Tech’s breakout season, Crabtree raised eyebrows as a freshman with 134 catches and 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Orlando Pace and Bryant McKinnie – Neither offensive lineman gave up a sack in their last two years of college.
Lee Roy Selmon – Between 1974 and 1975, when Oklahoma won back-to-back national championships, Selmon tallied 257 tackles and 28 sacks.