By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
August 01, 2012 03:35 PM
|West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith gets fitted for his helmet Wednesday afternoon at the Milan Puskar Center. The Mountaineers officially begin fall practice on Thursday inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
If the last four NFL drafts are any indication, then the Big 12 has definitely become the top quarterback conference in the country. The Big 12 has had nine quarterbacks drafted in the last four years, including three - Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weedon - taken in the first round last spring.
This year, the Big 12 has five guys – Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Texas Tech’s Seth Doege, West Virginia’s Geno Smith
and TCU’s Casey Pachall – on this year’s Davey O’Brien Watch List.
Jones is the league’s best pro prospect, Doege is the top returning passer and Reid is perhaps the most dynamic quarterback in the country, yet it was Smith who garnered the most votes for preseason Big 12 player of the year honors.
“I am definitely honored to be amongst those guys and to represent our program in this conference the best that I can,” said Smith of being picked over the others. “But the only thing I’m worried about is winning games.”
Veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has been a first-hand witness to the outstanding quarterback play in the Big 12 through the years and is noticeably impressed.
“It’s been my experience, particularly since coming back, that the league has evolved to a certain degree to be able to spread the field and throw the ball around,” he said during last week’s Big 12 media day. “And you’ve got quality people doing it.”
“I’ve been fortunate to be at a lot of those games and coach a lot of those quarterbacks that existed,” added West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, a former Texas Tech assistant.
Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville came from the SEC where the players get their noses bloodied before they even hit the field. In the Big 12, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic.
“You’re going to give up points in this league,” he said. “This is a points league. I mean we scored close to 40 points a game last year and won five games.”
When Holgorsen constructed his new defensive staff at WVU, he obviously had the Big 12 in mind.
“I just hired some guys that understand what it’s like, and then you’ve got to get that message across to your players,” he said. “You’re going to score points. You’re going to give up big plays. It doesn’t mean the game is over. You’ve just got to keep playing defensively, and I think we’ve got some guys who understand that.”
West Virginia and TCU are expected to step into the Big 12 and be competitive right away because both have talented, experienced quarterbacks.
Pachall has made Horned Frog rooters completely forget about Andy Dalton, Pachall breaking Dalton’s school record for completions, completion percentage and passing yards in 2011. Four times Pachall led TCU from fourth-quarter deficits, including twice when the Frogs were down by at least 17 points.
Smith comes into this season as the Big 12’s top offensive player, mostly on the basis of his record setting six-touchdown performance against Clemson in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl.
Last year, while playing in the more run-oriented Big East, Smith literally re-wrote the Big East record book by throwing for more than 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Yet Smith’s passing yardage total in 2011 would have put him only fourth among Big 12 quarterbacks last season.
Six Big 12 quarterbacks in 2011 finished in the top 15 nationally in total offense, five different teams had at least one 400-yard passing game and all but K-State had a 300-yard passer [Kansas State had the nation’s best running quarterback in Klein, who rushed for 1,141 yards and scored 27 touchdowns while racking up the most carries by any Big 12 player since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson in 2004].
Four Big 12 quarterbacks in 2011 averaged more than 330 yards per game through the air and six had more than 20 touchdown passes. Yes, flying footballs and strong quarterback play will once again be a big part of the program this fall in the Big 12.
“It’s definitely been a strong quarterback league here for a great number of years,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “I don’t need to go back through them all, but we’ve had a lot of excellent quarterbacks in this league and still do. It’s something we’ve become used to.”
Becoming proficient in the passing game and then defending it are two key ingredients for success in the Big 12, Bill Snyder believes.
“I can’t put it on a scale of how complex it is and how difficult it is other than to say it is extremely difficult,” Snyder noted. “Statistically, you look at the passing stats in the conference and they are extremely difficult.
“You look at the defensive stats in the Big 12 Conference and they’re significant in the other way as it relates to defending against the pass. We certainly had our issues with that as well.”
Texas, a perennial national title contender, has slipped the last couple of seasons because the Longhorns were unable to come up with a dependable everyday No. 1 quarterback. Last year, veteran coach Mack Brown used both Case McCoy and David Ash, and he plans on doing the same at the start of two-a-days this fall.
Brown said in the past he was burned by not having a quality backup, plus, he also wants to make sure the players around his quarterbacks are doing a better job than they have been.
“When we lost Colt (McCoy) at Kansas State the first year when we were in great shape to be in the conference championship game that cost us a chance to play for the national championship game that year,” Brown said.
“The national championship game, the fifth play of the game, same injury at the goal line puts him out of the ballgame. But you go back and look at our BCS games, we haven’t run the ball as much as we needed to in those games,” Brown added.
What Brown wants is a more physical football team and running the ball effectively can accomplish that. He was concerned his team lost some of that when his players knew Colt McCoy was capable of simply carving up pass defenses.
“We were throwing the ball on third and four, and I wanted to bring the toughness back, because also in those BCS games we didn’t stop the run very well against Alabama. We didn’t stop the run very well against Ohio State and we didn’t stop the run very well against USC,” said Brown.
Because Big 12 quarterbacks are so effective at spreading teams out, more gaps and spaces are created in defenses for some very good running backs to take advantage of. Stoops said that adds an extra burden to defenses.
“When you look at the teams that are spreading it out, if you’re really paying attention, they are sneaky in how well they run the football,” he said. “There is a lot of good running backs in this league, and I think sometimes even with the good quarterbacks of these spread teams, you know they can kill you running the football, so we’re always aware of that.” Briefly:
- West Virginia opens fall camp on Thursday, Aug. 2, with an early evening practice inside Milan Puskar Stadium. Coach Dana Holgorsen will brief media following Thursday’s practice at 7:30 pm. On-demand video of Holgorsen’s remarks will be available on WVUsports.com later Thursday evening. Also, check out twitter updates by using the hashtag #wvusports. All Mountaineer practices are closed to the general public.
- On Tuesday, the Mountaineer Ticket Office announced the suspension of ticket sales for the Marshall, Maryland, Kansas State and Baylor games. There are still tickets remaining for TCU and Kansas, as well as West Virginia’s game against James Madison being played at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15. Contact the Mountaineer Ticket Office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME or log on to WVUGAME.com
for more information.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.
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