The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

June 17, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Never too early to talk Heisman Trophy

MORGANTOWN — There’s certainly nothing better than a nice, intelligent, timely chat about who is going to win the Heisman Trophy in mid-June.

This is especially true in West Virginia, where there’s a better chance of marrying into the English royal family than taking down the Heisman Trophy. Heismen — if we might take a liberty or two with the plural of the Heisman Trophy — are as scarce around these parts as are national championships.

Then, when Steve Slaton could finish no higher than fourth and Patrick White no higher than sixth in the voting, it became obvious that West Virginia would build a statue in honor of Mike Ditka sooner that it would win a Heisman.

Yet, it seems, this being the downtime of year on the national college football scene — save for an endless scandal at Ohio State and our own little coaching circus — talk about the Heisman has begun to heat up.

ESPN, which has taken on so much power in the sporting world that it can turn spring into autumn at the snap of a director’s finger, began such inane chatter as Heisman talk in its Big East blog recently. Normally this would simply be tossed aside, as so much talking head jibberish falls victim to my delete button, but for the fact that it seemed to think that West Virginia might offer both quarterback Geno Smith and slot receiver Tavon Austin as legitimate candidates.

Once again this is an offspring of the Holgormania that seems to be capturing the nation — Mountaineer nation, that is — even before he calls his first play as a head coach.

It is almost incredible to see the nearly unanimous euphoria that has come over all that is WVU with the naming of Holgorsen compared to the reaction that greeted Bill Stewart, who could not have pleased some alumni and fans had he won the national title and then taken an ESPN-dictated, made-for-TV challenge match with the NFL champion.

Truly, there are people who seem to expect Holgorsen to perform such offensive magic that Smith and Austin could finish 1-2 in the Heisman voting.

While that may be a bit farfetched, there is little in his resume to make you think that those two will not produce eye-popping numbers that may scream “HEISMAN CONSIDERATION” but that are going to be weighed against the Big East schedule and a game against Norfolk State.

It was ESPN’s blog that took the extra step and brought Austin into the conversation as a legitimate Heisman candidate rather than Smith, noting what Holgorsen had done last year with Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State as he won the Fred Biletnikoff Award.

For those who were in a cave last year, Blackmon went from 20 catches for 260 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman to 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore last year.

I know this because I was one of those who voted for him. And now, as I think about it, three years ago I was one of those who voted for Michael Crabtree, the winner of the same award, while he was at Texas Tech playing for Holgorsen.

If Holgorsen could do what he did with Crabtree, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, and with Blackmon, why couldn’t he take the multi-talent Austin and turn him into a Heisman winner? He has already proven himself to be dynamic catching the football and more dynamic once he is running with it.

That, though, would depend on Smith, who showed himself to be capable in offensive coordinator Jeff Mullens’ snooze of an offense and who probably is sitting on a breakout junior year under Holgorsen’s guidance.

Why wouldn’t you think that when you consider that his quarterback last year, Brandon Weeden, threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns last year, a full 1,500 more than Smith threw for last year?

Smith has already won Holgorsen over with his spring performance, surprising him with his abilities and convincing him he offers a lot to work with.

“He’s poised,” Holgorsen said on Doug Gottleib’s radio show. “He’s a little more accurate than I thought he’d be. His body language is tremendous. The kid really likes to play football. He has a lot of bounce to him and he’s about 6-3 1/2 — he’s got good size, good feet; he’s athletic; he’s poised in the pocket and he’s probably a little more accurate than I thought he was. He got a lot better from a mental standpoint, too, but he’s just got to keep improving.”

And so there you are. It’s mid-June and talking Heisman isn’t all that difficult. In fact, it might even give the Heisman people time to change the trophy from a statue of a running back offering a stiff arm to a wide receiver stretching for a catch or quarterback making a pass.

Kind of wonder which one Oliver Luck would be rooting for if it comes down to Smith or Austin, molded by the coach he hired, or that quarterback at Stanford that calls him Dad.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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