West Virginia's sensational quarterback Geno Smith is getting most of the national attention as we approach the midway point of the 2012 college football season, but there is another great quarterback back on the plains in northeastern Kansas that just may be the best quarterback in the Big 12. And, oh, by the way, West Virginia is also now a member of that same conference.
In two weeks arguably the two best quarterbacks in the Big 12, if not in the nation, will go head-to-head against one another in a contest of "GameDay" proportions. It hasn't been announced yet, but I would be very surprised if Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the ESPN gang aren't in Morgantown, West Va., next weekend for this colossal matchup of contrasting offensive styles and dominant game-changing quarterbacks. Call it Smith vs. Kansas State's Collin Klein.
Here's a heads up: A week from now in this space we will preview the Kansas State-West Virginia game and delve a little deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. We'll even predict the outcome. But for right now, we're going to look solely at the quarterback matchup, which constitutes a classic confrontation all on its own.
Both teams have no-sure-thing road games this weekend before the thoughts of their two coaching staffs will seriously turn to Week 8 and what could easily be the most important game of the season for both Kansas State and West Virginia.
Through five games, all Mountaineer victories and behind a machine-like offense that ranks among the country's top-five teams in points scored (the Big 12 has three of the top five teams in this category), West Virginia's Smith is putting up video-game-like passing numbers. He is completing an almost unheard of 81 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception in 204 pass attempts. Smith is averaging five touchdown passes a game - he has 24 total just halfway through the season - which is more than half of what the starting quarterbacks in the conference currently have for the season.
None of the Mountaineers' opponents this season have had any success stopping or even slowing down Smith and the prolific West Virginia offense, which is averaging 52 points and 570 yards a game, 406 of that total through the air. No wonder that Smith is catching all the media attention and is the consensus front-runner in the Heisman race midway through the season.
Kansas State's Klein is of similar build to Smith. Both quarterbacks are in the 220-pound range, but Klein, listed at 6-5, is two inches taller than his West Virginia counterpart. Both are also seniors and the team leaders on their respective top-10 teams. You don't see Klein putting up big passing numbers because he doesn't have to. His game is on the ground, where he beats you with his legs and his sheer size. His rushing numbers - 82 yards a game and seven running touchdowns already this season - are easily the best among Big 12 quarterbacks.
But don't be fooled by Klein's low passing totals. Because opposing defenses have to respect his ability to runs the football, along with running back John Hubert, who is the second leading rusher in the conference (106 yards per game), Klein has the arm and the receiving weapons to beat you with the pass if you give him the opportunity. He has seven touchdown passes already, which is as many as Landry Jones at Oklahoma, who owns all of the Sooners' school passing records.
Obviously, both quarterbacks have exceptional support casts, which contributes mightily to the individual success Klein and Smith have enjoyed in their college careers, and especially so far this season. Their contrasting styles will make for an exciting faceoff when the Nos. 4 and 5 teams in the country (based on this week's USA Today coaches' poll) square off next weekend.
Klein has already shown he can lead his team to victory against a top-ranked team on the road, beating Oklahoma three weeks ago in Norman, which not many teams have done (only four in 14 seasons) since Bob Stoops has been the head coach at OU.
About his senior quarterback, Kansas State's Snyder says, "He is just a guy who works diligently to get better, and he just keeps getting better across the board." And to think that just two years ago, the coaching staff wasn't sure Klein would be the starting quarterback.
"Each and every game is going to be competitive, says West Virginia second-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who led the Mountaineers to the Big East football championship a year ago. "Each and every team in the conference brings something different to the table, so (you) just gotta take them one at a time and keep playing together as a team."
This weekend, Holgorsen takes his Mountaineers to Lubbock, Texas, to take on a Texas Tech, a team very much like West Virginia that likes to sling the ball all over the field. Meanwhile, Kansas State travels to Ames, Iowa, where Iowa State will be lying in wait.
Nothing easy on either end straight ahead, but Kansas State and West Virginia seem to play as well on the road as they do at home. The larger the crowd the better, because both teams say they feed off the electricity of the fans, albeit for different reasons, regardless of whether the fans are fer ya or against ya.
One more week, and the stage should be suitably set. It won't just be Kansas State vs. West Virginia, it will be Collin Klein vs. Geno Smith, and that, my friend, is well worth the wait.
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