A closer look at Geno Smith's progression

Geno Smith is the Heisman frontrunner, but he's definitely got a whole lot in common with the guy who won it last year. He's really, really smart, and he's intriguing off the field. The other side of Geno Smith is what's helped him become the player he is today, writes colleague Ivan Maisel:

Geno Smith is a naturally gifted artist who turned down admission to a fine arts magnet school in his native south Florida in order to focus on football. The West Virginia senior is an English major, taking one class in Shakespeare and another in American literature, even as he has become the most productive college quarterback in the nation.

The artist-athlete is a hybrid rare enough to be celebrated, a reassurance that a violent sport has a place for the right side of the brain. It is a neat hook for a story, and it has next to nothing to do with why Smith has become the early-season frontrunner in the Heisman Trophy race.

Colleague Andrea Adelson spends her time over at the Big East blog, but couldn't help but notice what a former league member was doing offensively.

Geno Smith? All the West Virginia quarterback is doing this year is outpacing last year's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, in every way and grabbing a nod as the award's front-runner.

But Adelson? She's got a question.

What if Smith still played in the Big East?

Would he still be the Heisman Trophy front-runner? Would he put up video game numbers against some of the very excellent defenses across this league?

Come on, you know you have thought about it, too.

These are questions I have fielded several times during my chats and in my mailbag. One intrepid reporter even jumped on the Big East coaches call Monday and asked Charlie Strong and Doug Marrone how their respective teams slowed down Smith last season. Neither coach was much in the mood to answer, and rightfully so.

As I said, ancient history.

But given how well Smith has played and how much attention he and West Virginia have gotten as members of the Big 12, it is only natural to wonder if things would be different for the Mountaineers had they stuck around the Big East.

The main question isn't "Would the lack of exposure in the Big East keep Geno from getting attention?" You do what Smith is doing, you get Heisman recognition ... period.

But are Big East defenses better than Big 12 defenses? I've talked about it a little before. I'd probably agree with Adelson's conclusion, which is, yes, they are. You don't need to look much further than the NFL draft to figure out the personnel in that league is just as good if not superior to the Big 12's.

I couldn't help but appreciate the final line of Adelson's post:

It simply may be too early to judge how West Virginia will do in the Big 12 after one conference game against a pretty porous defense. But I do know one thing: West Virginia has scored 70 points twice in its last five games.

Neither contest was against a Big East opponent.

Well said. Even his coach, Dana Holgorsen, admitted he was surprised at the quality of the defenses in the league. The numbers have been eye-popping this year, but could it also just be a natural progression?

Chris Brown looked at three moments last year that saw Smith at his worst. He used them as teaching moments, and they're paying off in 2012.

October 21, 2011: Under constant harassment from Syracuse defenders — particularly defensive end (and current New England Patriot) Chandler Jones — Smith was in trouble. Down 35-16 with less than 20 seconds left in the third quarter, the Mountaineers were desperate to make a play. Facing another downfield pass, Syracuse blitzed. Smith, trying to escape the rush, stepped up in the pocket and heaved the ball in the direction of his former high school teammate, Stedman Bailey. The ball, badly underthrown, was intercepted — it was Smith's second of the game, and both were on forced passes to Bailey. West Virginia, a heavy favorite, lost, 49-23. Syracuse did not win another game the rest of the season. "We sat in here as an offense and we went through every play and we said, 'Here's how you attack it,'" Holgorsen explained the week after the game. "We could have easily scored more than 49 points and won the game, but we didn't do that. We need to be able to handle it better."

There's no doubt Smith is better. Because of the enormous gap between the offenses they face on a weekly basis, we'll never know for sure how Big East defenses compare to those in the Big 12.

What do you think?