Let me take you back to December, when the Big East unveiled its player of the year awards.
It was a conspiracy!
West Virginia was being punished for leaving the Big East!
It was obvious Smith was the best player!
That just about sums up the feedback I got into the mailbag, and the comments I saw on the blog.
I was surprised, too. Smith had my vote for Big East Offensive Player of the Year. But I also saw the merits of giving Pead the award, and tried to explain that rationale in one of my mailblogs last month. What helped me to understand was talking to several coaches around the league, who simply thought Smith had a much better supporting cast around him, which helped him boost his numbers.
Well, lo and behold. Another school has supported that theory.
West Virginia itself.
Last week, the school announced its team award winners. Taking home Offensive Player of the Year: receiver Tavon Austin. Not Smith.
So perhaps we should revisit the Pead vs. Smith debate one last time.
To support the idea that Smith had help in boosting his numbers, all you need to do is take a look at this one impressive stat: going into the Orange Bowl against Clemson, Austin had 1,063 yards receiving. Do you know how many yards came after the catch? According to ESPN Stats & Information, that would be 807 -- the most of any player in the BCS Top 25. Or to put it another way, 75.9 percent of his yards came after he caught a pass.
That is some impressive shakin' and bakin' -- which no doubt played a part in Austin being named his team's Offensive Player of the Year. When he got into open space, he was unstoppable. I think the Orange Bowl summed up the way they complemented each other. Austin got my vote for MVP of the game because I felt he was the biggest difference-maker on the field. But Smith won MVP honors for his eye-popping numbers.
It is entirely possible the two split votes among the eight league coaches who cast their ballots. There already is early talk that they could split Heisman votes next season. If anything, the old debate about whether a quarterback makes a receiver or vice versa is an intriguing one when it comes to these two players.
As for Pead, anybody who watched Cincinnati play this season noticed a transformation on offense. Last season, the Bearcats ranked No. 1 in the league in pass offense, averaging 260.7 yards a game, and No. 5 in rushing offense. This season, Cincinnati ranked No. 2 in rushing offense, averaging more than 20 yards more a game in this area. Pass offense was down to 207.6 yards a game.
You could say that is a function of Cincinnati trailing in games last season, but the reality is that Pead was the best player on offense in 2011, and coach Butch Jones made a commitment to making sure he was utilizing his best player. Pead had a carer-high 237 carries -- 80 more than last season. He also had a career-high 12 touchdown runs and more than 1,200 yards on the ground.
Smith and Austin posted career-highs as well, and so did West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey in this new offense. But clearly the coaches looked beyond the numbers and at the value of each player to their respective teams. Did Austin give Smith a boost? Absolutely. Did the new offense give them both a boost? Absolutely. Nobody will dispute that.
But after seeing Austin win his own team's offensive player of the year award, I felt it necessary to re-think who is most deserving of being Big East Offensive Player of the Year.