Oklahoma Sooners: Geno Smith

Not long ago, Big 12 media days was an event worthy of a red carpet, with star-studded quarterbacks annually filling the halls.

Many -- like “Vince” and “Sam” -- were on a first-name basis with their fans. Others -- like “RG3” -- donned catchy nicknames.

This year, though, there were no rock stars at media days in Dallas. Because, well, there are no marquee quarterbacks returning.

As the SEC with defense, the Big 12 has become synonymous with quarterbacking. Of the past 13 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six are Big 12 alums.

But these are foreign times in the conference. For a change, quarterbacking is the Big 12’s big unknown.

“We're in the same situation as seven or eight others,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is replacing his school’s all-time leading passer, Geno Smith.

“Pretty much everyone is in the same boat.”

A boat that seats virtually everyone in the league.

Texas' David Ash is the Big 12's only expected starter who started more than five games last season. Six other teams are still officially involved in quarterback derbies, including Texas Tech, which could wind up starting true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield in its opener with projected starter Michael Brewer dealing with a back injury.

Such quarterback uncertainty has rendered the Big 12 as wide open as ever, with six teams receiving first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll.

“I think it would be unfair to even predict what could happen in the league this year,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has hinted he won’t announce Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh as the starter until the opener against Mississippi State. “You have a certain number of teams, five or six, who if they stay healthy and get quality quarterback play, have a chance to win the league.

“For the fans and for the media, this year is as exciting as it gets -- because I don’t think anyone really knows.”

But the lack of marquee returning quarterbacks is also predominantly why for the first time in its history the Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls. Oklahoma State was the league’s highest-ranked squad at No. 13.

Ash started every game but one for the Longhorns last season. But he also was benched against Kansas and TCU.

TCU’s Casey Pachall had a banner 2011 campaign. But he left four games into last season to seek treatment for substance abuse.

And while Chelf and Walsh both won games for the Cowboys as starters last year, it’s unclear at the moment which of the two will get the majority of snaps.

“The preseason polls for the majority in my opinion are based on returning quarterback play, because we all know how important quality quarterback play is to winning games,” Gundy said. “They look on paper and see there’s not a lot of returning quarterbacks in this league and so you’re not going to get recognized as much as other schools.”

Coaches and players around the conference, however, caution not to dismiss this batch of quarterbacks just because they’re new.

“There’ll be a bunch of names you’ll be talking about next year -- that they’re all back,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

While there’s no Vince Young, Sam Bradford or Robert Griffin III yet, there is talent.

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who are vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones in Norman, were both four-star recruits. So was Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who sat out last season after transferring from BYU.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty had offers to play at Nebraska and Virginia Tech coming out of high school.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters, who is fighting Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman finalist Collin Klein, was the No. 1-rated quarterback to come out of junior college this year.

“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “And it's always going to be phenomenal.

“It's just going to be with newer people.”

Roundtable: Landmine game in 2013 

January, 24, 2013
Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

Today's question: Which game in 2013, outside of at Notre Dame and at Oklahoma State, should be considered a land mine for the Sooners?

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
AP Photo/Jake SchoellkopfIf Casey Pachall returns as TCU's starting quarterback in 2013, OU's game vs. the Horned Frogs could be tougher.
• The Sooners have one of the toughest schedules in the country, with 11 of their 12 opponents coming off bowl appearances. The three-game gauntlet of Notre Dame (Sept. 28), TCU (Oct. 5) and Texas (Oct. 12) will be the defining stretch of the season. But another game OU ought to be wary of is a Nov. 16 trip to Waco. Baylor ended the 2012 season as one of the hottest teams in the country, and while QB Nick Florence and WR Terrance Williams are gone, the Bears return plenty of firepower. The last time the Sooners went to Waco they lost in dramatic fashion, and Kansas State and Oklahoma State found out how tough it is to win there this past season. The Sooners are capable of escaping October unscathed. That visit to Baylor, however, is capable of derailing them, too.

Instant analysis: OU 50, West Virginia 49

November, 17, 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.V. -- The Sooners escaped their maiden voyage to Morgantown with a 50-49 victory over the Mountaineers in one of the craziest shootouts in Big 12 history.

It was over when: West Virginia QB Geno Smith's Hail Mary pass fell to the turf two yards in front of the end zone. The two teams combined to score 31 points in the fourth quarter, including Landry Jones' 5-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on fourth down with 26 seconds remaining.

Game ball goes to: West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who was unbelievable in a losing effort. Austin rushed for 344 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries. He also had 82 yards receiving.

Stat of the game: This was the first time since 1993 the Sooners surrendered at least 250 rushing yards in back-to-back games. OU gave up 252 to Baylor last weekend and 458 to the Mountaineers. West Virginia’s 778 total yards were also, by far, the most against a Sooners defense in OU history.

Record performance: Austin shattered the Big 12 record for all-purpose yards in a game with 572. Texas’ Hodges Mitchell held the previous record of 375 yards since 2000. On top of having a monster game rushing and receiving, Austin had 146 yards in kickoff returns.

Unsung hero: Stills, who hauled in four touchdown passes to keep pace with Austin and Stedman Bailey. Stills had 10 receptions, but none bigger than his final one, which gave OU the lead for good.

What it means: The Sooners leave Morgantown with their BCS bowl hopes still intact. But a huge test awaits next weekend in Oklahoma State, which beat OU 44-10 last season. West Virginia is still searching for its sixth win to become bowl eligible. The Mountaineers have now lost five in a row.

Staff picks: Oklahoma vs. West Virginia 

November, 16, 2012
Oklahoma 48, West Virginia 31
At the beginning of the year, this looked like it would be OU's toughest challenge. That was before West Virginia's unraveling. The Mountaineers are still dangerous, but they don't have the look of a team that can either slow the Sooners down or score enough to prevail in a shootout.
- Jake Trotter

Oklahoma 49, West Virginia 35

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Five storylines: OU vs. West Virginia 

November, 15, 2012
The Sooners travel to West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers on Saturday. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on:

1. How will the Sooners react to their first trip to Morgantown, W. Va.?

No player in the program has played at West Virginia. Milan Puskar Stadium is generally an unpleasant place to play for opponents but the Mountaineers have lost to Kansas State and TCU in their last two home games.

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Opponent film review: West Virginia 

November, 13, 2012
Oklahoma's pass defense faces another test when the Sooners travel to Morgantown, W. Va. to play West Virginia on Saturday. The Mountaineers feature some of the Big 12's most explosive offensive threats with quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. SoonerNation reviewed the Mountaineers' 55-34 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday and came away with three things the Sooners will need to keep an eye against WVU.

[+] EnlargeAustin & Bailey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWest Virginia receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin form an explosive connection for the Mountaineers.
Slowing Austin

Austin is one of the most explosive players in college football. A week after Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk caused them fits, the Sooners face an even tougher test in Austin.

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Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops understands he has a difficult task this season as the Sooners defense will face Big 12 foes Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor, which rank Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in total offense.

Each of the three teams has a quarterback who can test a defense with his arm or legs, a trait that Stoops holds in high regard.

“The quarterback run game is always the difference,” he said. “In the NFL it’s usually the difference, guys that can scramble and create plays with their feet are always going to create problems. You can’t just rush and let them run wild, you have to set edges, you’re rolling the dice, if he gets outside you have other issues.”

West Virginia’s Geno Smith is a Heisman favorite with his 1,728 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 98 rushing yards in four games. Baylor’s Nick Florence has stepped up admirably in following last year’s Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, with 1,585 passing yards and 153 rushing yards through four games. J.W. Walsh of Oklahoma State, passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and ran for 57 yards in the Cowboys’ 41-36 loss to Texas on Sept. 29.

Ranking Oklahoma's remaining schedule 

September, 28, 2012
During the offseason, I ranked Oklahoma’s schedule from toughest game to easiest. The Sooners’ home date with Kansas State ranked fifth.

Almost a month into the season, OU’s remaining schedule looks even tougher overall.

Ranking those games from toughest to easiest:

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The Big 12 got two swipes (should have been a third in 2011) at the SEC during the league's run of six national titles, but failed on both occasions.

Colt McCoy's shoulder suffered a freak injury on a usually harmless hit, and when McCoy trotted to the sideline, the Longhorns' chances of beating Alabama came off the field with him.

A season earlier, Florida twice stuffed Oklahoma on the goal line, giving Tim Tebow his second national title and denying the Sooners the school's eighth.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesQuarterback Landry Jones is best suited to push Oklahoma past the SEC's supremacy when it comes to national titles.
So, who among the Big 12's contenders this season is best suited to end the SEC's tyranny?

The Sooners are simply the best team, even though Oklahoma is loaded with flaws. Question marks on the offensive and defensive lines as well as at linebacker could prove problematic in a showdown with one of the SEC titans, but the Sooners would love for the play of four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones to answer it. He's got the skills to decipher complex SEC defensive schemes and the pocket presence to elude the rush. His arm strength assures that SEC secondaries will have to cover the whole field.

The Sooners would have to get past Texas in the Red River Rivalry to make that happen. (Never mind 2008. Just humor me here.) If the Longhorns can survive a brutal Big 12 schedule with six 10-win teams on the docket, they're probably the best Big 12 team suited to beat one of the SEC's best teams in a national title game.

The problem is producing enough offense to beat Big 12 teams. In an SEC matchup, though, it's all about the line of scrimmage. Texas' defensive line may challenge LSU as the nation's best, and the Longhorns have a crazy duo at defensive end in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, two of the nation's best at the position.

Texas' depth at defensive line is huge, too, but it likely has the Big 12's best offensive line. The loaded backfield of Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray is a good sign, too. Mack Brown brought in assistants with SEC ties like Manny Diaz (defensive coordinator), Bo Davis (defensive tackles) and Stacy Searels (offensive line) to offer his team a little SEC flavor. You want power football, Nick Saban and Les Miles? Texas would love to play some power football.

What about a Big 12 newcomer who's never won the league and never played for a national title in the BCS era?

West Virginia is all about speed. There are plenty of questions on the defensive line, but the Mountaineers will test the mettle of any SEC defense that's feasted on weak offense all season. Geno Smith's got a big arm and the Big 12's two best receivers in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

West Virginia has to play its best, but if Dana Holgorsen's team can hang 70 on Clemson like it did at the Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers' biggest stage last season, you've got to like its chances to at least put 30 or 40 on the board against an SEC team. Do that, and WVU will have a shot. Just have to survive the first year in the Big 12 and win a league title first.

There's no USC in the Big 12, a team built for a title run in 2012. The Big 12 does have plenty of contenders, though, and if any of these three teams gets a shot, they won't take it lightly.

Sooners schedule preview: West Virginia 

August, 14, 2012
November 17, 2012: West Virginia
2011 record: 10-3 | 2011 conference record: 5-2 (Big East)
OU’s all-time against West Virginia: 2-2

Top returners: QB Geno Smith, RB Dustin Garrison, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Tavon Austin, WR Ivan McCartney, C Joe Madsen, DT Jorge Wright, CB Pat Miller, SS Terence Garvin

Key losses: OT Don Barclay, OG Tyler Rader, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, LB Najee Goode, LB Casey Vance, CB Keith Tandy, FS Eain Smith

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Dustin Garrison* (742 yards)
Passing: Geno Smith* (3,978 yards)
Receiving: Steadman Bailey* (1,197 yards)
Tackles: Najee Goode (87)
Sacks: Bruce Irvin (8.5)
Interceptions: Keith Tandy (4)

What they’re saying: "It sounds like everybody in the room thinks that we're pretty good, or that Geno is pretty good. It's a compliment to Geno. ... He progressed and he's got a chance to be pretty good." – head coach Dana Holgorsen on Geno Smith being voted preseason All-Big 12 QB over OU’s Landry Jones

Three things to watch:

1. Despite playing West Virginia four times, the Sooners never have been to Morgantown. Going there figures to be OU’s toughest test of the season. The Mountaineers have a formidable home-field advantage, and OU will be West Virginia’s biggest conference home game in years. Will the Sooners be up to the challenge?

2. The two best quarterbacks in the league – Landry Jones and Geno Smith – face off in this one. Both can sling it around the field. But whoever takes care of the ball best figures to be the one who leads his team to victory.

3. The Sooners secondary will be on the spot against Dana Holgorsen’s high-flying attack. The Sooners succumbed to the spread attacks of Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State in 2011, giving up huge plays in the passing game to all three. What will the unit do in its toughest test of the season?

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Colleague Brock Huard checked in with the next installment of the top 10 at each position nationally, offering up his list of the nation's best quarterbacks Insider.

Huard pegged three Big 12 quarterbacks in the nation's top 10, with surprises on who got in and who got left out.

The first no-brainers are Oklahoma's Landry Jones at No. 4 and West Virginia's Geno Smith at No. 5. They trail USC's Matt Barkley, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.

Color me skeptical of Thomas, but Jones and Smith will be a season-long debate. You can rank them either way for now. Smith got the edge in the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Award, but the voting was pretty close.

For Huard, 2012 is about Jones validating the top-five grade NFL scouts placed on him previously.

Smith is another gunslinger like ones Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen had during assistant-coaching stints at Houston and Texas Tech, but Smith possesses the arm strength and size that guys like Case Keenum and Graham Harrell didn't have, writes Huard.

The most conspicuous absence from his top 10 list? Kansas State's Collin Klein. No surprise, really. Huard, a former quarterback himself, clearly defines best quarterbacks as "best passers." Klein doesn't fit that mold, but he does fit the mold of a great football player and quarterback.

TCU's Casey Pachall snuck in and grabbed the No. 10 spot. Nice pick. I love what Pachall was able to do last season, even though he didn't have a ton of pressure. When his team needed him most (Baylor, Boise State), he was at his best. I'd probably lean Seth Doege ahead of Pachall, but it's close.

Check out Huard's full list with his comments. Good stuff.
We'll be walking through the top 10 players at each position in the Big 12 before the season, but we'll start with the most important, especially in this league.

Let's do this:

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia: Smith put up huge numbers (4,385 yards, 31 TD, 7 INT, 65.8 completion percentage) and did so efficiently last season. Both of his top two targets are back and the adjustment to Big 12 defenses shouldn't be too difficult.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: Jones and Smith will go head-to-head all season for honors as the Big 12's top passer. Who comes out on top is anyone's guess, but Jones regressed last season, and his receivers let him down after Ryan Broyles' season ended with a knee injury. He'll try to bounce back with just one reliable target (Kenny Stills) to start the season. The rest of the receiving corps is loaded with potential, but very inexperienced.

3. Collin Klein, Kansas State: Clearly, I'm taking more than just passing acumen into account here. Klein is the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, and also threw for just under 2,000 yards last season, adding 13 passing touchdowns to the 27 he scored rushing. We'll see how much better he is as a passer this fall.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesTCU's Casey Pachall could be poised for a big year with a stable of talented receivers.
4. Seth Doege, Texas Tech: I refuse to hang last year's failures on Doege's shoulders. Absolutely not. He played well, at least as well as he could. The running game struggled and offered almost no support after Eric Stephens' injury. The defense was a disaster and there were injuries all over the place. Doege still went for more than 4,000 yards, 28 scores and just 10 picks. Don't be surprised if Doege throws his hat in the ring as the Big 12's best passer by season's end.

5. Casey Pachall, TCU: Pachall didn't have eye-popping numbers, but only because TCU rode on the shoulders of its trio of running backs. Still, Pachall's numbers are going to be better this year, and he's got great targets in Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter, not to mention youngster LaDarius Brown.

6. Nick Florence, Baylor: I like Florence to have a big year with really good receivers, but he's got too much to prove for now. He looked good in spot duty for RG3 against Texas Tech last season, but his senior season will look much, much different than his inconsistent freshman year all the way back in 2009.

7. Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State: The Big 12's only freshman quarterback is a true freshman, and Lunt earned this spot by beating out some really tough competition in J.W. Walsh and Colton Chelf this spring. Amazing stuff, and his coaches know good quarterbacks. Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden have established quite the QB tradition in Stillwater. Here's guessing Lunt continues it.

8. Dayne Crist, Kansas: Crist's college career hasn't been what he imagined after coming to Notre Dame as one of the most highly recruited signal-calling prospects in his class, but he's got a chance to start something special at Kansas in his senior year, reunited with former coach Charlie Weis. Crist won't have the weapons some of the other guys on this list have, but he gives KU a big, big upgrade at the position.

9. Steele Jantz/Jared Barnett, Iowa State: These two have to cut down the turnovers, but they've both shown the ability to be playmakers. There's no guessing who wins this legitimate battle in the fall, but coach Paul Rhoads isn't afraid to bench either one if the turnovers don't stop.

10. David Ash/Case McCoy, Texas: Mack Brown insists it's still a contest. My jaw will be on the floor if Ash doesn't trot out on the field for the first game of the season. Ash has some potential and promising targets in Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, but he hasn't shown the big-play ability of Jantz or Barnett. Expect Ash to move up this list by season's end, but for now, it's all just potential.
Landry Jones is primed to become the winningest quarterback in Oklahoma history and is closing in on numerous NCAA career-passing records. But West Virginia’s Geno Smith -- not Jones -- was voted preseason All-Big 12 quarterback and Offensive Player of the Year.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones will soon become the winningest quarterback in Oklahoma history.
“From a friend and a teammate, it’s frustrating, because I know what kind of talent he has,” center Ben Habern said of Jones. “I don’t know. Not taking anything away from Geno. He’s a great quarterback. A guy that’s proven himself. From Landry’s standpoint, it’s motivation. If he wants it, he can compete for it.”

Jones and Smith had virtually equal numbers in 2011. Jones threw for a little more yardage; Smith had a couple more touchdowns and a slightly better completion percentage.

Jones threw 15 interceptions, to Smith’s seven. But Jones competed against the tougher Big 12, while Smith cruised through the Big East, which claimed only two teams in the final AP Top 25 poll (No. 17 West Virginia and No. 25 Cincinnati).

So what did Jones think of the snub?

“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see what all happens with that whole deal.”

OU travels to West Virginia on Nov. 17.
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. It would be interesting to see how many more votes West Virginia's Geno Smith got over Landry Jones for preseason All-Big 12 QB. My guess is that it was close. I voted for Jones, but I can see why others would pick Smith. As one OU booster remarked to be yesterday, "Good, I like that." Being off the first team should take just a little pressure off Jones while also giving him a little bit of spit and vinegar.

2. The only real difference I had with the offense was I had Dom Whaley over Malcolm Brown, and Josh Boyce over Kenny Stills. Whaley is coming off the ankle injury, so he's a little of an unknown. And people still remember what Stills did as a true freshman. No problem with either selection.

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Chat wrap: Previewing OU-Texas

July, 10, 2012
SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter and HornsNation writer Carter Strickland chatted with readers on Monday in a special look ahead at this season's OU-Texas game. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

Nicolai (Denmark, Europe): Who has the edge, Oklahomas offense or Texas' defense?

Jake Trotter: I give the edge to Texas' defense. But I also give the edge, probably a bigger edge, to OU's defense over Texas' offense.

Carter Strickland: Toss up for me. Really don't know how good the Texas defense is going to be until it plays WVU the week before.

Shane (Oklahoma City): With the questions remaining for Texas offensively, QB play & passing game, can UT seriously challenge West Virginia for second place in the Big 12?

Jake Trotter: No question. In fact, I'm sure many people will pick UT to finish 2nd in their preseason Big 12 polls. The key game for Texas will be Sept. 29 in Stillwater. Win there, and 2nd place is there for the taking (and maybe first place if UT can upend OU).

Carter Strickland: Have you seen WVU's defense? Yes. Texas is going to use the running game and its defense to try and slow down Geno Smith. WVU has some inflated stats because of the conference it has played in. KSU is the team to beat for the No. 2 spot in the B12.

Brennan (Austin): Which freshmen are already creating a buzz in Norman and Austin?

Jake Trotter: In Norman, it's WRs Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard. OU could end up starting two true freshman WRs this fall alongside Kenny Stills.

Carter Strickland: Johnathan Gray is getting a lot of buzz. Malcom Brown (the other one) is going to play a lot. Some of the wide receivers. Daje Johnson is a guy to watch out for.


Stoops, Players Want To Effect Change
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sits down with Gene Wojciechowski to discuss his team's stand against racism.