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WVU football: JMU coach is big believer in Geno Smith

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- During the Colonial Athletic Conference coaches teleconference Monday, James Madison Coach Mickey Matthews called West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith a "great player" before reminding listeners that he isn't "the first guy to say that."

Matthews also isn't the only one declaring the Mountaineers' senior signal caller this: a Heisman Trophy candidate.

The 58-year-old Matthews, who has coached JMU since 1999 and won an Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) national title in 2004, initially went a step further with his assessment of Smith.

"You are competing against the guy who is probably going to win the Heisman Trophy," Matthews said, before backtracking slightly. "I don't know if he's going to win it, but he'll certainly get invited to New York."

There's no shortage of websites that have Smith near the top of their way-too-early Heisman lists. Yahoo! Sports, ESPN.com and CBSSports.com/Heismanpundit all have Smith No. 2 after two weeks.

Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley, whom I voted third on my 2011 Heisman ballot behind eventual winner Robert Griffin III (Baylor) and runner-up Andrew Luck (Stanford), is considered the early favorite.

That means little. Here's why:

StiffArmTrophy, another website that tracks voters' supposedly private ballots throughout the season, had Boise State's Kellen Moore in the top spot at this time last year.

In fact, three of the top six finishers in the Heisman voting - Wisconsin's Montee Ball (fourth), LSU's Tyrann Mathieu (fifth) and Barkley (sixth) - weren't even in the website's top 10 through two weeks of games last season.

Griffin III was seventh after two weeks last season, and that was even after he had as many touchdowns (eight) as incompletions in Baylor's first two games. He started to make his move after Week 3 when he went 29-for-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns against Rice.

The four Heisman winners before Griffin III came from the SEC, and since 2000 the winner of the top collegiate football honor have come from these schools: Florida State, Nebraska, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida, Alabama and Auburn.

If a Baylor or West Virginia is going to break into that fraternity, it takes the kind of mind-boggling numbers Griffin III put up early in the season.

After his team's 3-0 start, Griffin III had 13 touchdowns, 12 incomplete passes and zero interceptions.

Smith could be setting himself up for a similar start, although it seems like he already has the voters' collective attention. The 6-foot-3 quarterback went 32-for-36 for 323 yards and four touchdowns in the season-opening rout of Marshall.

There's that quirky statistic again. Smith had as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions before heading to the bench with WVU comfortably ahead.

JMU, even at 2-0 and ranked fifth in the FCS, could give Smith the chance to put up monster numbers again this Saturday at FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins and Griffin III, who was the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft behind Luck.  

"I think he's going to throw it," Matthews said of Smith. "I think when he gets bored getting so many yards passing (WVU Coach) Dana (Holgorsen) calls some runs so the running backs won't quit.

"He's going to throw it."

Matthews watched plenty of film in preparation for No. 9 WVU (1-0) - "Several times, unfortunately." - and Smith conjured up images of a quarterback Matthews had to plot to stop years ago as a defensive coordinator at Georgia.

"He's an Aaron Brooks clone," said Matthews, referring to the former University of Virginia quarterback who faced Georgia in the 1999 Peach Bowl. "He has a really great arm. He throws sideline patterns to the wide side of the field. That's a long throw on a football field, because you are throwing it over two-thirds of the field and throwing it deep.

"The biggest thing he does is play with a lot of confidence."

If Smith is perusing the Internet, he might get another confidence boost.

He has a lot of believers out there, including coaches on the opposite sideline.


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