WVU football: Bailey inching up record lists
MORGANTOWN - By himself, West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey has already caught more touchdown passes this season than 64 other teams. His 20 receptions in the end zone are a single-season record at the school and the most in the nation.
He needs only seven more to tie the FCS and FBS records, which, given his recent surge, isn't out of the question. The junior from Miami's Miramar High School would also be closer to, if not in possession of, the record if he hadn't been limited for the better part of three games with a sprained left ankle.
In losses to Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU, Bailey caught 12 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He blew away all three statistics in the past two games, combining for 27 receptions 430 yards and five touchdowns.
"I feel like I probably could have done a lot more damage," said Bailey, who didn't start against TCU. "Obviously, an ankle injury is something very serious. It's not something you recover from in two days.
"It's an ongoing injury that lingers and was still bothering me at the time, but I'm a lot better. I feel like I could have done more, but everything happens for a reason and I'm still here and I'm still doing pretty well, so it's cool."
The 5-foot-11 Bailey nevertheless has 88 receptions for 1,260 yards. He's No. 3 nationally in receptions per game, the category teammate Tavon Austin leads with 10 catches per game, and No. 3 in receiving yards per game. Bailey is also second nationally with 12 points per game and third with 15 receptions for 25 or more yards.
Bailey was named as one of the three finalists Monday for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation's best receiver. He'll compete with USC's Marqise Lee and Baylor's Terrance Williams. Bailey and Williams give the Big 12 two finalists for the third year in a row.
A Big 12 receiver has won the award the last two seasons and four of the last five.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon won the Biletnikoff the previous two years. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree won it in 2007 and 2008. Bailey could be Coach Dana Holgorsen's third Biletnikoff winner. Holgorsen was with Texas Tech in 2007 and Oklahoma State in 2010.
"It's about body control and just hand-eye coordination with him," said offensive coordinator and receivers coach Shannon Dawson. "He's not the biggest guy in the world, but for some reason he can contort his body and he's got great ball skills. He catches the ball with people around him and he controls his body so well.
"He's just got a knack for it. I don't know any other way to describe it other than that. It's not something you coach. Some kids have a knack for making plays."
Bailey was humbled by the nomination and hopeful he might win, but he was also still disappointed in himself two days after not catching a two-point conversion pass late in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma. He ran a pivot route, where he slanted inside and then spun outside, and created space between cornerback Aaron Colvin and the corner of the end zone.
The reception would have put WVU ahead 45-38, but the ball sneaked past a lunging Colvin and through Bailey's fingers. WVU eventually lost 50-49.
"It was kind of tricky just because he got his hands out and it looked to me like he was going to tip the ball," Bailey said. "He actually didn't and it went through his hands and into mine and I wasn't able to concentrate on it enough to haul it in. That's a catch I need to make in clutch situations like that, but I'll make it next time."
WVU's move to the Big 12 means the 2012 season is the first since 1942 that the Mountaineers and Pitt won't play one another. The gap will extend a few more seasons. WVU's schedule is set through 2015 and the Panthers will have their own scheduling complications when they enter the ACC next season.
"I hope it's possible," Holgorsen said. "I was only part of the Backyard Brawl one year, but it was a pretty festive week for both parties last year just because of the proximity of the two schools and the tradition that exists."
The Mountaineers (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) meet their new rival Saturday. They play at Iowa State (6-5, 3-4) at 3:30 p.m. from Jack Trice Stadium (WCHS). Pitt's campus is about 75 miles from WVU's. Iowa State's campus is about 875 miles away and is the closest to WVU's in the Big 12.
This is the first time since 2007 WVU hasn't played the Panthers on Thanksgiving weekend. The opponent is instead a Cyclones team coached by Paul Rhodes, who was the defensive coordinator of that 2007 Pitt team that won 13-9 and kept WVU from playing for the national title.
"As far as similarities go, I don't know exactly what they'll do, but they do have a similar style of players and one thing I do know is Pitt always played us tough and Iowa State is going to be very tough because they have a tremendous amount of pride within the program and within themselves," quarterback Geno Smith said.
Rhoads, who grew up 10 minutes from the team's stadium and has been a coach in rivalries between Iowa and Iowa State, Michigan and Ohio State and Auburn and Alabama, said the Brawl was as good as any.
"They've got a great tradition at WVU and they've won a lot of football games and a lot of big football games and a lot of championships," Rhoads said. "I think they did nothing but strengthen our league when they entered the Big 12 this season. They've gotten gifted players for years in that program and they have them now."