Big 12 football: Austin receives share of award
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's disappointing inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference dipped a little more Wednesday when the league's offensive player of the year award went to Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and the Mountaineers were only able to get a share of one of the 11 awards.
"I said this back when they had me up for the Heisman as the No. 1 player, but I said it didn't mean too much to me," WVU quarterback Geno Smith said. "The game is about winning and losing. I wanted to win every game this year. I didn't want to win the Heisman. I wanted to win it all, win the national championship. That's really my only disappointment."
Smith and receiver and sudden star running back Tavon Austin had their individual seasons for WVU (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) trumped by Klein, who led the Wildcats to the conference championship, but Austin's return game was rewarded with a piece of the special teams player of the year award. He shared it with Oklahoma State kicker and punter Quinn Sharp.
Austin finished the regular season tied for No. 21 nationally in average yards per punt return (11) and No. 24 in average yards per kickoff return (26.36). He returned one punt and one kickoff for a touchdown, both in Big 12 play.
"He's the most explosive player in the country with the ball in his hands," Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Austin was also a dynamic offensive player for the Mountaineers and led the nation in receptions per game for most of the season before finishing second to Southern Cal's Marqise Lee.
He dropped after playing running back extensively the final three games and rushed for 344 yards against Oklahoma, the first time he had been featured in the backfield since high school.
The sum of his efforts was the nation's second-best all-purpose average (230 yards per game) this season. That helped him earn honorable mention status for Big 12 offensive player of the year, in addition to the special teams award and the first-team all-Big 12 spot as kickoff and punt returner.
"I know one thing," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
"He plays a lot differently than anyone else. Say what you want about all the other guys. That's good and dandy. I think behind closed doors, if you got people who played us in a room, they'd tell you who the best player is."
Austin, who was also named first-team all-conference receiver with teammate Stedman Bailey, finished the season No. 2 in receptions per game (9.17) and totaled 1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns on 110 catches. He added 598 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 61 carries.
Austin averaged 10.9 yards per touch on offense, 21 yards per touch on special teams and 12.9 yards any time he touched the ball. Austin also scored once every 11.4 touches on offense and once every 12.6 times he touched it overall.
"The eyeball doesn't lie," Smith said. "That's the one thing I can say about him. The eye doesn't lie. There are other great players in the country, but that guy can make any player miss at any time on the field and that's rare."
Smith, the preseason offensive player of the year who wound up as the all-Big 12 second-team quarterback, led the conference with 40 touchdown passes and threw only six interceptions in 489 attempts. Smith completed 71.4 percent of those, also the best in the conference, and would have led the league in pass efficiency if not for Oklahoma State's J.W. Walsh, who started three conference games, missed three and then played as a backup in the final three.
Walsh was named the offensive freshman of the year while Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, a transfer from Oregon, was named the offensive newcomer of the year. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence won the inaugural scholar athlete award and teammate Cyril Richardson was named offensive lineman of the year.
Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Bennett was named defensive newcomer of the year while TCU defensive end Devonte Fields was a unanimous pick for defensive freshman of the year.
Kansas State also had Arthur Brown win defensive player of the year, defensive end Meshak Williams win defensive lineman of the year and Bill Snyder win coach of the year.
WVU center Joe Madsen joined Smith on the second team. Freshman safety Karl Joseph was an honorable mention pick at safety and receiver Ryan Nehlen was an honorable mention pick for the scholar athlete aware.
"Stedman is still up for the Biletnikoff award, but I'm pretty sure the nation recognizes what we've done this year, regardless of the record," Smith said. "I think we've done great things for college football and for this program."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.