Bailey falls short of honor for top receiver
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Stedman Bailey couldn't get his secure and sizeable hands on the Biletnikoff Award on Thursday night to become only the second major award winner in the history of West Virginia University football.
He missed out on another accomplishment in a career that already has seen a line of records and accolades.
Bailey and Baylor's Terrance Williams were beaten out by Southern Cal's Marqise Lee, who led the nation in receptions.
Don't make a meal out of what might have been for Bailey if not for the ankle injury that limited him for three games and kept him from breaking some significant records. Instead, understand that Bailey might win the Biletnikoff next season.
Nonsense, you counter, because Bailey is going to the NFL. That's possible, but it is not yet reality. The draft eligible redshirt junior, who's going to lose his longtime friend Geno Smith and his ideal counterpart Tavon Austin to graduation, says he hasn't decided if he's entering the draft or if he's coming back in 2013.
"I'm not sure," he said last week, which, sure, is a long enough gap for people to come around and change his mind. "I've got to talk about it with my family and see how that'll work out. I know I have another year of eligibility, which is pretty good, but like I said, I have to talk to my family about it."
Included in the family is Bailey's one-month-old child. Believe and appreciate the way that changes everything, much like a false step and a snapped ligament at Mountaineer Field next fall can change everything - but now for more than just Bailey.
He'll go through the process of submitting his name to the NFL for evaluation, he'll set a target while he waits and then he'll act upon the response. If he's told he's a first round pick, he's gone. Second-round pick? Probably gone again.
"When the money calls," he said, "you've got to go for it."
Yet Bailey isn't solely about money. He knows that will be there and his professional future, most likely as a slot receiver, does seem unquestioned.
If he sounds genuine about his indecision, know he's backed it up with his actions. WVU sources said Bailey never once talked to anyone on the coaching staff about participating in the team's senior day ceremonies in Saturday's home game. Last year, playing for the same coach Bailey plays for, Coley White took part in the curtain call as a redshirt junior. The Biletnikoff Award could have changed things. Former center Dan Mozes remains the only major award winner in school history and his Rimington Trophy is alone in the display case another year.
It would have been a good look for Bailey, though. He already owns WVU single-season receiving records for yards (1,501) and touchdowns (23), both set this year.
The touchdowns are the most ever by a player in a Bowl Championship Series conference.
He needs to finish with five more receptions than Austin in the Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 29 to set the school record for receptions. The way Austin has been used lately splitting snaps at running back, it's possible, if not likely.
Of course, that might not happen and if the bowl is Bailey's finale, he's not topping Austin for the career record for receptions (284 to 202) or yards (3,383 to 3,097). Bailey already has 39 touchdowns for the career record, but he knows he has a chance to have his name on all the marks by which all WVU receivers before and after him will be measured.
And legacy, it turns out, matters to Bailey.
"I was able to look around at some records, some national records, some NCAA records and some of those are within reach with another year," he said, without prompting. "That's something to think about, too."
He's serious about it, to the point he sounded almost offended when his sincerity was questioned, and he believes he's capable. Told he needs just four touchdowns in the bowl to tie the NCAA season record set by Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards and Mississippi Valley State's Jerry Rice, Bailey nodded his head.
"I'll try," said Bailey, who has five- and four-touchdown games this season. "It's possible to score four touchdowns in this offense. I'll definitely do all I can do to help the team win first, but if I could get it, it would be wonderful."
That might be a part of WVU's thinking before seeking revenge against a Syracuse team that has won two in a row in the series and muted the Mountaineers at the Carrier Dome last season. Smith came out of last season's bowl blowout against Clemson and then went back in when WVU realized he was near a reel of records.
Bailey also knows he's 21 touchdowns shy of the Football Bowl Subdivision record of 60 set by Rice's Jarrett Dillard and a full superstar season from the 349 career receptions by Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles. Nevada's Trevor Insley has the season (2,060) and career (5,005) yardage record.
"If I have a chance to do so, why not?" he said.
He'll wonder the same as you: Does he have a chance without Austin and Smith?
He'd need about 140 catches and 1,900 yards next season to get those records - and he'd be closer to both if not for playing three half-speed games with a bad ankle this season that saw 12 catches for 120 yards. By 2012 standards, an off year in 2013 might get the touchdown record, which matters most to Bailey.
"You're putting points on the board and helping the team win," he said, "which is the purpose of playing the game."