MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It is an end, but it also may be a beginning.
West Virginia's 119th football season closes tonight here at Sun Life Stadium with the Mountaineers' first Orange Bowl, a date with ACC champion and 14th-ranked Clemson.
It's a matchup that - like several of this postseason's games - figures to challenge the Orange Bowl record for points in a game - 79 (Florida 56, Maryland 23, in 2002).
If that's the case, expect junior quarterback Geno Smith to be a major part of that offensive productivity for 23rd-ranked WVU (9-3). If that's the case, it's the start of the Mountaineers making a case for their QB for the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
It could be a huge game for Smith in his own backyard. It's the only game in town, on ESPN, and the only really significant bowl game left other than the Cotton Bowl on Friday next week's BCS National Championship in New Orleans.
Whether it's Big East or Big 12 membership next season for WVU, Smith - pitching to familiar catchers in Coach Dana Holgorsen's airy attack again on a team that returns its skill position stars - easily could lead the nation in passing in 2012.
While the Big 12 would (and will, whenever it happens) be a tougher challenge for WVU, if Smith plays big in the Texas-Oklahoma axis of pigskin, it will only help his candidacy. And WVU's throw-spread scheme is a tailored fit in the yards-happy Big 12.
Ten of the last 11 Heismans have been won by quarterbacks. Gino - hey, same name, different spelling - Torretta was the only Big East player to win as Miami's QB in 1992. Six Big 12 players have won the 25-pound trophy since then.
RG3, Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum, Kellen Moore and Russell Wilson will be done with college ball.
Smith's major QB challengers would figure to be USC's Matt Barkley and Denard Robinson of Michigan.
OK, we're getting ahead of things, but Smith's last big game on national TV was his biggest. Against a defense of an LSU team that's unbeaten and playing for a national title, the 6-foot-3 QB threw for a WVU record 463 yards back in September.
A big game against another set of Tigers with a physical defense tonight could portend something special for Smith next season ... not that he wants to discuss it.
"I'm very excited to be home," Smith said Monday, "in my home state, home city to play in such a big game, to boost this university and get our program where we want to be ... to be the first Dana Holgorsen-coached team to make it to a BCS bowl is pretty special.
"I'm not a selfish guy. Whatever is going to be set out for me as far as the next level and next year goes, I can take care of that next year."
Smith doesn't flinch easily. It's one reason why he's had six games of more than 370 passing yards for the 9-3 Mountaineers. By the way, the Orange Bowl records for pass completions and yardage are 34 and 369, both belonging to Tom Brady - yes, that All-Pro Patriot - for Michigan in 2000.
"The way he stays in the pocket, under pressure," WVU center Joe Madsen answered when asked about Smith's impressive trait. "He'll take hits like nobody else."
OK, so is that good or bad?
"It's on the fence," Madsen said, grinning. "If he's holding it for a long time, "it means you're doing your job (protecting), but if he's holding onto it and getting sacked, it's, 'Get rid of the ball so I don't look bad.'"
Smith's high school and college catching teammate, Stedman Bailey, sees is buddy as boosting perhaps more than one candidacy.
"This is a big opportunity for him, for me and our team," Bailey said. "We're not sure what's going on with the conference realignment, if we're going to go to the Big 12 or not, but winning this will be very important for us, especially if we do go into the Big 12. It will give us a lot of hype for next year.