Kansas State’s game Saturday at West Virginia is as much about the Big 12 and national championships as it is the Heisman Trophy for Collin Klein and Geno Smith.
The Mountaineers’ quarterback is still considered the frontrunner for the coveted award right now, and rightfully so, with his gaudy passing numbers week after week.
But K-State’s horse in this race could change all that this weekend when Klein takes his Wildcats into Morgantown, W.Va., for one of the most anticipated matchups this season.
By all accounts Smith and Klein are running 1-2 in the race after six weeks, with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller giving chase.
After Saturday, though, Smith could find himself chasing Klein.
At the very least, with the two QBs on the same field Saturday night, it will give Heisman voters from across the country a chance to make direct comparisons head-to-head.
Smith has all the numbers a voter could want in a Heisman candidate — a completion percentage of 76 percent, more than 2,000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns with no interceptions. It seems the senior is capable of a Heisman Moment every week, none bigger than the 656 yards and eight touchdowns he hung on Baylor last month.
But has the sun already set on Smith, who suffered a major blow to his campaign last Saturday when Texas Tech shocked the Mountaineers 49-14 in Lubbock? He didn’t exactly have a bad game, but his numbers fell drastically short of what we’ve all come to expect from a Geno Smith game.
And let’s face it, with a defense that gives up more than 50 points and almost 600 yards a game in Big 12 play, the Mountaineers are just another offensive-breakout away from losing again.
Will that be the case this weekend when Klein leads the Wildcats into Morgantown for a 6 p.m. kickoff on FOX?
Klein has never passed for 300 yards in a game — something Smith has done four times this season alone. But Klein hasn’t needed to throw for 300 yards either. He’s the steady hand in a run-based offense focused on chewing clock, picking up first downs and scoring touchdowns on its own terms.
The Loveland, Colo., native doesn’t have the numbers Smith has and won’t at the end of the season.
Nonetheless, one would be hard-pressed to find too many holes in Klein’s season so far, as he’s completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,074 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions, while rushing for another 510 yards and 10 scores.
Yet, Smith could walk away from the game right now, not throw another pass all year, and his numbers will still be better than Klein’s at season’s end.
That’s not meant to be a knock on Klein either because what Klein gives the Wildcats is equally as important, perhaps more, in the end than what Smith provides West Virginia.
Klein’s numbers are steady, consistent and rarely does he ever do anything to hurt his team. The efficiency and ease in which Klein runs the K-State offense is unmatched in today’s high-octane pass-happy offensive game.
Putting his body on the line every play, Klein orchestrates the Wildcats’ attack with precision and patience in a brutally grueling game. He does things that are often underappreciated, like grinding out tough ground yards or finding the open receiver on third down, or picking up the fourth-and-short first down and being a virtual lock for a touchdown inside the 5-yard line.
What Klein does isn’t always exciting. Rarely, in fact. But he wins games, which is exactly why he’s in this Heisman race halfway through the season and why fourth-ranked K-State is a national title contender.
Considering that, Klein can’t afford a loss because his greatest argument against Smith is that he’s a winner. Without Smith’s improbable numbers, a loss or two, especially in a head-to-head matchup with his strongest competitor, will stick with voters.
It doesn’t seem fair, I know. But it’s the truth.
The masses — and voters — love offense and Smith provides plenty of it. Smith is always one game away from leaving voters speechless. For Klein’s sake, one has to hope Smith’s best day came against Baylor and that K-State’s MVP will take advantage of Saturday’s spotlight, perhaps providing voters with his own Heisman Moment.
If the Wildcats continue to win, with Klein doing what he does, flashy or not, he will continue to be a candidate for the game’s most coveted individual award — maybe leading K-State to the greatest team award, the national championship.
Given the choice, something tells me Klein would prefer the latter anyway — which is exactly why he could win the other.