When you’re talking cradle of quarterbacks at the collegiate football level, it’s pretty much a rank-and-file process. Brigham Young, Miami, Southern Cal typically rate pretty high. Perhaps even Purdue, too.
But West Virginia University? …
A proud tradition really started to take hold back in the days of two-way standout Sam Huff back in the 1950s and fully blossomed under the tutelage of coach Rich Rodriguez last decade. The Mountaineers went from rough-and-tough to spread-option sensations in the process.
When it came to signature signal-callers, though, they appeared to be a little short on the litany list.
However, with the emergence of WVU’s Geno Smith as the nation’s pre-eminent player this fall, it bears a closer look at the program in general. Indeed, has it been that barren at the game’s key position, or has the nation’s awareness just been lost in those hills John Denver used to sign about?
Upon further review, it looks like the latter.
In short, Smith isn’t the only guy to star at QB for the Mountaineers. In fact, you could debate that he isn’t even the one to shine brightest … yet.
How about we break it down:
Jake Kelchner and Darren Studstill: We might as well keep them joined at the hip since the two rotated during the 1993 season which saw WVU go 11-0 in the regular season, take Big East Conference honors … and then get pulverized in the Sugar Bowl by Florida, 41-7. Studstill actually lasted three seasons in the NFL – as a defensive back. Kelchner may have been the biggest recruit to land in Morgantown, after initially taking his No. 1 status to Notre Dame before transferring.
Oliver Luck: The school’s current AD, and, yes, father of ballyhooed Colts QB Andrew Luck, actually could sling it a little bit, tossing for better than 2,400 yards in 1981 while leading the Mountaineers to a No. 19 ranking.
Jeff Hostetler: A decade or so ago, “Hoss” maybe would have been the most recognizable name of the bunch. He was a great player for WVU, throwing for more than 4,200 yards in leading it to back-to-back national rankings in 1982 and ’83, when he finished seventh in the Heisman voting. Of course, he also had his moments in the NFL, earning a Pro Bowl spot in 1994 and being part of two Super Bowl champion squads.
Marc Bulger: His 31 TD passes in 1998 set a school record that Smith tied last season and appears poised to shatter this fall. Bulger threw for 54 TDs and more than 7,400 yards at WVU between 1996 and ’99 before becoming a two-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Pat White: The Mountaineers’ national profile never looked better than it did while White held the reins to the team’s offense. From 2005 through 2008, WVU finished fifth, 10th, sixth and 23rd in the polls, thanks in large part to their sleek, left-handed QB. White set the WVU record for total career yardage with 10,529 stripes – a number Smith should pass within the next few weeks.
Major Harris: Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009, Harris merely thrust WVU into the national spotlight in the late 1980s, wowing everyone in his tracks en route to finishing third in ’89 Heisman voting after coming in fifth the year before while directing the Mountaineers to an 11-0 regular season and a berth in the national title game against top-ranked Notre Dame. WVU lost, 34-21, and ended up fifth in the final poll. He was the first Division I QB to pass for more than 5,000 yards and rush for more than 2,000 in a career.
Smith: Well, his numbers are mind-boggling. Thus far, he’s making a mockery of previous standards for excellence and excitement – just a year after Robert Griffin III did so for Baylor en route to winning the Heisman. The senior already holds every school passing record – career, season and single game – for yards, completions, attempts, completion percentage and TDs. Right now, he appears to be the runaway leader in the race for the game’s highest individual honor by a laughable margin. In leading No. 8 WVU to a 4-0 start, Smith has thrown for 1,728 yards, 20 TDs and 0 INTs … while completing 83.4 percent of his passes.
So, is Smith the best? Well, it depends what you grading system is. No one can argue with the stats. They’re incomprehensible. But if you’re asking for the call, from here, right now, the nod still goes to Harris, who single-handedly carried WVU into the national spotlight in a time when not every game was televised and if you didn’t play in the Big Ten, Pac-10 or SEC, or weren’t named Notre Dame or Penn State, you got no respect – at all.
Could that “vote” change? Sure. If Smith puts up similar numbers throughout the rest of the season and/or somehow gets the Mountaineers into the national title game.