Can eight touchdowns in one game win the Heisman?

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith staked a claim to college football’s top award with an extraordinary passing game Saturday vs. Baylor.

Christopher Jackson/AP
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith gestures to fans after their NCAA college football game against Baylor in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012. Smith threw for 656 yards and tied a Big 12 record with eight touchdown passes to lead No. 9 West Virginia to a 70-63 win over No. 25 Baylor.

The Heisman Trophy is never won on the basis of what a player does in just one game, but it takes a signature game to become a strong contender. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith delivered that in spades Saturday against Baylor. By throwing for eight touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 70-63 win, he vaulted to the top of just about everybody’s Heisman scorecard. 

Eighth-ranked West Virginia clearly needed every one of Smith’s TD tosses to hold off the 25th -ranked visitors, who themselves got a spectacular game from Nick Florence. His 581 yards passing yards broke the school record of his successor, Robert Griffin III ('RG3'), who won last year’s Heisman Trophy. 

Between Smith and Florence, they threw for a combined 1,237 yards, just 16 yards shy of the NCAA record for passing yards by two opposing players set by Texas Christian’s Matt Vogler and Houston’s David Klinger in 1990 during TCU’s 56-35 victory. 

While Smith’s senior season is off to a great start – the Mountaineers are 4-0; he’s been named the Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Week twice; and he’s yet to be intercepted – he’ll be seriously challenged to maintain such peak performance in the coming weeks.  After its successful debut against in the rugged Big 12 Conference, West Virginia now faces four league opponents ranked in the nation’s Top 25 in its next six games.  The murder’s row consists of No. 11 Texas, No. 7 Kansas State, No. 15 TCU, and No. 17 Oklahoma.

As sensational as Smith has been so far, especially versus Baylor, he has only broken one NCAA record, that for most passing yards gained per attempt in a game with a minimum of 40 attempts.  By completing 45 passes for 656 yards, his 14.57 yards per completed pass  broke the old mark of 14.1 yards set by Brigham Young’s John Walsh against Utah State.

Here is a rundown of how Smith’s stats stack up against other NCAA records:

Smith:  8 TD passes against Baylor

NCAA record: 11 touchdown passes by Houston’s David Klingler against Eastern Washington in 1990

Smith: 45 completions against Baylor

NCAA record: 58 completions (of 80 passes) by Eastern Michigan’s Andy Schmitt against Central Michigan in 2008

Smith: 656 passing yards against Baylor

NCAA record: 716 passing yards by Houston’s David Klingler against Arizona State in 1990

Other records Smith could conceivably break this season, although realistically doing so would be a long shot:

NCAA record for most passing yards during a 12-game season: 5,336 yards by B.J. Symons of Texas Tech in 2003

Smith: At his current pace, he would throw for 5,184 yards

NCAA record for highest percentage of passes completed in a season with a minimum of 150 attempts: 76.7 percent by Colt McCoy of Texas in 2008

Smith: 83.4 percent after four games; he’s 141 for 169

NCAA record for lowest percentage of passes intercepted during a season with a minimum of 350 attempts: 0.7 percent by Boise State’s Kellen Moore in 2009, when he had only 3 of 431 passing attempts picked off 

Smith: 0 percent intercepted after first four of 12 regular-season games

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