Long before he blistered the Baylor defense with last week's 656-yard passing performance that included more touchdown tosses (eight) than incompletions (six), West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith offered a glimpse into his unique psyche.
"I hold myself to a higher standard than anybody possibly can. I expect perfection from myself," Smith said during a July trip to Dallas for the Big 12 media days. "Even though it's impossible, I try to be perfect. That's the way I practice. That's the way I am. And that's the way I want to be."
Smith's lofty expectations, through four games, have been backed on the field with an 83.4 completion rate and a 20-0 ratio of touchdown passes-to-interceptions. In football at any level, quarterbacks can't come much closer to flawless than that.
Those statistics have made Smith the runaway leader in the Heisman Trophy race as No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) prepares to meet No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0) at 6 tonight in Austin (KDFW/Ch. 4). It marks the Mountaineers' first trip to the Lone Star State as a Big 12 member and offers Smith a high-profile platform to validate his Heisman hopes.
Texas fans hoping to watch Smith shrink in the spotlight, overwhelmed by the hostile atmosphere and the Longhorns' defense, should brace themselves for disappointment. Texas may win by plundering West Virginia's shaky defense. But Smith, a third-year starter, is the team's emotional rock as well as its most accomplished player.
"He's the type of player that, when things get tough, he's not going to fold," said receiver Tavon Austin, who has grabbed seven of Smith's 20 TD passes this season. "He's always going to keep his composure and make sure everything's good and everyone else is good."
A legitimate Heisman hopeful?
"He should win it," Austin said.
Smith brings more than numbers to the table. In a one-on-one setting, he displays similar intangible traits to quarterback Robert Griffin III, last year's Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor.
Both players are smart, self-confident, focused and fun-loving. Both are willing to speak without a filter on a variety of subjects and, if necessary, to back up every bit of bravado they offer in efforts to inspire teammates.
Smith, for example, believes the Mountaineers will post a 12-0 record during their first season as Big 12 members.
"We have the team to do it," he said. "I expect to win every game. I expect to complete every pass. I expect to make perfect reads. Is that going to happen? No. But I figure if you hold yourself to that standard, when you shoot for the moon, you land among the stars."
The way Smith has it figured, public discussions about perfect records and lofty goals should motivate the Mountaineers because "the only people who can control that fate and that destiny is us."
Thus far, Smith (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) has controlled every game West Virginia has played this season. He leads the nation in passing efficiency (208.37 rating) and total offense (456.8 yards per game). The Mountaineers average 53 points per game and scored 10 touchdowns in last week's 70-63 victory over Baylor.
Dating back to last year's season-ending victory in the Orange Bowl, when West Virginia pounded Clemson 70-33, the Mountaineers have scored 70, 69, 42, 31 and 70 points in their past five games. All have come with Smith at the helm, distributing the ball to the same core group of skill-position players who will play tonight against the Longhorns.
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz called the Mountaineers' offense "the ultimate challenge" in today's college game because Smith, a senior, has an NFL-ready skill set and plays "in a great system for success." Smith, a Miami native, also is looking forward to returning to Texas and striking a blow for Florida high school football.
"I'm from Florida and we have this rivalry with Texas because they get to play in all the big venues and get all the [recruiting] love. But we have the better players, obviously," Smith said, smiling.
But he became serious when discussing his team's opportunity to prove it belongs in the Big 12, and can win it, as a first-year member.
"As long as we win games, people will believe that we belong. We're not coming into this conference with the mindset that it will be easy," Smith said. "But we do have high expectations."
They also have a quarterback who seeks perfection on every snap. And has come shockingly close to achieving it on a regular basis this season.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760