On Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, West Va., Mountaineers' quarterback Geno Smith was steadily building his NFL Draft stock. Standing tall in the pocket, Smith took hit after hit while delivering strong accurate throws down the field, collecting more than 650 yards passing and eight touchdowns against the Baylor Bears.
About 2,600 miles to the west, Matt Barkley, widely considered the top senior quarterback prospect heading into the season, sat idle. Barkley and his USC Trojans had a bye week, so all the quarterback could do was sit and reflect on what has been an underwhelming start to his senior campaign.
Barkley has yet to live up to the standard he set in his first three college seasons. Behind a shaky offensive line, Barkley has struggled with his accuracy, decision-making and pocket presence, culminating in a dreadful stat line and loss to Stanford a few weeks ago. Despite a rebound effort against California, Barkley's stock is slipping.
The result has been draftniks everywhere questioning their preseason rankings, pulling Smith up the board and criticizing Barkley's every move. Switching Smith and Barkley in the rankings is fair, especially given the performances each player has turned in.
But is it already time to anoint Geno Smith as the best senior draft prospect at his position? Has Barkley's start been slow enough for him to drop this quickly?
The NFL Draft is all about momentum, and right now, Smith has all of the momentum.
The Mountaineers' quarterback has undoubtedly been impressive to begin the season. His size and arm strength are both ideal for the NFL. He has proven his toughness, standing in the pocket and taking big hits while delivering the football. On top of that, he has developed a quick release and elite accuracy.
Questions still remain, though. For starters, Smith has still shown a tendency to hold on to the ball too long at times. And while he put a solid game on tape last October against LSU, NFL talent evaluators will be eager to see the senior version of Smith against a tough defense. Texas and Kansas State are right around the corner and will provide Smith with an opportunity to showcase his skills.
While he has cemented himself as a first-round pick, and is certainly in the running to be the first quarterback off the board, the NFL Draft process is not a sprint. The No. 1 pick is not decided in September. The momentum is in his corner now, but can Smith maintain it for the rest of the season?
Meanwhile, those quick to write off Barkley need to take a look at the offensive line he's working behind. It's dramatically affecting how USC game plans, forcing Barkley to make quick throws with no time to develop longer routes. When Barkley does have time to let plays develop downfield, he has to do a better job of ball placement and decision-making.
But perhaps we have all been spoiled by the wonder kid, Andrew Luck, and forget that top quarterback prospects often have ups and downs. It's about a body of work, but Barkley isn't helping himself by limping to the finish line.
Geno Smith's size and athletic edge over Matt Barkley may very well make him the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. To this point, Smith has been the more accurate quarterback and made more big-time, "NFL-type" throws. He has outclassed Barkley every week, plain and simple. Where Barkley is losing confidence each week, Smith has become a supremely confident and courageous quarterback in his final season in Morgantown.
By April, Matt Barkley may be regretting coming back for his senior season. Meanwhile, Geno Smith's extra year has done wonders for his game and draft stock.
This race is about to get interesting.