MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind while wondering if Saturday's game with Kansas will be the last at home for two-thirds of the most productive offensive trio in school history or all three:I know, you're wondering, too. The guess here is all three.Geno Smith suits up for the last time for a game at Mountaineer Field and so does Tavon Austin. They came in together in 2009, never redshirted and will leave as the top passer in school history (Smith, by a country mile) and the top receiver (Austin, but not by nearly as much).Of course, the reason Austin isn't further out there ahead of the pack, too, is because of the other guy who was a part of that 2009 recruiting class. Stedman Bailey redshirted his first year, and while he's 89 receptions behind Austin, he's only 335 yards back.
Bailey can leave early and declare for the NFL draft and there is absolutely nothing to suggest he won't. Smith and Austin are rated as better prospects right now - Smith is the No. 1 overall pick in several mock drafts and Austin is generally listed as a first-rounder - but Bailey could elevate himself from a third- or fourth-rounder in those ratings with a good performance at the NFL Combine. Even if he doesn't, there's nothing wrong with being picked in the first three or four rounds.Why does it appear he'll leave? Well, every time Dana Holgorsen has mentioned seniors this season he's seemed to hint that Bailey should be considered among them without coming right out and saying it.And while Bailey isn't saying one way or another, he doesn't sound like a guy committed to returning for his senior season with a new quarterback, a new offensive line and without Austin as a diversion."I don't think much about it,'' Bailey said after the Oklahoma State game on Nov. 10. "I'm just still focusing on this season and trying to do all I can to help my team get back to where we were, focusing on what I need to do now and not so much about next year. I'm just taking it a game at a time.''Holgorsen danced around the question this week, saying that juniors are always testing the waters - the NFL allows that and gives players a peek at where they might be drafted - and that he generally doesn't talk to them about it until after that process is completed, which is in January. But he also worked into his answer about a generic question regarding the subject that "I think I understand what you're talking about.''The clincher? Well, a couple of weeks ago, Bailey's girlfriend gave birth to Stedman Bailey Jr., so it probably wouldn't be a bad thing for daddy to go to work.
So, did Holgorsen err in not putting Austin in the backfield earlier than he did?Well, the easy answer is yes. When a guy runs for 344 yards the first time he's lined up there - three games before his eligibility runs out - it seems like anything prior to that was a colossal waste. And to his credit, Holgorsen isn't standing adamantly by his failure to do so almost until it was too late."Would it have benefited us to do this six games ago?'' Holgorsen asked rhetorically. "Probably.''I can't help but think, though, that there would have been a tremendous risk to playing the 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior in the backfield for 12 games. No, you didn't have to give him the ball 20 times a game and force him to take a pounding, but even handing it to him five or 10 times every week would have taken a toll.
And it's not as if Austin was wasting away as a slot receiver, occasional running back and punt and kick returner. Kansas coach Charlie Weis was talking the other day about his versatility and all that West Virginia does with him."At running back he is as good as I've seen there. At wide receiver he's good there,'' Weis said. "He comes in motion and they do this little touch pass where the quarterback doesn't even catch the shotgun snap; he taps it forward to him. And he's also their kickoff returner and punt returner."Other than that, he provides no worth at all to their team.''Indeed, over his career, no one in school history has caught more passes (280) for more yards (3,273) than Austin. No one has returned more kickoffs (91) for more yards (2,286) or more touchdowns (4). No one has more all-purpose yards (6,949).Given those numbers and his size, it's kind of hard to argue that Austin was misused or underutilized. Still, it would have been really interesting to see what he could have done running the ball more than 87 times in four years.nn
And finally, Wes Lyons has written a book.Yes, that Wes Lyons, who played 48 games for the Mountaineers between 2006 and 2009 without ever remaining healthy enough to realize the kind of potential that a 6-8, 230-pound receiver might have.The book is titled "The Pursuit with Patience" and it chronicles just about everything from his early life in suburban Pittsburgh, his recruitment, his time at West Virginia and his brief flings in pro football. It's not intended so much as a biography as a lesson in not giving up and the hurdles along the way.Oh, and something young people might want to read."Kids don't like to read. Players don't even like to read,'' Lyons said. "I figured I'd give them something to read and something they'd like to read and be interested in.''The book was released Monday and is available on Amazon or at Lyons' website, wesleylyons.com.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.