By LUKE MEREDITH, AP Sports Writer
Typically a league that loses one Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and another that threw 37 touchdown passes is going to see its overall passing numbers slip.
There’s nothing typical about the Big 12.
The departure of Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden for starting jobs in the NFL has done nothing to limit the league’s preposterously successful passing games.
Four of the nation’s top five quarterbacks in passing efficiency play for Big 12 schools, led by West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Texas’ David Ash.
Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and TCU’s Casey Pachall are fourth and fifth respectively in efficiency, and Smith and Baylor’s Nick Florence rank first and second in passing yards per game.
There are only 10 teams left in the Big 12 — and yet eight of them are throwing for over 200 yards a game.
“It’s a tad bit scary, to tell you the truth, because of the volume of points that are being scored,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. “Every week you look at the scoreboard and you say ‘My gosh.”’
Smith’s 656-yard, eight touchdown performance in a 70-63 win over Baylor will go down as one of the most transcendent passing performances in the history of the game. Smith and the Mountaineers seem to be a perfect fit for the Big 12, and they’ve certainly caught the attention of Texas coach Mack Brown ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Longhorns in Austin.
“They’re just unbelievable,” Brown said of Smith. “He just makes no mistakes. He’s very confident. He’s very smart. The receivers are unbelievable.”
Smith isn’t doing it alone, of course. West Virginia receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are second and third in the nation in receptions per game.
“The rapport that they have with Geno is going a long ways. They’ve been hanging out together for going on four years,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgerson said.
Ash, a sophomore, spent much of last season sharing duties with Case McCoy.
He has thrown 10 touchdown passes while completing 78 percent of his passes. In last week’s 41-36 win at Oklahoma State, he had 303 yards and three TD passes.
His coach Mike Gundy said, “He’s really improved and he’s comfortable with what they’re trying to accomplish and he’s playing good football.”
Florence spent three seasons biding his time behind Griffin.
Though it went down as little more than a footnote on Smith’s day, Florence finished with 581 yards and five TD passes.
Florence has 16 touchdown passes in four games and is on pace to beat Griffin’s total of 37 touchdown tosses from 2011.
“He’s always been a guy that’s just been a winner, with his mentality and his physical abilities,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.
Walsh has thrown for at least 300 yards in each of his two starts in place of the injured Wes Lunt. Pachall has 10 TD passes against just one pick — and that’s after playing in a downpour during Saturday’s 24-16 win over SMU.
Oklahoma star Landry Jones and Texas Tech’s Seth Doege aren’t even in the discussion about the league’s best so far.
Jones has been solid, completing 63.6 percent of his passes. Doege has 15 touchdown throws, including three in a 24-13 win over Iowa State last week.
But neither they nor Ash or Florence can touch what Smith has done thus far.
It’s been a nightmare for defenses to game plan for Smith, who’s thrown 20 touchdowns and no interceptions. It had Brown indulging in some gallows humor regarding Manny Diaz, his defensive coordinator.
“I’ve been down there three times. He’s got his door closed and he’s under the desk,” Brown joked.