With the Heisman Trophy celebration nearing, it’s only right to take a trip down memory lane. At this time of the year, football greats, fans, media and family come together at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City to celebrate and honor talent of the past, present and future.
Ten years ago today, Ohio State’s Troy Smith entered the Heisman fraternity. Of course, all Heisman winners have a story, but Smith’s compelling road to the award makes his Heisman win just a bit sweeter.
In 2002, an 18-year-old Smith arrived at Ohio State after graduating from Glenville High School (Cleveland, OH). At the time, he was just another guy. To some, he certainly was not a quarterback. But by the close of 2006, he was a well-decorated quarterback and arguably the best quarterback in Big Ten history.
In 2003, while still at Ohio State, Smith played sparingly as a wide receiver and kickoff returner. This experiment failed (miserably) and resulted in Smith’s return to the QB position where he was fourth-string behind Craig Krenzel, Scott McMullen, and Justin Zwick.
During that year, Smith didn’t complete a pass. His future at quarterback looked bleak. The season after, Smith and Zwick dueled for the starting position. Zwick, who was the purported season-savior, beat out Smith. After a 3-3 start for Zwick and a minor injury, Smith seized the position and never looked back. Well, sort of. Smith was suspended two games for accepting cash from a booster but eventually regained his spot atop of the depth chart.
Years before, people around the Big Ten knew he was good, but 2006 was a chance for him for to show the world he was talented. At a time where Vince Young and Matt Leinart were the cradles of college football quarterbacks, they were gone to the NFL. Smith was the stop-gap quarterback that carried the torch to the likes of Tim Tebow’s and Cam Newton.
For the first time in the Jim Tressel era, the Ohio State offense was the center of attention. And, with Reggie Bush, Leinart, and Young playing on Sundays, the competition for the award was non-existent. At the start of 2006, Smith was the clear favorite. All he had to do was to sustain his level of play, and the award would make its way back to Columbus.
The Buckeyes had a potent offense that featured Smith, Antonio Pittman, Beanie Wells, Ted Ginn Jr., Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and Anthony Gonzalez. Meaning that Smith had the playmakers to do as such.
To no surprise, Smith came out the gates demonstrating to the world the hype was valid. Highlighted by a road game at Texas where Smith led OSU over the Longhorns, it was clear that he arrived. His play was stellar, and he altered his style to mollify NFL scouts. Before, he was known as a running quarterback who could pass. In 2006, he evolved as a pocket passer. He went on to throw for 2,542 yards and 30 touchdowns. In wake of his passing stats, he ran a career low 72 times for 204 yards. The numbers paled in comparison to the previous year where he had 11 touchdowns on the ground and 611 yards rushing.
Looking back on it, Smith held himself back to impress scouts. Despite not displaying his full arsenal of talent, he still walked away with the award. In his senior season, he torched defenses. At times, he was so dominant he was taken out games at halftime.
Smith had the best game of his career in what many dubbed “The Game of The Century.” The No.1. ranked Buckeyes faced off against the No.2 ranked Michigan Wolverines. Smith finished the game going with 316 yards passing, four touchdowns, and his third straight victory over the school up north. The memorable performance in “The Horsehoe” was the exclamation point he needed during his Heisman campaign.
Soon after, Smith’s Cinderella season It ended in defeat in Arizona. The Buckeyes lost to the Urban Meyer-led Florida Gators in the National Championship. The last game of Smith’s career was likely his worst, but it was a footnote in a celebrated career. Although he didn’t win a second national championship, he left fans with endless memories.
After an unsure start, he departed Columbus, Ohio as a Buckeye legend. What transpired during his five years molded a man and quarterback that many were and are still proud of.
Smith's road to the Heisman was filled with bumps and potholes, but it never detoured him. On a night surrounded by some of the biggest names in college football, December 9, 2006, the night belonged to the quarterback that wasn't almost given a chance.