Alex Smith finished fourth in the 2004 Heisman voting and thus became the most successful football player in Utah football history. While he was never a true contender for the Heisman, I feel he was every bit as deserving as the three who finished ahead of him - Matt Lienart, Adrian Peterson and Jason White. Now maybe I'm a bit biased (okay, maybe a lot), but Smith's numbers were phenomenal and he was a special kind of player who had a ridiculous won/loss record and did something no quarterback could do before at the non-BCS level - lead his team to the BCS.
On pure ability alone, Smith just might be the best player to ever come through the University of Utah. His greatness in 2004 led to his being drafted number one overall and while his career took time to even reach the launching pad in San Francisco, between himself, Lienart and White, Smith is now the lone starting quarterback of the three.
Of course, that isn't to take anything away from either, especially Lienart, who, along with Reggie Bush, led the USC Trojans to the national championship, but I often think Smith's status as a Mountain West Conference quarterback held him back in the national media's eyes - specifically those back east.
Where Smith was underrated was his ability to run the ball. He was a fantastic scrambler that probably led to the best performance of Urban Meyer's spread that I think I've ever seen (and that includes Tim Tebow). He, along with Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther, ran the spread-option almost flawlessly. I think, had the Utes been in a BCS league, the media would have paid more attention to just how dominant Utah's offense was.
Smith was a very intelligent football player. He knew how to read the defenses well and when you're running an offense like the spread-option, that relies heavily on quarterback intelligence (this is why I think Johnson also thrived running the offense), knowing when to make the pitch, or keep the ball, or audible at the line, intelligence is key.
Knowing what Smith could do at the college level, do you think he deserved the Heisman in 2004? Personally, I think he was a great player, maybe the best in the country that year, but with Utah's schedule as soft as it was, there was no chance of him winning the Heisman (similarly, the Utes had no chance of ever playing in the title game that year, even if they were the lone undefeated). But if you put him, and Utah for that matter, in the PAC from '04, does that change your thinking?
Honestly, put Smith and Utah in the PAC and I think he instantly becomes a legitimate contender. Maybe he doesn't win it, but I think he's making far better of a case than he eventually did and in the end, depending on where Utah finishes, and the fact he would have gone head-to-head with Lienart, he just might have won it.
Hopefully now that Utah is in a high-level conference, when a player of Smith's magnitude does come along, whether quarterback or not, they'll actually have a shot of hoisting the famed award. For Smith, though, I guess we're left with the memories and a what if.
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