Alex Smith is a winner.
It's almost irrefutable. As a starting quarterback at both the University of Utah and Helix High School in California, his teams have a combined record of 43-2.
After Smith's latest conquest Saturday's 63-31 victory over Colorado State at Rice-Eccles Stadium Sonny Lubick became the latest coach to praise the junior. Lubick told reporters that Smith could play against anybody.
"(He's) as good as we expected him to be," explained Lubick.
Smith completed 16-of-21 passes. Smith leads the nation in points responsible and tops the Mountain West Conference in pass efficiency and total offense ranking among the top 10 in the country in both categories.
"Alex Smith is simply a phenomenal quarterback," said Utah coach Urban Meyer.
Just last week, a letter from the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City made its way onto Meyer's desk. It contained an announcement that Smith was officially a Heisman Trophy candidate. The prestigious award, given out each season to the nation's top college football player, will be handed out this year in New York on Dec. 11.
Becoming an official Heisman candidate is the latest accolade in what Smith considers a "surreal" series of experiences that has accompanied Utah's rise to prominence. He's been featured on every ESPN television and radio show, as well as ESPN The Magazine. Sports Illustrated and USA Today, along with newspapers in major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, have already done stories.
And more are on the way.
"We've never experienced anything like this," said Liz Abel, Utah's sports information director. "I've been here 22 years, and it's definitely different than anything I've ever experienced."
Media requests to interview Smith have become so great that restrictions have been placed on his availability. In an effort to free up more time for his graduate school studies and ensure time for dinner, Smith only meets with reporters on Mondays, Wednesdays and after games.
Abel said Smith is "unfailingly polite" to everyone he speaks with despite a multitude of repetitive questions.
"This kid is great. It is so exciting that I get to help promote somebody like this," said Abel. "How can you not want to try to do whatever you can for this guy?"
Smith, who just turned 20 in May and has already earned a bachelor's degree, is making quick work of football success as well. Entering Saturday's game at Wyoming (5 p.m., Ch. 4), he's already racked up 4,447 yards passing and 39 touchdowns in his career.
The scores have all come since Meyer's arrival. Smith's development, though, didn't accelerate from the start. It came in stages as he climbed from third-stringer in the spring of 2003 to the undisputed starter after Brett Elliott's injury last season.
"He's better today than he was yesterday," said Meyer. "That's the kind of player he is."
Smith acknowledges his development as a college quarterback has come in steps. Things started to make sense for him in victories over California and Colorado State last season. This year's season-opening win over Texas A&M provided another big step.
"A big confidence thing," said Smith. "I truly understand what we're trying to do."
Smith and quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen have formed a kinship that includes spending a lot of time discussing strategy and watching film.
Preparation is of paramount importance to Smith. So, too, is maintaining focus.
Though overwhelmed by Heisman Trophy talk, he admits to growing more comfortable with it as long as it stays on the back burner. Utah, after all, still has a couple of games left to play.
"You don't have a lot of time to reflect out here during the season," said Smith. "If I start thinking about it, then that's when I'm going to play bad. If I'm out there thinking about the Heisman, that's going to be bad for me and bad for this team. The bottom line is winning."
And that's something Smith knows a thing or two about.
Winning the Heisman, he acknowledges, is not something he considers realistic. Smith is obsessed with team success. The two may go hand-in-hand.Comment on this story
"Nationally televised games have changed the picture because people have seen Alex play and they're impressed," said Abel, who is determined to contact as many Heisman voters as possible on Smith's behalf.
Unlike past publicity campaigns for athletes like Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller and Luther Elliss, there are a lot of calls coming in as well. Promoting Smith, Abel noted, has become a full-time job occupying as much, if not more time, than the rest of the football team combined.
The attention, however, hasn't changed Smith."He's humble and he's handled it with a good deal of humility," said Abel. "He's so smart. He's handled it amazingly well."
In the race
The following rankings are taken from an average of the latest Heisman Trophy watch lists from five national publications (ESPN.com, SI.com, CBSsportsline.com, SportingNews.com and the Associated Press).
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, OklahomaOU's freshman sensation has eight straight 100-yard rushing games for the No. 2 Sooners.
2. Alex Smith, QB, UtahJunior continues to move up on most lists as Utes roll through Mountain West Conference opponents.
3. Jason White, QB, OklahomaHis five touchdowns vs. Texas A&M reminded everyone of why he won the Heisman Trophy last year.
4. Matt Leinart, QB, USCModest numbers vs. Oregon State as Southern Cal survived an early scare
5. Jason Campbell, QB, AuburnHas a big game coming up against Georgia.