Every year, the Heisman Trust honors the 50th, 25th and 10th anniversary recipients of the most prestigious trophy in sports. This year, our honorees are Steve Spurrier, Desmond Howard and Troy Smith. The following article appears in the 2016 Heisman Memorial Trophy program.
Troy Smith, 10th Anniversary Heisman recipient
Few Heisman winners dominated their seasons quite the way Troy Smith of Ohio State did in 2006.
The 6-0, 225-pound senior quarterback led the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the national title game while passing his way to his school’s record-tying seventh bronze trophy.
And to think: He almost didn’t end up at Ohio State.
Smith was born in Columbus, but grew up in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland. He played his first two years at St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio, then later transferred to Glenville High, where he finished out his prep career.
Though Smith played quarterback at Glenville (while also running track and playing basketball), he was very raw. He threw for just 969 yards and 12 touchdowns during his senior year. As a result, he was given the ‘athlete’ tag during the recruiting process. At first, only Toledo and West Virginia offered him scholarships, but his high school coach, Ted Ginn, convinced Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel to make an offer.
“There was one scholarship left, and he didn’t really need a quarterback,” Ginn said. “He said, ‘I’ve got a quarterback.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. Take him as an athlete.'”
As it turns out, Smith accepted the last scholarship available and enrolled in the fall of 2002 as the least heralded player in Ohio State’s celebrated recruiting class.
It took a while for Smith to make an impact for the Buckeyes. After redshirting in 2002, Smith got on the field in 2003, but as a running back and kick returner for the Buckeyes, compiling 14 yards rushing and 83 return yards. He finally won the backup quarterback job in 2004, taking over as the starter halfway through the season. Smith won four of the five games he started and finished the season with 896 passing yards and eight touchdowns to go with 339 rushing yards and two scores.
Smith continued to develop as a quarterback, landing the starting spot for the Buckeyes in 2005. He was deadly with his arm as well as with his feet, leading the Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame while throwing for 2,282 yards and 16 scores and rushing for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns.
With a full season as a starter under his belt, Smith was ready to come into his own as a senior — and that’s exactly what happened.
He threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns to lead the No. 1 Buckeyes to a 24-7 victory over No. 2 Texas in week two. It was a game that catapulted him to the top of the Heisman charts.
He bombarded Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern with four touchdowns passes each in weeks five, eight and 10, respectively. Then, he sealed the deal on his Heisman season with a magnificent performance against No. 2 Michigan in his final home game, passing for a season-high 316 yards and four TDs in a thrilling 42-39 victory.
Ohio State finished up its regular season 11-0 and No. 1 in the BCS rankings, while Smith tallied 2,507 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also rushed for 233 yards and a touchdown. As a testament to his evolution as a quarterback, his efficiency rating of 167.87 was among the best in the country.
Not surprisingly, he won the Heisman in an epic landslide, beating out runner up Darren McFadden of Arkansas by 1,622 points. He received 86.7 percent of the Heisman vote and 801 first-place votes, the second highest totals in Heisman history.
Though he was expected to win the trophy, Smith was still overcome by emotion when his name was announced.
“Normally, I’m pretty cool in pressure situations, but my heart is pounding really fast now,” he said.
The impact of winning the award was not lost on Smith.
“I’m pretty sure there will be students who don’t have anything to do with sports that will tell their kids they were students the year Troy Smith won the Heisman,” Smith said. “That’s very special for me. This is a win for the whole state of Ohio, for a lot of people, not just me.”
While the 2007 BCS title game was rough going for Ohio State, Smith will probably most be known by Buckeye fans for his performances against arch rival Michigan. In three games against the Wolverines, Smith totaled 1,151 yards of total offense, two rushing touchdowns, and seven passing touchdowns. The Buckeyes won all three games, making Smith the first Ohio State quarterback since Tippy Dye (1934–1936) to quarterback in three victories over Michigan, and the first to win three straight games against Michigan as a starter.
Smith graduated from Ohio State with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft (174th overall) by the Baltimore Ravens. He later played for the 49ers, the Steelers and in the CFL.