Mizzou's Smith held back by TV execs, mediocre team
Posted: Sunday November 13, 2005 9:02PM; Updated: Monday November 14, 2005 1:30PM
Missouri's Brad Smith has passed for 1,774 yards and rushed for 1,080 this season.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Sometimes, when I'm watching his highlights (because in New York, the country's No. 1 market, his team's games are rarely shown), the plays look silly. The defenders, sillier. I'm talking about Missouri quarterback Brad Smith, a senior who has spent four years in the "Show Me" state, his exploits seeming to cry out to network programmers, "Show Me!", but to no avail.
On Saturday, Smith, lining up in the shotgun in an offense that appears so basic that I often wonder whether the opposing defensive line is counting Mississippis, scored on a pair of ridiculous 56-yard scampers in Mizzou's 31-16 win over Baylor. For the day he finished with 164 yards on the ground, his fourth 150-plus-yard rushing day this season. Smith not only is the leading rusher among quarterbacks in the nation, he is the leading rusher overall in the Big 12 with 108 yards per game.
He's been doing this all season. Smith has five touchdown runs of 30 or more yards (31 versus New Mexico, 79 and 45 yards against Nebraska, and Saturday's twin 56ers) this autumn and 12 rushing touchdowns overall. He's been doing that all four years in Columbia.
This is usually the point of a Brad Smith column where the writer campaigns for Smith to at least to be invited to the Heisman presentation as a finalist (honestly, Brad, you don't want to deal with the traffic here in December) or says that it's a shame that fans do not appreciate him more. That is not where I am headed.
Smith's surname is as innocuous as his football program, which is as innocuous as the state of Missouri itself. Missouri, I am sure, is a great state, but who outside of Missouri knows that? It has two major cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, that rest on opposite longitudinal ends of the state as if they are itching to leave. Between those two metropolises? Well, unless you're a native, you tell me what's there (and, yes, I've driven across it).
Missouri is the ultimate fly-over state and the Tigers (the fourth-most talked about school with that nickname in the country -- and I work with more than a few Princeton alums who would claim it's the fifth) the ultimate fly-over program. Their record, just like their location, is always stuck in the middle. In Smith's first three seasons the Tigers were 18-18. Currently they are 6-4, with one game remaining at Kansas State.
Television? In a world where I can see the Rutgers-Louisville abomination live in prime-time on ESPN -- and then replayed in the wee hours of Saturday night on ESPN2 (remember what I wrote last week about preferred forms of execution?) -- Missouri is nearly invisible. It's as if programmers see "Mizzou" and think those middle ZZ's stand for the average viewer's reaction to the Tigers. Here's a Big 12 program with one of the nation's most exciting players that has appeared three times on TV this season: once, a split national broadcast on ABC when it hosted Texas; a Fox Sports Net broadcast of the Nebraska game; and an ABC regional game at Colorado. In short, it's rare that most of us in the country have an opportunity to watch Brad Smith play without Rece Davis narrating.
That's not a knock on Davis. Nor Smith. Brad Smith chose to attend school at Missouri for his own reasons and he has done nothing but bring credit to the program. There are at least three dozen other schools that he could have attended where right now he'd be a bigger phenomenon. Sure, sportswriters should have paid him more attention. Sportswriters should wear nicer shoes, too, but that doesn't mean that we will.
Smith has already graduated with a degree in business administration and is now taking graduate-level courses. He owns more records than Lester Bangs, and is the NCAA's active leader in total offense. He has never, to my knowledge, planted a flag on another team's 50-yard line. He is almost head-and-shoulders above whoever else is on the field in terms of talent, speed, or gridiron instincts in general. Brad Smith, to the best of my knowledge, has never let anything but his sublime play call attention to himself while wearing an "M" on his helmet.
It's just that, for four years now, not enough of us have really cared. Maybe we've waited for an epochal Mizzou win, or we've been daring the Tigers, "Show Me!" And they haven't -- despite the best efforts of their quarterback.