That would happen
soon enough. On Oct. 8 against Penn State's ferocious defense, Smith had one of
his least productive games (154 total yards) in a 17-10 loss. But a week later
against Michigan State he looked like a different quarterback. In a 35-24 win
over the Spartans, Smith completed touchdown bombs of 57 yards to Ginn and 51
and 46 yards to Santonio Holmes. He closed his season with the first 300-yard
passing days of his career, against Michigan (300) and Notre Dame (342).
While most Ohio
State fans figured the notoriously conservative Tressel had finally opened up
his playbook, Daniels says the change was more Smith's doing. "It was a
confidence thing," says Daniels. "Before, if the Number 1 receiver on
the progression wasn't open, he might have peeked at Number 2, but he knew what
he could do with his legs. He'd take off. Once the confidence and understanding
came around, he started using that athletic ability to buy time and make plays
with his arm." Says Smith, "With [the coaches] asserting their trust in
me, I knew I had to be in the meeting room after everyone's gone home, studying
film. I'm sure that's why things started to open up."
Smith spent more time watching film than Roger Ebert-15 to 20 hours a week by
his estimation. He showed up for morning conditioning drills 90 minutes early.
In less than a year he has gone from a platoon player to the undisputed leader
of SI's preseason No. 1 team. "Troy has a humble swagger," says
Tressel. "He has a lot of confidence, but he's also humble."
Humility comes in
handy when you're getting ego boosts on a regular basis. Before running
errands, Smith stood in the office of Ohio State sports information director
Steve Snapp and listened as Snapp rattled off a lengthy list of upcoming photo
shoots. In Cleveland, Smith's picture was plastered on billboards as part of
the municipal school district's Stay in School campaign. (In June, Smith earned
a degree in communication.)
complete, Smith retreated to the quiet suburb of Gahanna, about 10 miles
northeast of campus, and pulled into the garage of his two-bedroom
town-house-style apartment. Inside, it's not unlike a typical 22-year-old's
accommodations. There's one noticeable difference, though: On his living room
coffee table is an array of college football preview magazines, nearly every
one of them featuring his picture on the cover.
"I thought it
was a clich� when Ginn Sr. told me this, but when you're the quarterback at
Ohio State, it's pretty much like you're the governor of the state," says
Smith. "Everybody's watching, and everybody has something to say."
unlike last, the talk has been nothing but positive.