NEW YORK (AP) -For Ohio State and Troy Smith, it’s been that kind of year.
The Buckeyes were No. 1 from start to finish and their star quarterback had no real challenger in winning the Heisman Trophy.
Smith was a runaway winner Saturday night as the best player in college football, just two years after nearly derailing his career by taking money from a booster.
The senior quarterback moved to the front of the Heisman race in September with a flawless performance against Texas and finished off a perfect regular season by throwing four touchdown passes against Michigan.
Now, there’s only one thing left for Smith to do: Beat Florida for the national championship on Jan. 8.
“Normally, I’m pretty cool in pressure situations, but my heart is pounding really fast now,” said Smith, who had big hugs for his mother, sister and coach Jim Tressel before taking the podium for his speech.
“I’m at a loss for words. I just can’t believe this is happening. … It means everything. Just to be here in this situation. I love everybody back home in Columbus.”
Like so many of the victories Smith has led the Buckeyes to this season, the Heisman win was a rout.
He received 801 first-place votes, the second most ever, and 1,662 points more than second-place finisher Darren McFadden of Arkansas, making it the second-most lopsided Heisman vote. Only O.J. Simpson’s 1,750-point victory in 1968 was more onesided.
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn was third and West Virginia running back Steve Slaton was fourth.
Smith also received 86.7 percent of the first-place votes, a record, and his point total of 2,540 places third in Heisman history behind Simpson (2,853) and fellow Southern California tailback Reggie Bush, who had 2,541 last season
The 22-year-old Smith is the sixth player from Ohio State to win the Heisman and first since tailback Eddie George in 1995. And it’s the school’s seventh Heisman – Archie Griffin won two in 1974-75 – tying Notre Dame and Southern California for the most.
USC had been on a Heisman run, winning two straight and three of the last four, before Smith stepped in. Just like USC’s Bush and Matt Leinart, and Oklahoma’s Jason White in ’03, Smith will play for the national title as a Heisman winner.
It’s been quite a journey.
Smith came to Ohio State as part of a heralded recruiting class in 2002, but his signing was little more than a footnote. His claim to fame was being Ted Ginn Jr.’s quarterback at Glenville High School.
Smith was labeled an “athlete” coming out of high school, the type of player who might ultimately find a home at wide receiver or defensive back.
Even Tressel wasn’t sure he’d play quarterback, but he saw potential.
But Smith, a foster child as a teen with a quick temper, also had a penchant for finding trouble. After getting kicked off the basketball team at a private high school for elbowing an opponent, he transferred out of the suburbs of Cleveland to inner-city Glenville High. Smith, who is black, said the white opposing player used a racial slur against him.
At Ohio State, Smith was involved in a fight outside a dorm in the fall of 2003 and found guilty of disorderly conduct.
On the field, Smith couldn’t beat out Justin Zwick, the highly touted blue-chipper from the ’02 class, at the start of the 2004 season. But when the Buckeyes lost three straight and Zwick got hurt, Smith got his chance and righted the Buckeyes with his running and passing.
Then he tripped himself up again.
An NCAA investigation determined he took $500 from an Ohio State booster in the spring of 2004. He could have been gone from the Buckeyes for good. Ultimately, he had to repay the money and sit out a bowl game and the first game of 2005.
Back from suspension, he finally became a star.
Smith finished the ’05 season with consecutive 300-yard passing games in victories over Michigan and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, essentially kicking off his ’06 Heisman campaign.
Once known more his speed and elusiveness, Smith’s become the consummate pocket-passer. Accurate and unflappable, he’s fourth in the nation in passer rating (167.9) with 2,507 yards passing and 30 TD passes.
He heads into the BCS championship game 25-2 as a starter, and – Gators beware – Smith has been at his best when the Buckeyes have needed him most.
The first Ohio State quarterback in 70 years to lead the Buckeyes to three straight victories over Michigan, Smith had 1,051 total yards with three touchdown passes and another TD run against the Wolverines.
He’s 11-1 as a starter against ranked opponents, with a chance to improve on that mark in the biggest game of his career in Arizona against Florida.