Smith concentrating on his arm in 2006

It sounds like the temptation will be there for Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith to break from his film study of second-ranked Texas to sneak in an episode or two of "House," "Nip Tuck" or perhaps (Scarlet and) "Grey's Anatomy."

"Playing quarterback is like being a surgeon," Smith said. "That's what my coaches tell me all the time, 'Be a surgeon.' In everything I do, I'm trying to pick apart what the other team does defensively so we can maximize our opportunities and get in the end zone as often as possible."

That explains the Hawkeye Pierce treatment Smith visited upon Northern Illinois in OSU's 35-12 season opener.

It took him less than 12 minutes of the first quarter to throw a pair of touchdown passes to Ted Ginn Jr. and another to Anthony Gonzalez.

That's three scores and 21 points in less time than it took Kramer to drop a Junior Mint from the observation gallery into Elaine's ex-boyfriend's abdomen.

"We have so many weapons on offense, it makes my job easy," Smith said. "All I have to do is execute the play and get the ball to the guy who's open."

Texas may focus on Smith's 18-for-25, 297-yard performance, but another number might be more useful to the Longhorns as they attempt to wrest the No. 1 ranking away from OSU Saturday night in Austin.

Of the 56 offensive plays Smith presided over in the opener, he rushed only once.

That's a dramatic departure from last season, when he wound up the Buckeyes' second-leading rusher with 611 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"Troy Smith to Ohio State is what Vince [Young] has been to us. He's a leader. He's a senior. He's a guy who can make plays with his feet, but he has a great throwing motion and he's very, very accurate. "
-- Texas coach Mack Brown on Troy Smith

"Troy can still beat teams running the football, but he's much more comfortable now staying in the pocket and beating teams with his arm," Gonzalez said. "He used to scramble away from pressure and gain yards by running. Now he scrambles away from pressure to buy time and find somebody downfield."

Northern put so little pressure on Smith, his uniform didn't need laundering. That allowed him to share the football among eight receivers, with Ginn (4 catches, 123 yards, 2 TDs) and Gonzalez (4-53, 1 TD) getting the biggest pieces.

Throw in tailback Antonio Pittman's 19 carries for 111 yards and one score, plus 50 yards and another touchdown by freshman tailback Chris Wells, and the Longhorns' list of players to watch seems as large as their Godzillatron scoreboard in the Royal Texas Memorial Stadium end zone.

Don't kid yourself, though. Texas coach Mack Brown knows where everything starts for OSU, probably because he witnessed the same phenomenon at close range last season.

"Troy Smith to Ohio State is what Vince [Young] has been to us," Brown said. "He's a leader. He's a senior. He's a guy who can make plays with his feet, but he has a great throwing motion and he's very, very accurate."

Young led the Longhorns downfield last year in Columbus with time ticking away and Texas facing a 22-16 deficit. Even though the Longhorns, by Brown's admission, "did nothing offensively from the second quarter to the fourth quarter," the belief was palpable on the sideline that Young would offer the same rescue he authored to win the 2005 Rose Bowl against Michigan.

Ohio State's players have held that same faith in Smith since he took over as the starter in the middle of his sophomore year.

It took head coach Jim Tressel a little longer to become such an ardent believer.

Remember, after Texas took that 23-22 lead last season, Tressel sent Justin Zwick out for the next series and kept Smith on the sideline.

Zwick attempted a first down scramble and fumbled, leading to the safety that gave the Longhorns a 25-22 victory and the kick-start to their first national championship in 35 years.

Tressel named Smith his full-time quarterback two days later and has reaped 10 wins in 11 games since.

"We talk about [how] a quarterback has to have command," Tressel said. "[Smith and Young] seem to have that. And they both have that ability to beat you [with the] run and pass. Outside of that, I haven't studied Vince Young as to which routes he throws the best … I happen to think, and I've been saying all along, that I think Troy can make all the throws."

So what would Tressel prefer, the experienced quarterback he has now or the lights-out defense his teams have featured three of the last four seasons?

"I wouldn't trade Troy for anybody," he said.

Bruce Hooley covered the Big Ten for 19 years and now hosts a daily talk show on WBNS-AM1460 in Columbus, Ohio.