Stifling yawns, University of Utah quarterback Alex Smith slogs into the Utes' weight room a few minutes before 8 a.m.

With his white socks pulled to his knees and a morning glaze in his eyes, he stretches and prepares for the grind of a typical day.

Not only is Smith the high-tech mind behind the Utah football team's innovative offense, but he is an accomplished student who graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in two years.

His coaches and teammates say the same intelligence and work ethic Smith brings to the classroom have allowed him to thrive on the field.

He is 12-1 as a starter and is the country's third-most-efficient passer. He will be a contender for the Heisman Trophy if the No. 14 Utes (3-0) continue winning.

Utah has a seven-game winning streak, the third-longest streak in Division I-A, and plays host to Air Force (2-1) this afternoon in a Mountain West Conference game.

On a recent day, Smith offered a glimpse into the life of a very successful student-athlete.

It is a life that involves hours of breaking down game film and some time wading through the sea of laundry in his cramped basement bedroom.

Smith immediately faces his toughest one-on-one challenge when he paces around a scale in the Utes' weight room. After coming to Utah at 180 pounds and bulking up to 215 pounds this summer, Smith, who is 6-foot-4, still struggles to keep weight on his frame. He has withered to 200 pounds, 10 below his ideal playing weight.

Smith winces when the number 203.3 pops up on the scale's red digital display. Matt Balis, Utah's strength coach, barks, "You need to be 205."

Smith's diet would make Dr. Atkins blush. He has been told to eat foods with as many carbohydrates as possible, which for him means a lot of Kraft macaroni and cheese and $5 pizzas from Little Caesars.

After grunting through a workout of medicine ball throws and stretches with oversize elastic bands, Smith still weighs 203.3 pounds. So he gulps water, then two vanilla protein shakes. He steps on the scale three minutes later and the number reads 205. He smiles in relief.

"Keeping on weight is more stressful than anything else in my life," he said. "If I came in today at 207, they'd want me at 210."

After living in the university dorms for two years, Smith moved off campus.

From the box of pizza with one stale slice left to the empty case of Ramen noodles, Smith's house has all the trappings of the classic college bachelor pad.

His home life is as disheveled as his lives as a student and football player are successful. The student with a 3.79 grade-point average and the field maestro with a 21-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio apologizes profusely as he walks through his messy house.

"I'd like to say this is a sign of genius," he said.

There is a sign taped on the kitchen wall pleading with Smith to turn off the iron. After it was left on one day, one of his roommates, Matt Kovacevich, Utah's punter, was burned.

Smith said he had lost at least five cell phones, and it was not until recently that his parents let him upgrade to a "big kid's phone," one of higher quality.

Smith's bedroom is messier than his kitchen, with jeans and T-shirts balled up everywhere in piles. Smith said that between football practices and classes, finding time do laundry was tough.

"It was a lot easier when I had a girlfriend," he said. "But I broke up with her before the season started."

When asked what happened, he shrugged. "It wasn't going anywhere," he said. "Plus, it was another responsibility."

Smith's next stop is his health economics class, his only class on Wednesdays.

He is as comfortable in class as on the football field. His father, Doug, is a high school principal as well as a former football coach. (His uncle is John L. Smith, Michigan State's head football coach.) But school always came first, as evidenced by Smith's 64 advanced placement credits that helped him graduate so quickly.

As a child, Smith would happily recount everything he learned in class that day to his parents. "He never had a negative word to say about a teacher," Doug Smith said.

With two years of eligibility remaining at Utah, Smith will leave with a master's degree in economics.

That is much to the disappointment of the dean of Utah's business school, who called Chris Hill, Utah's athletic director, to express his disappointment that Smith was not pursuing his master's in business administration.

This semester is Smith's lightest in three years. He is taking three "real" courses, and his final three credits will come from two bowling classes and for playing varsity football.

Though Smith's older teammates tease him about his academic success by calling him Doogie Howser, he keeps a low profile in class.

"Who's he again? Which class is he in?" Anne Yeagle, Smith's health economics professor, said when a reporter asked about the star football player in the class.

Soon after class ends, football study begins. Smith and the Utes' other three quarterbacks gather in a room with the team's quarterbacks coach, Dan Mullen.

The lights dim and the plays whip by on a screen. It is a different offense, one that is often run with an empty backfield, and it mixes a pass-happy spread offense with the option. It is predicated on aggressiveness and it requires the quarterback to make intricate reads of the defense at the line of scrimmage.

"Basically, if you blitz us, we try to score," Utah coach Urban Meyer said.

In Meyer's first spring practice in 2003, Smith stunk. "He was third string and he earned it," Meyer said. "If we had four quarterbacks, he'd have been fourth string."

Smith is a bit of a late bloomer. In high school he was so uncoordinated that his father recommended he run cross country. Smith said that in his freshman year in high school he was the slowest player on the field, thanks to feet that were far too big for his body.

"It was like he was club-footed," John L. Smith said. "He was big and clumsy and couldn't run a lick."

Alex Smith eventually grew into his body, studied the game with passion, and became a highly regarded quarterback. Still, he spent most of his time at Helix High School in the San Diego area handing off to Reggie Bush, the explosive tailback now starring at Southern California.

Smith's body continued to mature, as did his mind. He said that he averaged 15 hours a week watching film and that that knowledge led to the precise execution that allowed him to climb the depth charts. He took over for the injured starter Brett Elliot last year.

"He's surprised us all," John L. Smith said. "He's developed earlier than all of us expected. We thought he could do these things, but maybe in his fourth or fifth year."

In a bizarre twist, Meyer learned the spread offense from John L. Smith. Three years ago, when Smith coached at Louisville and Meyer at Bowling Green, Meyer traveled to Louisville to learn the offense from John L. Smith's staff. Alex strongly considered attending Louisville, but his uncle told him he would probably not be there much longer.

So, though he never played for his uncle, Alex Smith has thrived in his uncle's offense.

"Funny how things work out, isn't it?" John L. Smith said. "Alex is very fortunate to have the coaching staff he does. The offense lends to his capabilities."

With a 41-21 victory over Texas A&M to open the season, Utah showed its capabilities. The Aggies were the mostly highly regarded opponent on the Utes' schedule, and an undefeated season would most likely allow Utah, which plays in the Mountain West, to crash the Bowl Championship Series. Though Alex Smith says he does not look that far ahead, the prospect of a BCS game keeps him grinding every day.

"If I could dream up a scenario, that would be it," he said. "It's tough to go through conference undefeated, but you can wish for those things."