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University of Utah graduate wins sports-trivia contest on ESPNU

Published May 23, 2013 9:16 am

Television • Michael Smith stumps the Schwab and beats the collegiate competition.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The University of Utah has claimed its first national championship since it joined the Pac-12 — sort of.

Recent U. grad Michael Smith stumped the Schwab on cable network ESPNU's "UNITE," claiming the title as the nation's top collegiate sports trivia expert.

The segment was recorded Monday and aired Wednesday.

"I wouldn't really call myself a know-it-all about sports trivia," said the 22-year-old from Sandy. "But I watch sports constantly. I have my whole life. I was pretty confident going in because of that."

He's underselling his knowledge a bit. When Smith auditioned for the competition, he was asked to name the last 12 Heisman Trophy winners — and rattled them off easily.

And his knowledge of sports trivia isn't restricted to college football. In the finals, he came from behind to win by answering hockey questions — a category chosen for him by an opponent, which proved to be a strategic error.

"I guess he didn't realize that I have a lot of hockey knowledge, so I got all those questions right." Smith said.

"The Schwab" segment on ESPNU's late-night show "UNITE" is a revival of the game show "Stump the Schwab" that ran on ESPN2 and ESPN Classic from 2004 to 2006. Contestants match wits with sports trivia guru Howie Schwab and with each other.

Smith beat contestants from other Pac-12 schools in the first round, then beat students from Williams College and UMass in the semifinals. After competing via Skype for those two rounds, Smith and the other finalists — Taylor Smyth from Maryland and Michael Benson from Northern Illinois — were flown to ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for the finals.

"That was fantastic. It was totally worth it just to get to go to ESPN," Smith said.

The competition is about bragging rights, not getting rich. There's no big cash prize — Smith took home a Schwab-autographed basketball, a digital camera, some T-shirts and a hat. Along with a feeling of accomplishment.

"My sleep last night was a lot more relaxing because I didn't have to second-guess myself on anything that happened," said the Jordan High graduate. "I was really happy and proud of myself."

He also got to hang out at ESPN, where he got a tour, met a bunch of sportscasters and "inadvertently stole Curt Schilling's seat." The contestants were hanging out in the same lounge as the "Baseball Tonight" team, and Smith took the 2001 World Series MVP's spot without realizing he'd done so.

"They were fine with it," he said. "But I don't know how many people can claim they stole Curt Schilling's seat on a couch."

And not many people can claim they stumped the Schwab on ESPNU.

"I'm going to Northwestern in the fall for journalism school," Smith said. "I want to be a sports columnist — I want to work for a newspaper, actually — so I think winning on ESPN will look good on my résumé."

spierce@sltrib.com