Alex Smith marvels at Utah football’s ‘spectacular’ progress since his BCS-busting season

The former Ute quarterback was inducted into the Utah Athletics Hall of Fame this week

Alex Smith will still be busy breaking down NFL film this fall.

The former 49ers, Chiefs and Washington football quarterback has retired from playing after 16 seasons in the NFL, trading his playbook for a telestrator as an analyst for ESPN. But the Ute legend will be keeping a close eye on what’s happening at Rice-Eccles Stadium, too.

“You’re going to consistently see them compete for the South title, but what’s the next step?” Smith wondered aloud inside the stadium’s new south end zone complex Thursday evening. “Are you consistently competing for … Pac-12 titles? That’s what’s sitting there, looming there. I’m anxious to see if this team can do that and that take that next step. I think the ability is there and certainly, you’ve just got to make it happen.”

Smith, 37, was back at his old stomping grounds this week to be honored by the university and inducted into the Utah Athletics Hall of Fame, alongside former Ute football stars Eddie Johnson and Anthony Brown.

Smith quarterbacked the Utes to a perfect, BCS-busting season, a Fiesta Bowl victory and a No. 4 national ranking in 2004, a season that set the stage for the success both Smith and Utah football have enjoyed since.

At the time, though, the quarterback could not have envisioned any of it.

“I just could never imagine any of it,” Smith said. “The entire journey, this weekend, last night, today. My dream growing up was to play college football. I never dreamt, in my wildest dreams, I would get to play professionally. … [College football] was my dream and one school gave me the chance — and it was the U. I’m grateful for it. It changed my life and shaped who I am today.”

He certainly could not have imagined the $80-million south end zone complex or a Pac-12 program in Salt Lake City.

“To see this is spectacular, to see the growth the program has had,” he said. “I think this is a big piece of it. To see this stadium finished up like this, really bonafide, and taking it to the next level, that’s what this program and school was ascending to. To see it come to fruition is really, really neat.”

Now Smith is looking forward to what his new job — which will have him appear on “Monday Night Countdown,” “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “SportsCenter” — and life in retirement will look like.

It will involve more time with his family, he said. More time for golf in the fall. And more trips back to Rice-Eccles.

“It’s fun to come back and I looking forward to coming back here more and more,” he said.