It's probably fair to say Alex Smith has earned the right to hang onto the starting job for the 49ers. It's probably fair to say that given his 20-6-1 record in the past two seasons, he's proven capable, and an injury shouldn't disqualify him. You might think it's fair that a QB currently third in the NFL in passer rating, ninth in Total QBR (just ahead of Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers), has completed a league-high 70 percent of passes and has a 13-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio should hang onto his job. If going with the "hot hand" matters, then it's fair to say a QB who completed 18 of 19 passes in his previous full game, and 7 of 8 in his previous start before being injured, qualifies.
It's fair to say all of those things. But it's also fair to look at the idea of a quarterback switch through the prism of the true "hot hand" on the 49ers -- Jim Harbaugh's.
Consider the stretch this man is on:
• He arrived at the University of San Diego to take over a team that had gone 19-10 the previous two seasons. Harbaugh went 29-6 in the next three.
• He arrived at Stanford to take over a team that had gone 1-11 in the previous season. Harbaugh went 29-21 in the next four seasons, including 12-1 in his final year, with an Orange Bowl win.
• He arrived at San Francisco to take over a Niners team that had gone 6-10 the previous season. He's 20-5-1 since.
You can disagree with Harbaugh's decisions, or his occasionally brash antics, but if he released a book titled "Staring at the Moon: My Secret to Football" tomorrow, the sport would be filled with sore-necked insomniacs by next week. Given his track record, it's hard to question almost any decision Harbaugh makes right now.
But there are other good reasons why now isn't a bad time to make Smith compete for the starting job -- I didn't say "bench" -- based on both the past and the future Let's consider them.