USC's Leinart takes home Heisman

Sunday, December 12, 2004

NEW YORK -- Matt Leinart replaced a Heisman Trophy winner and became one himself.

The Southern California quarterback won college football's most prestigious individual award Saturday night, beating out Oklahoma teammates Adrian Peterson and Jason White, last year's winner.

In 2002, Carson Palmer won the Heisman as a senior with the Trojans. Leinart succeeded the first overall pick in the NFL draft with a splendid sophomore season that set him up as the preseason favorite this year.

Leinart has delivered, throwing for 2,990 yards and 28 TDs and leading the top-ranked Trojans to a 12-0 regular season.

"I remember when Carson was sitting up here," Leinart said. "He said his heart was beating out of his chest, I think mine's about to do the same thing."

The junior is USC's sixth Heisman winner, tying the Trojans with Ohio State for second-most behind Notre Dame's seven.

Peterson, the freshman tailback, was second, White was third, Utah quarterback Alex Smith was fourth and Leinart's teammate Reggie Bush was fifth in the voting.

Leinart and Bush will compete against Peterson and White again on Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl. The winner of that contest takes home the national title. It'll be the first time two players with Heisman trophies have played each other in college.

"I know they're going to be coming after me," Leinart said of the Sooners.

Leinart received 1,325 points and won all but one of the six voting regions. He came in third in the Southwest, where White led with 263 points and Peterson was second with 197.

Peterson received 997 overall points, edging out White (957) for second. Peterson's second-place finish is the best by a freshman. Georgia's Herschel Walker had the previous freshman best when he was third to winner George Rogers of South Carolina in 1980. Michael Vick was a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech when he was third in 1999.

White had a chance to become just the second two-time Heisman winner, joining Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin (1974 and '75).

Smith, who has led Utah to a berth in the Bowl Championship Series, received 635 points, and Bush, the Trojans' explosive and versatile tailback had 597.

Leinart had never thrown a pass at USC when he won a four-way battle to replace Palmer in 2003.

The left-hander practically matched Palmer's Heisman numbers in his first season as a starter, throwing for 3,556 yards and 38 TDs while leading the Trojans to a share of the national title. He finished sixth in last year's Heisman balloting.

While Bush has provided a slew of dazzling plays for USC, the laid-back Leinart is the Trojans' leader.

Breaking in a new set of receivers and playing behind a rebuilt offensive line, Leinart has completed 66 percent of his passes with just six interceptions this season.

The Trojans are 24-1 with Leinart as a starter and have won 21 straight games.

USC's first four Heisman winners were running backs, starting with Mike Garrett in 1965 and ending with Marcus Allen in 1981.

But Tailback U. has turned into Quarterback College since offensive coordinator Norm Chow arrived with coach Pete Carroll in 2001.

Chow turned Palmer from a talented enigma into a potential NFL franchise quarterback. Leinart is Chow's third protege to win the Heisman, along with BYU's Ty Detmer.

Leinart could also join Palmer as an NFL first-round pick, maybe as soon as April if he decides to skip his final college season.

That's quite a rise for the geeky kid from Santa Ana., Calif.

"No, I was a fat kid and cross-eyed and had glasses about an inch thick," Leinart said. "I use to get made fun of. It's been a long time since those days."

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