NEW YORK – Southern California Matt Leinart quarterback won the Heisman Trophy, 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, tailback 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. 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.
The Trojans are 24-1 with Leinart as a starter and have won 21 straight games.