The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - December 13 - 3B
Heisman is not what it claims
S o who was your pick for "most outstanding col-
lege football player" in 2004: No. 1 Southern
Cal., No. 2 Oklahoma or Alex Smith?
Was it coincidence that four of the five Heisman
Trophy finalists came from the
two teams that have spent this
entire season atop both major
polls? Not a chance.
Saturday night's Heisman presen-
tation further proved that the award
is - as folks have alleged for years
- not what it claims to be.
In the new millennium, the
most celebrated individual award
is not given to the "most out-
standing college football player,"
the trophy's declared signifi-
cance. Rather, it's handed to the
sexiest media storyline.
Fifty-two former Heisman winners currently have a
say in Heisman balloting, but it's the 870 media votes
that really decide who hoists the stiff-arming figu-
rine. These media members are absolutely infatuated
with players on national powerhouses. This is why
Smith's campaign was always just a mid-major tease
and why Cal's J.J. Arrington - who (with 40 fewer
carries) beat out freshman sensation Adrian Peterson
by two yards to lead the nation in rushing - never
even garnered serious consideration.
But the media's tunnel vision narrows even further
than team discrimination.
Looking at the quartet from the nation's top-two
teams, Southern Cal. running back Reggie Bush
- whose overall effect on a football game is astound-
ing - was by far the best "most-outstanding-player"
candidate. But he wasn't the best Heisman candidate.
His quarterback, Matt Leinart, was.
While a dominant receiver or running back at a
storied school (Bush) is relatively sexy to media mem-
bers, a dominant quarterback at a storied school is
Don't get me wrong - Leinart had a hell of a year.
His numbers are spectacular. But his production on
the field wasn't the overriding reason why he spent
last night thanking everyone from mom and dad to the
USC football student assistants.
Leinart won the award - in surprisingly convinc-
ing fashion - because he is the quarterback of the best
team in America.
The quarterback position has always carried a
certain aura. An intelligent, gutsy, calm, consistent,
athletic, unquestioned leader, the quarterback is
America's premier sports hero. These signal-callers
are almost always the figureheads of their teams. It
takes a very bland, overtly average man to not draw
mass attention solely by lining up under center. While
quarterbacks receive scores of interest at all levels of
football, attention paid to the position maxes out in
college ball. Football players experience great matu-
ration - both physical and mental - in college, and
the quarterback is always expected to lead this trend.
So, the position always breeds unparalleled media
ballyhoo. And with the college game's aerial explo-
sion over the last decade, the hype surrounding quar-
terbacks has increased even more.
This is why every Heisman Trophy winner of the
new millennium leading up to Leinart (Chris Weinke,
Eric Crouch, Carson Palmer and Jason White) had
been the signal-caller of a national title-caliber team.
It's difficult to argue that any one of these players (and
impossible to argue that every one of them) was "the
most outstanding player" during his respective Heis-
man run. But this is not what the famed award cur-
rently represents. The Heisman Trophy has just turned
into an alternate Davey O'Brien Award (which honors
the nation's top quarterback).
Having led the Trojans to a national title last
season, Leinart was already a media darling (and,
therefore, a Heisman favorite) when spring practice
started. And by the time that the voters had to weigh
in, Leinart had advantages over the other two big
school-quarterback candidates - White and Auburn's
Jason Campbell. The media could never make White
- who actually won the Davey O'Brien award for
the second consecutive year last week - the second
repeat Heisman winner ever because of the way he
sullied the honor with a colossal collapse in his final
two games of last season. And Campbell never had
a real chance to gain enough publicity because the
Tigers were unheralded at the beginning of the year.
Leinart furthered the Heisman Trophy's identity cri-
sis, and he may advance the trend even more. Leinart
stressed on Saturday night that he plans to return for a
So, what are the chances that Leinart joins Archie Grif-
fin - the Heisman's only two-time winner - in 2005?
The better question is: What will Southern Cal. be
ranked a year from now?
Gennaro Filice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Junior quarterback Matt Leinart, left, Is the second Southern Cal. quarterback in three years to win the Heisman Trophy.
Leinarttakes home trophy
NEW YORK (AP) - Matt Leinart
replaced a Heisman Trophy winner
and became one himself.
The Southern Cal. quarterback
won college football's most pres-
tigious individual award Saturday
night, beating out Oklahoma team-
mates 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 regu-
"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
The junior is Southern Cal'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 South-
west, 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 ever by a freshman. Geor-
gia's Herschel Walker had the previ-
ous 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 tail-
back had 597.
Leinart had never thrown a pass at
Southern Cal. 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 Heis-
While Bush has provided a slew of
dazzling plays for Southern Cal., 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 intercep-
tions this season.
The Trojans are 24-1 with Lein-
art as a starter and have won 21
Southern Cal'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 talent-
ed enigma into a potential NFL fran-
chise 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
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."
J.J. Arrngton, the nation's leading rusher, was not a Heisman
Trophy finalist because he didn't play for a national powerhouse.