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Preseason All-Americans: Leinart tops list

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  • Preseason All-Americans: Leinart tops list

    Aug. 19, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    It's the lasting impression that counts -- at least in terms of college hardware.

    There were doubts whether Jason White would be able to walk onto the field at the beginning of last season. Oklahoma's resilient quarterback had undergone two knee reconstructions. Near the end of the season, not only had he clinched the Heisman Trophy, but his team was being compared to the best of all time.


    Jason White is the first Heisman Trophy winner to return since Ty Detmer in 1991. (Getty Images)
    Lasting impression? No touchdowns and four interceptions in a pair of season-ending losses to Kansas State and LSU. No conference or national championship. White left such a bad taste in some Heisman voters' mouths that Altoids were optional.

    "The key is just not to worry about what fans say about you," said White, who threw for 40 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in a 12-2 season. "You're going to play for your teammates and your coaches and yourself."

    Matt Leinart hasn't reached that level of cynicism yet. Life is good, really good. USC's handsome junior quarterback is practically fresh bait for paparazzi in celebrity-saturated L.A. He went from Matt Who? to photographers practically going through his trash in a magic 2003 season.

    A Pac-10-record 38 touchdown passes were part of the foundation for the Trojans' first national championship (shared with LSU) in 25 years. But before Leinart had his own weblog, enjoyed the dating combo platter (actress/pro surfer Veronica Kay) and was The Next Big Thing, BMOC at USC, he left his own lasting impression.

    "It was fun to be part of that," Leinart said of the rubber-stamp on his 2004 Heisman candidacy. "Catching a touchdown in the Rose Bowl."

    When offensive coordinator Norm Chow trotted out one of his favorite trick plays against Michigan in January, he probably didn't know he was also pushing Leinart out of the womb into the Heisman spotlight. Receiver Mike Williams took a reverse handoff from running back Hershel Dennis and easily found Leinart open in the left flank for a 15-yard touchdown pass. USC went up 28-7, and you could almost see Wolverines' shoulders slump.

    It was called the signature play of the 28-14 victory, clinching the game, national title and Rose Bowl MVP for Leinart. Oh, and it also left the voters something sweet to chew on in the offseason.

    Leinart, the quarterback of this year's's All-America team, is also this year's Heisman Trophy favorite going into the 2004 season. The stars seem to have aligned to anoint him.

    Two of the school's five Heisman winners (Charles White, O.J. Simpson) have won the trophy in the year after a national championship. Neither of those players, though, came from as much obscurity as Leinart from one year to the next.

    Redshirted as a true freshman, Leinart was almost an afterthought as he watched Carson Palmer win the trophy in 2002. Even in spring practice 2003, Leinart had a tenuous hold on the starting spot.

    Still, it wasn't until midway through the season that Leinart felt he had returned to the comfort level he enjoyed at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.

    "Not ****iness, but just that confidence and swagger when you know you can play," Leinart said. "Like I did in high school. I just kind of got that back. I was having fun playing football again. I didn't have the confidence, but the confidence came back."

    In the last nine games, Leinart threw for 2,632 yards and 30 touchdowns. It was Guns N' Roses for Leinart who was surrounded by some of the best talent in the country. Receivers routinely made one-handed catches knowing that somehow, some way, their guy was going to get it there.

    So what better way to go out in 2003 by leaving a tease for 2004? Chow had used the quarterback throwback play during his only year at North Carolina State. Twenty-one years ago, he called for BYU's Steve Young to catch a scoring pass on a similar play to beat Missouri in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.

    "We knew we were going to it eventually," Leinart said. "That turned out to be the best time. It's just catching the defense off guard. It's either going to work or it's not. I'm going to get a touchdown or Mike's going to throw it away or he's going to get blown up. Obviously, they weren't ready for it because we hadn't done anything like that all season."

    The challenge is more than defending a national title. You can prepare to win a national title in your first as a starter. Go back to Miami's Bernie Kosar at Miami and it has been done several times in the last two decades. But you can't prepare to win a Heisman.

    No how. No way. White, who won the award, is still feeling the effects of being kicked to the curb by critics after his spectacular season. Having a chance to become the second back-to-back winner of the Heisman has melted into just that: a chance.

    In the wake of White's poor finish, a columnist called for a Heisman "recall vote." There were cries of pushing the voting back until after bowl games.

    "There's not much I have to do for that now," said White who is the first player to defend his Heisman since Ty Detmer in 1991. "I don't think about it much."

    Chow was Detmer's quarterbacks coach (and co-offensive coordinator) back then. Maybe that's why, when Heisman hype became apparent, Leinart was warned by Chow that "everything was going to change."

    "I do remember exactly what he told me and it was like, 'Yeah, yeah,'" Leinart said. "You don't realize it until it happens."

    While the shooters aren't really digging through his trash, the world suddenly seems to have an unhealthy interest in who he is dating. Meanwhile, White, pretty much everyone's All-America quarterback after last season, seems worn out from the process.

    The pride of Tuttle, Okla., got a key to the city and had his name painted on a water tower.

    "But all of that's over now," White said. "I don't worry about it anymore."

    The two were supposed to meet at the Elite 11 quarterback camp in July in Southern California. Because of conflicts, the meeting never came off, but the pair spoke over the phone in the offseason to compare notes.

    "I told him every quarterback knows that when you're winning, you're the hero and when you're losing, you're not," White said. "You take the blame ... The key is not to worry about what fans say about you."

    Even without Heisman hype, White has had his own mountains to climb. The two knee surgeries helped the NCAA decide to award him a sixth year of eligibility. He was a redshirt freshman in the 2000 national championship season, but appeared in only two games without throwing a pass.

    While the Sooners have a lot of their talent back, the question once again has to be in the back of fans' minds. Will White hold up?

    "We talked about winning the Heisman, how hard it was, how his life had changed drastically," Leinart said. "He had huge numbers all season and they judge him on his last two games. I think he was deserving of the trophy. He battled through a lot of stuff in his career."

    Maybe the best, most equitable thing for everyone concerned would be that White gets a national championship and Leinart gets his Heisman. How would that be for a lasting impression?

    Or do the pair already know the score?

    "Some games, people think you're the greatest thing in the world," White said. "Other games, you're the goat. That's just part of being a quarterback. It's how well you recover."

    SportsLine 2004 All-America Team
    Pos Player Class School
    QB Matt Leinart Junior USC
    RB Darren Sproles Senior Kansas State
    RB DeAngelo Williams Junior Memphis
    WR Geoff McArthur Senior Cal
    WR Mark Clayton Senior Oklahoma
    OL David Baas Senior Michigan
    OL Alex Barron Senior Florida State
    OL Ben Wilkerson Senior LSU
    OL Eric Winston Junior Miami
    OL Elton Brown Senior Virginia
    TE Matt Herian Junior Nebraska
    K Jonathan Nichols Senior Ole Miss
    P Dustin Colquitt Senior Tennessee
    LB Derrick Johnson Senior Texas
    LB Kirk Morrison Senior San Diego State
    LB Matt Grootegoed Senior USC
    DL David Pollack Senior Georgia
    DL Dusty Dvoracek Senior Oklahoma
    DL Marcus Spears Senior LSU
    DL Dan Cody Senior Oklahoma
    DB Marlin Jackson Senior Michigan
    DB Antrel Rolle Senior Miami
    DB Josh Bullocks Junior Nebraska
    DB Corey Webster Senior LSU
    KR Reggie Bush Sophomore USC
    PR Antonio Perkins Senior Oklahoma
    Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Leinart, USC
    Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Spears, LSU
    Coach of the Year: Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia

Related Topics


  • DJRamFan
    USC vs. Oklahoma: As close to perfect as BCS can get
    by DJRamFan
    Jan. 01, 2005 wire reports

    MIAMI -- Pete Carroll calls this one the perfect matchup, and in many ways it is: USC vs. Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national title.


    Preseason favorites to make it to Miami, the Trojans and Sooners were No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls all year. They feature the last two Heisman Trophy winners and about a dozen All-Americans between them.

    Two of college football's most storied and tradition-rich programs, Oklahoma and Southern California have 11 AP national titles combined.

    Of course, rarely is anything ever perfect when the Bowl Championship Series is involved.

    Just ask Auburn.

    The top-ranked Trojans (12-0) and No. 2 Sooners (12-0) meet Tuesday night for a national championship that will wrap up the college football season, but not necessarily the debate over who's No. 1.

    On Monday night, No. 3 Auburn puts its 12-0 record on the line against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to finish a perfect season that will compare favorably with the Orange Bowl winner's.

    "It stinks the way it played out this year for them," Oklahoma quarterback Jason White said. "They're a great team. They probably deserve to be in this championship game just as much as either one of us. But that's the way it worked out."

    USC and Oklahoma were right at the center of last year's BCS mess. The Trojans were left out of the BCS title game despite being No. 1 in the polls. The Sooners got in despite a lopsided loss in the Big 12 championship game.

    In the end, USC finished on top in The Associated Press Top 25 and LSU beat Oklahoma to win the BCS crown.

    "We were playing for the title in our minds last year," said Carroll, the Trojans' coach. "But this year there's an added dimension."

    The BCS guys were determined to make sure a consensus No. 1 would never again be left out of the title game, so this year's formula emphasized the polls over the computers.

    One problem solved.

    Next problem: There are three unbeaten teams, all clearly worthy of a spot in the title game. For that, there is no BCS solution.


    "I'd love to see a playoff, though this does feel a little like a playoff," Carroll said. "But I'm not hopeful for that."

    At least this season neither title game participant is being labeled undeserving, as the Sooners were last season after being throttled 35-7 by Kansas State for the Big 12 championship.

    With a chance to redeem themselves, the Sooners fell flat in the Sugar Bowl. A battered White looked little like a Heisman Trophy winner in the 21-14 loss to LSU.

    The Sooners turned...
    -01-01-2005, 02:58 PM
  • DJRamFan
    OU secondary, USC offensive line ready to prove points
    by DJRamFan
    Dec. 31, 2004 wire reports

    MIAMI -- Oklahoma's secondary was so shaky that coaches turned to a freshman they planned to redshirt. Even now, Southern California's offensive line is a "work in progress," coordinator Norm Chow says.


    Whether the No. 1 Sooners or the No. 2 Trojans win the Orange Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series national title could come down to which team's weakest link holds up best Tuesday.

    Entering the season, there were questions about how Oklahoma's defense would fare after the departure of All-American cornerback Derrick Strait. Then the Sooners lost cornerback Antonio Perkins to a knee injury, depriving the secondary of its leader and best cover man.

    With Perkins sidelined, opponents found success going deep on the Sooners. In consecutive games against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, OU allowed several long pass plays that nearly cost them a perfect season.

    Trailing 28-21 at halftime against Texas A&M, and having little success shutting down Aggies quarterback Reggie McNeal, the Sooners' defensive coaches decided it was time to try something different.

    With upperclassmen Jowahn Poteat, Eric Bassey and Chijioke Oneyenegecha struggling, freshman cornerback Marcus Walker was put in the game.

    "We just gave up some crazy plays and ... I turned to him and said, 'You're in,"' Sooners co-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "We had confidence in him."

    The Sooners tightened up against the Aggies in the second half, allowing just one more TD on a fake field goal.

    Perkins returned to the lineup the next week against Nebraska, and Walker played at the other corner.

    "The secondary was a weak link then," said Perkins, known more as a dangerous punt returner than a shutdown corner. "Most of the plays were missed assignments. We were out of line. We weren't in the right position to make plays. Now I came back and I'm more verbal. We talk a lot and communicate with each other to be in the right position to make a play."

    In the final three games of the season, Oklahoma allowed a total of 253 yards through the air. But that was against Nebraska, Baylor and Colorado -- none of which boasts a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

    Stopping Matt Leinart and USC's passing game, which is adept at creating mismatches and confusion, won't be quite so easy.

    "The decision-making of Matt Leinart, it's second-to-none; his accuracy, his poise, the way he distributes the football, just his overall decision-making is exceptional," OU co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

    USC knew it had some of the country's best playmakers in Heisman winner Leinart and tailbacks Reggie Bush and LenDale White....
    -12-31-2004, 03:02 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Rose's dream is Big Ten vs. Pac-10 AND title game
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 5, 2005
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    CHICAGO -- There's a unique opportunity for the Pac-10 and Big Ten in 2005. For the second time in BCS history, the Rose Bowl is the site of the national championship game after this season. Assuming that USC is the prohibitive No. 1 favorite going in, that puts the pressure on the Big Ten to make it a 1-2 natural matchup for the national championship.

    Heisman winner Matt Leinart is expected to lead USC to a Rose Bowl berth. (Getty Images)
    That's something that hasn't happened in 37 years.

    It seems amazing the last time the Rose Bowl's anchor teams met while ranked 1-2 in the Associated Poll was Jan. 1, 1969. Ohio State beat USC 27-16. A "rematch" of sorts could be looming, although considering the strength of the Big Ten, Ohio State is in for a battle to win the league. Michigan was named the favorite this week at the Big Ten preseason media days.

    "Anyone going in against USC would be the underdog," Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "That would be a little bit of motivation, I think."

    Only twice in history have the 1-2 teams in the AP poll from those conferences met in Pasadena (the other year was 1963). That shows how much fans of both leagues care about such an occurrence. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr has said in the past he valued a Rose Bowl berth over a national championship shot.

    But this year, the stars are aligning for a Big Ten vs. Pac-10 championship game in the shadow of the San Gabriels on Jan. 4. No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Ohio State and No. 10 Iowa all start the season ranked in the top 10 in the coaches poll. USC, which brings a 22-game winning streak into the season, is led by Heisman winner Matt Leinart.

    "We definitely want to get there no matter who we're playing, but we'd definitely like to get a shot at USC," Michigan running back Michael Hart said. "Whoever wins the Big Ten this year and goes undefeated, they have no choice but to put you in the national championship game because the Big Ten is so strong this year."

    There is some recent history. Michigan was the victim 20 months ago when the USC started its championship run with a 28-14 victory over the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl.

    To say Carr is obsessing over that game might be too strong, but he does remember it. Michigan was trailing only 7-0 in the second quarter when John Navarre's pass hit Braylon Edwards' heel. USC's Lofa Tatupu intercepted and ran it back to the Michigan 3. USC scored easily to make it 14-0.

    "They got a hell of a break when the ball hit Braylon in the heel," Carr said. "We never got back in it. If you look at the teams (they beat), they get them down, they kill...
    -08-08-2005, 06:18 AM
  • DJRamFan
    USC's Hollywood Star
    by DJRamFan
    Aug. 8, 2005

    By Brian Litvack

    If you happened to be mingling in an exclusive and trendy Sunset strip L.A. nightclub recently, you may have bumped into pals Matt Leinart and Nick Lachey. You would most likely marvel at the USC quarterback and the teen heartthrob as two guys living the good life in Hollywood.

    So, who is the bigger Hollywood star these days?

    True, Leinart's boy band buddy Lachey can be seen on MTV's Newlyweds with his wife Jessica Simpson. But Leinart has his own show as well at, a video blog that will allow Leinart and his star back Reggie Bush to chronicle the 2005 season.

    The fact that the USC quarterback and Heisman trophy winner can even compare his celebrity status to Lachey is a Tinseltown tale in itself. After all, Mr. Jessica Simpson works as hard as anybody in Show Biz, outside of Paris Hilton, at his celebrity status. Meanwhile, Leinart spent his summer recovering from shoulder surgery, studying game film and enrolling in classes for the fall semester.

    Matt Leinart, a laid-back and humble college student, is the darling of college sports. He has lead USC to a 22 victories in a row and has a career pass efficiency rating (157.83) that rivals Einstein's IQ. In February, he decided to put his professional career on hold and return to USC for a fifth season.

    Leinart is proud to "send a message throughout college football that money and the pros can wait. College football is a time where it's fun and you're never going to get that back."

    He returned to college because he loves the lifestyle. Who wouldn't?

    Leinart's rise to glory has skyrocketed like Google's IPO. Three years ago, he was battling for the backup QB position at USC. Two years ago, Leinart attained "Big Man On Campus" status by leading the Trojans to a National Championship. Last year, he hard-coded his name in the record books by taking home Johnny Heisman's trophy and leading the Trojans to a second straight National Championship.

    This season, Leinart has the chance to become the most celebrated and accomplished quarterback in the history of college football. Even if all you read for the next few months is Teen People, you'll still be sure to hear about it.

    That's right. Leinart's name appeared in the magazine, romantically linked to actress Alyssa Milano. The rumor mill also has him dating Kristen from MTV's Laguna Beach, and the point guard on the USC women's basketball team. Supposedly, this has all happened since he dumped his surfer/model girlfriend Veronica Kay. Paris can't be far behind, and perhaps even Lachey should keep close tabs on his...
    -08-21-2005, 02:20 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Schnellenberger building a fourth power in Florida
    by DJRamFan
    Sept. 23, 2004
    By Dennis Dodd Senior Writer

    Why not flip a coin to pick a starting quarterback?

    Howard Schnellenberger had done wackier things in his career. Twenty years ago it seemed like he was throwing that career away. Miami had won the national championship in 1983 and Schnellenberger, the celebrated architect of Hurricanes football, bolted -- try not to laugh -- to the USFL.

    Needless to say, that didn't work out. There was an inspiring stop at Louisville and a disappointing one at Oklahoma but, really, his career arc was never the same again.

    "In my opinion, he might have as many championships as anybody, ever (if he stayed at Miami)," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "It's crossed my mind many times."

    So why not flip that coin three years ago? How is that more outrageous than creating a football program at an unknown campus in Boca Raton, Fla.? A place where the burrowing owls on campus were the inspiration for the school's nickname?

    Or agreeing to go door-to-door soliciting community leaders for the mere $15 million needed to go from germ of an idea to kickoff?

    Really, it wasn't weird at all for the 70-year old who, well, let's just say he still has extreme confidence in his abilities. So, yeah, it really was Schnellenberger who suggested in 2001 that freshman quarterbacks Jared Allen and Garrett Jahn flip a coin to start the first game in Florida Atlantic's history.

    "They were too close for a human being to call so God called it," Schnellenberger said this week, considering his latest construction project. "Certainly I would do that. Why wouldn't I?"

    Ridiculous is sublime again in Schnellenberger's world. Amid this season's talking points -- hurricanes, instant replay, kickers who can't kick -- is the job Schnellie has done at that owl-laden commuter campus of 13,000 students in Palm Beach County.

    Three victories, all on the road, all against I-A competition in Florida Atlantic's final season before joining the big time, which in this case is the Sun Belt Conference in 2005. Next year, this college football IPO will be eligible for -- please stifle your laughter again -- a bowl.

    All of it after playing organized college football for all of four years. All of it according to plan.

    "He was basically semi-retired in Miami selling municipal bonds," said Dr. Anthony Catanese, the man who hired Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic in 1998. "I said, 'That's not the place for Howard Schnellenberger.'

    "He told me in five years he'd have this program nationally recognized. He did it in three."

    Almost all of it has been done with kids from the state of Florida who couldn't go to one of the Big Three -- Miami, Florida or Florida State....
    -09-23-2004, 01:14 PM