Heisman Winners Meet For First Time, Playing For Title In Orange Bowl
Jan. 3, 2005
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP Sports Writer
MIAMI (AP) - Matt Leinart is an easygoing Californian, who used anNFL-caliber left arm to win a Heisman Trophy for USC this season.
Jason White is a tough kid from small-town Oklahoma, who overcame twodevastating knee injuries to become a Heisman winner for the Sooners lastseason.
Their most common trait is success.
Leinart and White will become the first Heisman winners to play each otherin a college game when Southern California and Oklahoma meet in the Orange Bowlon Tuesday night for the national title.
'We don't want to make it a battle one-on-one because it's a team game,'Leinart said.
The top-ranked Trojans (12-0) are looking to become the first team sinceNebraska in 1994-95 to win back-to-back Associated Press titles. It would beUSC's fifth title overall, but first Bowl Championship Series title.
Second-ranked Oklahoma (12-0) is shooting for its second nationalchampionship under coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners won it all in 2000 at theOrange Bowl and played in the BCS title game last season, losing to LSU 21-14in the Sugar Bowl.
Leinart and White lead offenses that take a slightly different approach, butproduce similar stellar results.
'They both execute their offense in a great way,' Stoops said. 'Ouroffensive styles are a little bit different, but the quarterbacks do a greatjob of managing. They are accurate and they can both make all the throws.'
LSU and USC split the national crowns last year, a scenario that is highlyunlikely this year no matter what happens in the Sugar Bowl with No. 3 Auburn(12-0) playing Virginia Tech.
'I don't really know how it could come out that way,' USC coach PeteCarroll said Monday. 'I didn't have any problem with what happened last year.We did everything we could with the season that we had and with the finish andall of that, and the system made a statement.'
'Here again, it does it again. Hopefully, this just continues to generateenergy to try and fix the thing,' he said. 'When you have teams that playgreat schedules and play great like this, how can you do this unless you keepplaying games, and that system isn't intact. This is going to happen again,most likely. That's just the way it is. You can't do anything about it.'
The Sooners enter the BCS championship game in far better shape mentally andphysically than they did last year.
Oklahoma had lost 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game before theSugar Bowl and White was aching.
The main difference between this year and last for White?
'I'm not spending as much time in the training room,' he said.
It's a place White has become far too familiar with during his six years inNorman.
Major knee injuries ended both the 2001 and 2002 seasons for him. The rehabwas grueling and at times lonely.
'Some days it felt a little better and I'd try to get some extra in andsome days I couldn't because of how sore it was,' he said. 'As a player youwant to be out there playing and if you're not playing you don't feel like partof the team.'
He made his way back and finished his career with two phenomenal seasons.Last year, he threw for 3,846 yards and 40 touchdowns.
But in the final two games he didn't throw a TD and was picked off fourtimes. After putting together one of the greatest seasons in NCAA history,White became a target for critics.
'I think the biggest thing that sticks in my head was the e-mails that Igot last year after the Sugar Bowl, just saying that I need to give back theHeisman Trophy,' he said.
White, from Tuttle, Okla., wasn't thrilled with all the attention theHeisman comes with, anyway.
Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson has helped take the focus awayfrom White on and off the field this year, much to the quarterback's delight.
'I'm not a guy who wants to be in the spotlight all the time,' said White,who has passed for 2,961 yards and 33 TDs. 'I've been able to enjoy this weeka lot more.'
Peterson has run for 1,843 yards, 20 shy of Ron Dayne's NCAA record for afreshman.
'Not too many people tackle him one-on-one,' USC defensive tackle MikePatterson said.
Coming into this season, Leinart was the Heisman front-runner. He and Whitechatted before the season about playing in the spotlight and White gave Leinartsome more advice after he won it.
'He said my life is going to change,' said Leinart, who has passed for2,990 yards and 29 TDs. 'He was right.'
Leinart, a junior from Santa Ana, Calif., who replaced 2002 Heisman winnerCarson Palmer, has seemed more at ease with the fame that comes with the bigbronze statue.
'You know it's been fun, been kind of overwhelming at times, but it comesalong with success and being at USC, and obviously I wouldn't change anythingfor the world,' Leinart said.
There is a chance this could be Leinart's last college game. He's alreadytalked about his future with Carroll, but the quarterback has been saying it's'95 percent' likely he'll be back at USC next season.
Despite all the BCS controversy over which teams should be playing in theOrange Bowl, it's hard to argue with the star power of Oklahoma vs. USC, two ofcollege football's traditional powers again at the top of the sport.
'The fact that it's two storied programs coming together at a time whenthey're really on the rise,' Carroll said, 'you capture all of the peoplethat ever loved Oklahoma football and ever loved USC football.'