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Archive for Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Hyping Heismans

Trophy-winners to clash tonight for first time ever

January 4, 2005

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— Matt Leinart is an easygoing Californian who used an NFL-caliber left arm to win a Heisman Trophy for USC this season.

Jason White is a tough kid from small-town Oklahoma who overcame two devastating knee injuries to become a Heisman winner for the Sooners last season.

Their most common trait is success.

Leinart and White will become the first Heisman winners to play each other in a college game when Southern California and Oklahoma meet in the Orange Bowl tonight 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 since Nebraska in 1994-95 to win back-to-back Associated Press titles. It would be USC's fifth title overall, but first Bowl Championship Series title.

Second-ranked Oklahoma (12-0) is shooting for its second national championship under coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners won it all in 2000 at the Orange Bowl and played in the BCS title game last season, losing to LSU, 21-14, in the Sugar Bowl.

Leinart and White lead offenses that take a slightly different approach, but produce similar stellar results.

"They both execute their offense in a great way," Stoops said. "Our offensive styles are a little bit different, but the quarterbacks do a great job 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 highly unlikely this year "I don't really know how it could come out that way," USC coach Pete Carroll 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 and all of that, and the system made a statement."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, left, poses next to the Bowl
Championship Series trophy with Southern California coach Pete
Carroll. The two coaches attended a news conference Monday in Ft.
Lauderdale, Fla., to discuss the Orange Bowl, which will serve as
the BCS Championship game, between the Sooners and Trojans tonight
in Miami.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, left, poses next to the Bowl Championship Series trophy with Southern California coach Pete Carroll. The two coaches attended a news conference Monday in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to discuss the Orange Bowl, which will serve as the BCS Championship game, between the Sooners and Trojans tonight in Miami.

The Sooners enter the BCS championship game in far better shape mentally and physically than they did last year.

Oklahoma had lost 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 Conference title game before the Sugar 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 in Norman, Okla.

Major knee injuries ended both the 2001 and 2002 seasons for him. The rehab was grueling and at times lonely.

"Some days it felt a little better, and I'd try to get some extra in and some days I couldn't because of how sore it was," he said. "As a player you want to be out there playing, and if you're not playing, you don't feel like part of 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 four times. After putting together one of the greatest seasons in NCAA history, White became a target for critics.

Oklahoma defensive back Eric Bassey studies the
national-championship trophy during a break in Sunday's media day.
The winner of tonight's Orange Bowl in Miami takes the hardware
home.

Oklahoma defensive back Eric Bassey studies the national-championship trophy during a break in Sunday's media day. The winner of tonight's Orange Bowl in Miami takes the hardware home.

"I think the biggest thing that sticks in my head was the e-mails that I got last year after the Sugar Bowl, just saying that I need to give back the Heisman Trophy," he said.

White, from Tuttle, Okla., wasn't thrilled with all the attention the Heisman comes with, anyway.

Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson has helped take the focus away from 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 week a lot more."

Peterson has run for 1,843 yards, 20 shy of Ron Dayne's NCAA record for a freshman.

"Not too many people tackle him one-on-one," USC defensive tackle Mike Patterson said.

Coming into this season, Leinart was the Heisman front-runner. He and White chatted before the season about playing in the spotlight, and White gave Leinart some more advice after he won it.

"He said my life is going to change," said Leinart, who has passed for 2,990 yards and 29 TDs. "He was right."

USC quarterback Matt Leinart, left, is congratulated by Oklahoma
quarterback Jason White after Leinart won the Heisman Trophy. The
two attended the Heisman Trophy banquet Dec. 11 and will face each
other in tonight's Orange Bowl in Miami

USC quarterback Matt Leinart, left, is congratulated by Oklahoma quarterback Jason White after Leinart won the Heisman Trophy. The two attended the Heisman Trophy banquet Dec. 11 and will face each other in tonight's Orange Bowl in Miami

Leinart, a junior from Santa Ana, Calif., who replaced 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer, has seemed more at ease with the fame that comes with the big bronze statue.

"You know, it's been fun, been kind of overwhelming at times, but it comes along with success and being at USC, and obviously I wouldn't change anything for the world," Leinart said.

There is a chance this could be Leinart's last college game. He already has talked 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 the Orange Bowl, it's hard to argue with the star power of Oklahoma vs. USC, two of college football's traditional powers again at the top of the sport.

"The fact that it's two storied programs coming together at a time when they're really on the rise," Carroll said, "you capture all of the people that ever loved Oklahoma football and ever loved USC football."

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