Originally created 12/15/03

Big 12 slipup couldn't derail White's Heisman bid



NEW YORK -- When Jason White walked off the field after losing the Big 12 championship, his concern was whether Oklahoma lost a shot at the national title, not his place in the Heisman Trophy race.

Both turned out fine.

With half the Heisman ballots cast before White's rough outing against Kansas State, he was able to beat Larry Fitzgerald for college football's most prestigious award.

And with 12 dominating wins overshadowing one bad loss, the computers helped push the third-ranked Sooners into the Bowl Championship Series title game against No. 2 LSU at the Sugar Bowl.

"I knew what happened with the team. I wasn't going to worry about individual awards," White said. "We had a shot at a clear-cut national championship. That's what I was worried about all along. After the loss I wondered would we get a shot at the national championship or even a BCS game. It was nerve-racking because we didn't take care of business."

This year's Heisman results are sure to renew debate - What else is new in college football? - about the timing of votes for the award. Ballots were mailed out Nov. 12, and voters had until Dec. 10.

According to the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, 50 percent of the votes were cast before White went 27-for-50 for 298 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 35-7 loss to Kansas State.

Those who voted after the game favored Fitzgerald, while those who voted before gave the edge to White. Of course, those who voted early for White might have been so convinced he was deserving that they might not have switched anyway.

But with a margin of only 128 points, it's hard to tell if the final result would have changed with the timing of the votes.

"I really don't even think about that," Fitzgerald said. "Voters vote for who they want to vote for."

Fitzgerald was hurt by his three-catch performance against Miami in his final regular season game, costing Pittsburgh a share of the Big East title. Despite Fitzgerald's 22 touchdown catches, the Panthers lost four games - more than all but two Heisman winners.

The newest Heisman voter said he would wait to cast his ballot until after all games are played.

"I think every game counts, not just one or two games," said White, who as a Heisman winner gets to vote. "I'll wait."

No matter the questions about the vote, there's no doubting that White was a worthy winner.

The 23-year-old senior led the nation in passing efficiency, completing 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards, 40 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

His comeback from two serious knee injuries was one of the feel-good stories of the season.

The morning after the award, White's accomplishment still hadn't sunk in. He received more than 80 calls on his cell phone Saturday night from friends, family, teammates and coaches.

"I think it will take awhile," he said. "Somebody asked me last night if my name sounded right with the past Heisman Trophy winners. I don't think it does."

White celebrated in New York with fellow Heisman finalist Chris Perry, the Michigan running back who can help give the Sooners an undisputed national title by beating No. 1 Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

"I hung out with Chris Perry more than I have hung out with our running backs," White said.

And with good reason.

If the Wolverines beat the Trojans, the winner of the Sugar Bowl will be the undisputed national champion. USC could win The Associated Press' title with a win; the No. 1 team has never dropped in the AP poll after winning its bowl game. The coaches are obligated to make the Sugar Bowl winner their champion.

None of that will matter if White and the Sooners can't bounce back from the loss to Kansas State and beat LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

White is hoping to become the third quarterback to win the Heisman and the national title in the same season, joining Florida State's Charlie Ward (1993) and Florida's Danny Wuerffel (1996).

Recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks haven't fared as well, with Florida State's Chris Weinke (2000) and Nebraska's Eric Crouch (2001) both following up their Heisman wins with subpar title-game performances.

"I think there will be a lot of pressure on us to perform a lot better than we did in the Big 12 championship," White said. "A lot of people are creating those expectations but the biggest expectations are from us. We know we're better that what we showed in the Big 12 championship."

White beat Fitzgerald 1,481-1,353. Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning was third with 710 points, and Perry was next with 341.