Originally created 12/13/04

Leinart says he wants to return to USC



NEW YORK - Matt Leinart owns a Heisman Trophy and a national title - and he's got a shot at another championship coming up in less than a month.

The Southern California quarterback is likely to be a high first-round NFL draft choice in April if he decides to skip his senior season.

It would seem as though Leinart must be a lock to go pro, right? No so fast: He's been saying since last year he wants to use all of his college eligibility. And moments after clutching the Heisman, he hadn't changed his tune.

"That's a question I get asked a lot," the fourth-year junior said Saturday night after becoming the Trojans' sixth Heisman winner. "But I'm sticking to my word that I still intend to return for my fifth year.

"I'm aware of the opportunity; we'll see what happens."

Leinart won what was thought to be a close race most of the season rather handily. The 6-foot-5 left-hander received 1,325 points and won all but one of the six voting regions. He finished third in the Southwest behind Oklahoma teammates Adrian Peterson and Jason White.

The close race was for second, where Peterson edged White 997-957. White, last year's winner, was trying to join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners of college football's biggest individual prize.

"They're both No. 1 in my eyes," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

Leinart and the top-ranked Trojans will face White, Peterson and the Sooners in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 in the first matchup of players with Heisman trophies.

White said Griffin, who won the Heisman in 1974-75, tracked him down after the presentation ceremony.

"He said... 'Wish you could have joined me,'" White said.

"I think he might have a guy coming up who might join him," White added, referring to Peterson.

The 210-pound tailback set a new Heisman standard for freshmen: He was the first to finish higher than third in the voting. Peterson's point total was also a freshman record, besting Georgia tailback Herschel Walker's 683 in 1980.

Peterson's freshman season will go down as one of the best in college football history. He has rushed for 1,843 yards and 15 touchdowns with a freshman-record 11 100-yard games. He's only 20 yards from breaking the NCAA's season rushing record for freshmen, set by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne in 1996.

Utah quarterback Alex Smith was fourth, and USC tailback Reggie Bush was fifth.

Smith is a junior, and Bush is a sophomore, so it's possible four of the five Heisman finalists could be playing college football next season. Leinart will undoubtedly enter next season as a Heisman favorite if he's back, but Peterson and Bush will also have plenty of momentum.

Bush has scored 15 touchdowns and provided some of the most dazzling plays of the season as a do-it-all tailback for USC.

Leinart became USC's second Heisman winner in three years; Carson Palmer won it in 2002 and now plays quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Trojans had four Heisman-winning tailbacks from 1965-81 - starting with Mike Garrett, now the Trojans' athletic director, followed by O.J. Simpson in '68, Charles White in '79 and Marcus Allen.

"I told (Bush), 'You'll be standing up there next season,' and he said, 'I know,'" Garrett said.