Walter Camp winner a Heisman favorite

Updated: December 10, 2004, 9:33 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

USC junior Matt Leinart may pick apart defenses with the precision of a laser surgeon, but that meticulous nature does not extend to the rest of his life. His room in his apartment, by his own admission, may qualify for federal disaster relief.

He made the importance he places on clean laundry obvious in the locker room after the 29-24 defeat of UCLA at the Rose Bowl last Saturday. Leinart swiped a pair of white socks off the bottom of his locker, gave a sniff and a facial shrug, and deemed them clean enough.

Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart's won two national titles and one Heisman in two years as a starter. Is that good?
His standards on the field are much higher, and in light of the vast amount of inexperience he found around him in the Trojan huddle, they had to be. On a team with a young offensive line and even younger receivers, Leinart had to play with patience and calm as his teammates learned on the job.

His Heisman moment shared that same sort of quality: excellence in the face of chaos around him. If you can pin down the game in which Leinart won the Walter Camp Player of the Year, and became a favorite to win the Heisman as well, it would have been against Notre Dame on Nov. 27.

Leinart's moment was not bathed in the golden light of a California autumn Saturday. It came in a dank Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in one of those soundless, soulless Southern California rains that makes you think you'll never get warm again.

Everyone except Leinart, who started out hot against the Fighting Irish on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and never cooled off.

"He played such a complete game," sophomore tailback Reggie Bush said of Leinart. "When he's on fire, there's not very much you can do except hope or pray."

With a wet ball and young receivers, Leinart threw for a career-high 400 yards and a Trojan-record-tying five touchdowns in a 41-10 rout. He completed 24-of-34 passes without an interception. He led the Trojans to 24 points on their first four possessions after halftime. And he did it all with his customary cool.

"Being on national TV, it was kind of a significant game," Leinart said. "I'm proud of it personally because everyone was saying I had to have a big game. I came out and was throwing very well and had a lot of the other guys do their thing."

USC trailed Notre Dame 10-3 in the second quarter of that game. They trailed three other teams (Virginia Tech, Stanford, Oregon State) in the second half and came back to win them all. They are 12-0 this season, have won 21 in a row and are 24-1 with Leinart as a starter.

"The thing I'm most proud of," Leinart said, "are the come-from-behind victories. We had to come back for a few wins this year. Even if it was down to two minutes to go, the team needed me to be me. I did all that I could possibly do."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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