Southern California's quarrterback Matt Leinart, right is greated by his brother Ryan after their 41-10 win over Notre Dame in Los Angeles, on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2004.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
LOS ANGELES A tight Heisman Trophy race looks clear-cut to Matt Leinart's Southern California teammates.
''Heisman Trophy? Definitely. He's going to get it,'' Trojans guard Fred Matua said after Leinart threw for a career-high 400 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-10 win over Notre Dame on Saturday night.
Leinart's Carson Palmer-type performance against the Fighting Irish might have helped him edge to the front of a crowded pack of Heisman contenders that includes last year's winner, Oklahoma quarterback Jason White.
''He's leading the best team in the country,'' USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow said of his junior quarterback. ''I think that says something.''
Two years ago, Palmer was involved in a close Heisman race when he passed for 425 yards and four TDs in a 44-13 rout of the Fighting Irish in front of a prime-time television audience. Palmer went on to win college football's most prestigious award going away.
It might be tough for Leinart to pull away from White and others such as Texas tailback Cedric Benson, Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, California teammates Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Arrington and Oklahoma freshman Adrian Peterson.
It does appear that Leinart has now separated himself from his own teammate, versatile tailback Reggie Bush.
''He's my pick for the Heisman,'' said Bush, who hooked up with Leinart for a 69-yard touchdown late in the third quarter against Notre Dame that broke the game open.
''Matt has found out how to make games like this pretty normal,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said. ''He's doing it all. The opportunity was there for him tonight, and he seized it.''
With Notre Dame bottling up USC's rushing game, the Trojans attacked the Irish's shaky secondary.
''Guys were wide open, so it wasn't very hard for me to get them the ball,'' Leinart said.
He had 335 yards in the final three quarters, and USC improved to 23-1 since he replaced the departed Palmer as the starter last season.
Leinart has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 2,748 yards and 28 touchdowns with five interceptions this year.
After 11 games in Palmer's Heisman Trophy season, he had completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,214 yards and 28 TD passes with eight interceptions.
Leinart has 66 touchdown passes in his career, second in USC history behind Palmer's 72. He has at least one TD pass in every game he's started, at least two in all but two, and at least three 12 times.
Leinart has another opportunity to influence voters Saturday when the Trojans (11-0, 7-0 Pac-10) complete their regular season against UCLA (6-4) at the Rose Bowl.
The win over Notre Dame was USC's 20th straight and 21st in a row at the Los Angeles Coliseum a new school record. More significantly, USC's 34th win in 37 games kept its current national title hopes alive.
If the Trojans beat the Bruins, they should secure a trip to the Orange Bowl to play for the Bowl Championship Series title and add another line to Leinart's Heisman resume.
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