It was announced yesterday that Matt Leinart is on the ballot for the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame. If there’s any justice in the sporting world, he will be a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer. Leinart led three of the best college football teams the sport has ever seen, won two national titles, secured the sixth Heisman Trophy in USC history, threw for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns, and owns a 37-2 record as a starter in his three seasons. Leinart was the best college football player of the entire 2000s decade, and the only people who disagree with that statement are Tim Tebow fans, which automatically disqualifies their opinion.
Here’s a look at the greatest moments in Leinart’s USC career:
"Leinart Leads USC out of the Tunnel" - Stanford, November 16, 2013
It’s probably not a coincidence that Leinart led the Trojans out of the tunnel in their biggest home win since the end of the Carroll era. The entrance set the tone for the game and whipped the home crowd into a delirious nostalgia-filled frenzy. There have been thirty two football games in the Coliseum since Pete departed for Seattle, but this was the only one that’s ever come close to a crowd reminiscent of the previous era. It was a perfect start to a perfect evening.
"SEC Beatdown" – Arkansas, September 17, 2005
Leinart and co. racked up 736 yards of total offense against a Razorback team that was unfairly outmatched on both sides of the ball. He threw for 381 yards and had 5 total touchdowns (1 rushing) while USC scored 28 points in the first quarter despite only having possession of the ball for 1:32. The Trojans demolished their SEC opponent 70-17 and reached the 70 point mark for the first time since 1970. I miss these games.
"Perfect Rivalry Record" – UCLA/Notre Dame, 2003-2005
One of Leinart’s many notable accomplishments as a Trojan is his perfect record versus Notre Dame and the school in Westwood. During his tenure, USC held a combined 6-0 record against their rivals, outscoring both schools 262-120 in those games. Since then, USC has a combined 11-7 record versus both schools and is 1-5 in the last three seasons.
The Top 5:
5) "Leave No Doubt" - Virginia Tech, August 28, 2004
After being robbed by a gang of computers and having to settle for an AP Title in 2003, the 2004 Trojans weren’t taking any chances. Their campaign for a BCS Championship began at Fed Ex Field in a de facto home game for the Hokies. Leinart got the scoring going with a 35-yard screen pass to some guy named Reggie Bush, but USC trailed 10-7 at half in a closely fought contest. The Trojans eventually pulled away thanks to Leinart’s pair of long second half touchdown passes to that Reggie Bush fella. The defense was pretty good too, holding Tech to just two field goals in the second half. The Hokies were unranked to open the season, but would eventually finish as ACC champs (their first season in the conference) and a top-10 team, giving this win a little more sheen in hindsight. Final Score: 24-13
Leinart’s Line – 19/29, 272 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
4) "The Debut" – @Auburn, August 30, 2003
It’s hard to fathom now, but there was much uncertainty going into Leinart’s debut. Carson Palmer, who had just won the Heisman, was gone. The Trojans were opening their season on the road in a hostile SEC environment against a top-1o ranked Auburn team. Leinart, a sophomore, had never attempted a pass in a college game. Less than ideal, yes, but not a problem for #11. Darnell Bing picked off Jason Campbell on the opening drive of the game and Leinart’s first pass as a Trojan was a touchdown to Mike Williams. The defense did most of the heavy lifting in this one, holding the Tigers to 164 total yards and shutting them out at home for the first time since 1998, but Leinart proved he was the guy moving forward after many fans thought Matt Cassel should be Palmer’s successor. Final Score: 23-0
Leinart’s Line – 17/30, 192 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs
3) "The Wheel Route" – Michigan, January 1, 2004 (Rose Bowl)
Sure, the 2003 Trojans were left out of the BCS Championship Game despite being ranked #1 in both human polls, but that didn’t stop them from chasing down their first national title since 1978. USC trounced Michigan with Leinart at the helm and the 90th "Granddaddy of Them All" was never in question. The southpaw from SoCal earned Rose Bowl MVP Honors after scoring the game’s first 3 touchdowns with passes to Keary Colbert (2) and LenDale White. But the game’s most iconic moment came late in the third quarter when Mike Williams took an end around pitch from Hershel Dennis and threw a perfect strike to a streaking Leinart on the wheel route. Leinart’s over the shoulder catch put the punctuation on the Trojans’ remarkable return to glory and their first Rose Bowl victory since 1996. Final Score: 28-14
Leinart’s Line – 23/34, 327 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 Rec TD
2) "Without a Doubt" – Oklahoma, January 4, 2005 (Orange Bowl, BCS Championship Game)
If you need proof that the 2004 USC Trojans were one of the greatest college teams to ever grace a football field, look no further than the most lopsided BCS Championship Game in history. After a USC punt to start the game, the Sooners marched 92 yards to strike first and pull ahead 7-0. It’s hard to believe now, but the mood was momentarily tense. However, that would be the only bright spot of the game for Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Oklahoma. Leinart took control and calmly led the offense down the field, finding Dominique Byrd for the tying touchdown to cap a six play drive. The Trojans never looked back. USC made big plays on both sides of the ball to help build a 38-10 lead by halftime, but the best player on the field was Leinart. The GOAT was brilliant that night, throwing for an Orange Bowl and BCS Title Game record 5 touchdowns on his way to earning MVP honors in college football’s Championship. Final Score: 55-19
Leinart’s Line – 18/35, 332 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs
1) "The Bush Push" - @Notre Dame, October 15, 2005
1:32 to go in the game. 4th and 9. USC has the ball on their own 26 yard line with no timeouts. In a game where Leinart struggled throughout, he found a way to make a play when it mattered most. With the season on the line, Leinart throws a perfect pass to Dwayne Jarrett up the sideline and the Trojans convert. If the ball is one inch in any direction it’s probably deflected and the game is over. But the Trojans still trail by three with the clock down to its final seconds. Lesser leaders panic in these situations, but not The GOAT. With the ball inside the 1 yard line and only seven seconds remaining, Leinart makes the decision not to spike the ball and tries the QB sneak instead. After being stopped up the middle initially, he spins to the left side of the line and falls into the end zone with a little help from his running back. Euphoria ensues. Almost a decade later, the play is still considered one of the most iconic moments in college football history. The win kept alive the dream of a three-peat and extended USC’s consecutive win streak to 28 games at the time. The game certainly wasn’t his best quarterbacking performance, but the final drive and ensuing game-winning play are without a doubt Leinart’s greatest and most memorable moment as a Trojan. Final Score: 34-31
Leinart’s Line – 17/32, 301 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 Rush TD