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For Heisman voters, a headache


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Oklahoma quarterback Jason White may not like this, but the Orange Bowl could be history making if he fails to win his second Heisman Trophy tonight.

If Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart or running back Reggie Bush win college football's most prestigious award at the New York Hilton, the Orange Bowl would pit Heisman winners against each other in a college game for the first time in the 70-year history of the award.

The No. 1 Trojans meet the No. 2 Sooners in the Bowl Championship Series' national title game in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami.

If White's teammate, running back Adrian Peterson, wins the Heisman, it will mark the first time a freshman has won.

Yes, players who would go on to win the Heisman have played each other a number of times before. Gino Torretta's Hurricanes defeated Charlie Ward's Seminoles in 1992, but that was before they both won their Heismans. Same deal when Georgia's Herschel Walker outplayed South Carolina's George Rogers in the Bulldogs' victory in 1980.

"To have teammates from two different teams as finalists is pretty much unheard of," Leinart said. "I think every one of the players [invited to New York tonight] has a good chance of winning. Everyone is deserving."

The Heisman Trophy presentation (8 p.m., ESPN) will feature a number of tantalizing storylines with White, Peterson, Leinart, Bush and Utah quarterback Alex Smith as the finalists invited to attend the hour-long show. White, the only senior in the group, is trying to join Ohio State's Archie Griffin (1974-75) as the only two-time winners of the trophy. Bush is trying to become the first sophomore to win.

Never has this individual award been more about teammates.

Two players from the same school have finished among the top five in Heisman voting 13 times. The most recent pair to do so was Miami running back Willis McGahee (fourth) and quarterback Ken Dorsey (fifth) two seasons ago. Army's Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis finished 1-2 in 1945.

Never, however, have a pair of teammates from two teams cracked the final five.

That Leinart-Bush and White-Peterson are finalists as college teammates isn't as remarkable as Bush and Smith becoming the first high school teammates to become finalists. They were a year apart when they played together at Helix High in suburban San Diego.

With 923 electors, this race is shaping up as one of the closest in Heisman history. Sample polls are so tight, it's too close to call.

The Tribune Company's sample poll of 64 Heisman voters has Peterson out front (19 first-place votes) with Leinart second (14 first-place votes).

Heismanprojection.com, with 200 Heisman samplings, has Leinart leading with 24.1 percent of the total-voter points, Peterson second with 22.8 percent and White third with 15.5 percent.

The Scripps Howard poll, which has accurately picked 15 of the past 17 winners, projects White to win again.

"I'm not sure about my chances," White said Thursday night at the Home Depot 2004 College Football Awards at Disney World.

After White and the Sooners lost their last two games in decisive fashion a year ago, there was a lingering feeling he failed to show he deserved the Heisman when it mattered most.

"A lot of people said I should have given it back," White said.

Still, he won the award last year on a pair of surgically repaired knees that made him a sitting duck in the pocket under the heavy rush applied by Kansas State and LSU in those season-ending losses.

"People have come to realize how beat up he was at the end of last year," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He never said a word, just kept competing."

White's numbers were better last season than they are this year. He threw 40 touchdown passes to eight interceptions. This year, he has tossed 33 touchdowns to six interceptions, but he has shared the limelight with Peterson, who has rushed for 1,843 yards with a freshman-record 10 games of 100 yards or more.

Earlier this year, White said he would use his Heisman vote on Peterson, but he wouldn't say this week how he actually voted.

"I thought when I went to college I might be able to win one day, but I never imagined it might be my freshman year," Peterson said.

Peterson is fairly reserved, but he isn't shy about saying voters shouldn't penalize freshmen for being young.

"If it's supposed to go to the best player, it shouldn't matter how old you are," he said.

At USC, Leinart and Bush have heaped praise on each other. Leinart has thrown for 28 touchdowns, six interceptions and 2,990 yards. Bush, an all-purpose threat, has accounted for six touchdowns rushing, seven receiving, two on punt returns and one as a passer.

"This season wouldn't have been the same without Reggie, that's for sure," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "But it certainly wouldn't have been the same without Matt, either. It's a wonderful dilemma."

Utah's Smith is a passing and running threat, throwing for 28 touchdowns to four interceptions while rushing for 563 yards and 10 scores.

"I'm just happy to be going to New York," Smith said.

While Smith is the long shot, all the split votes at USC and Oklahoma won't hurt his chances.

This Heisman presentation promises a dramatic finish.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Heisman finalists statistics

Quarterbacks Cmp. Att. Yds. TD Int

Matt Leinart, USC 251 377 2,990 28 6

Alex Smith, Utah 185 280 2,624 28 4

Jason White, Oklahoma 231 354 2,961 33 6

Running backs Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Reggie Bush, USC 137 833 6.1 6

Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma 314 1,843 5.9 15

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