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QBs shrug off first-time Heisman battle

When No. 1 Southern Cal takes on No. 2 Oklahoma in a battle of 12-0 teams Tuesday night, it will be the first time in Orange Bowl history that Heisman Trophy winners face each other.

Trojans junior Matt Leinart, 24-1 as a starter, was this season's winner after throwing for 2,990 yards and 28 touchdowns with six interceptions. Oklahoma's Jason White passed for 3,846 yards and 40 TDs with 10 interceptions last season in winning the Heisman.

"We don't want to make it a battle of one-on-one," Leinart said at Sunday's media day festivities at Pro Player Stadium. "It's a team, and I think I speak for Jason when I say we need to play well and do what the coaches ask of us and really not turn the ball over, lead our offense, move the ball and keep our defenses off the field because both offenses can score a lot and can hit you with quick strikes and everything.

"We've got to keep our defense off the field as long as possible. We have to have long drives, and I think they want to do the same thing."

Asked about the matchup of Heisman QBs, White feigned ignorance.

"Actually I really haven't heard much about it," he said. "I haven't had a lot of questions asked about that this year. I really hadn't heard much hype about two Heisman Trophy winners, but the thing is I don't read the papers much."

Understandable, considering the beating he took after picking up the trophy last season. The Sooners lost 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game and 21-14 to LSU in the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl. White had no TDs and four interceptions in those losses and was sacked seven times.

"The thing that sticks in my head were the e-mails I got last year after the Sugar Bowl just saying I need to give back the Heisman Trophy, quit the team," White said. "One of my friends sent a newspaper clipping to me that said they needed a recount on the Heisman that somebody wrote.

"Stuff like that motivates me. I felt like it was a great opportunity to come back, play another season and once again prove myself. I guess last year wasn't enough."

So White, who had season-ending ACL injuries in 2001 and '02, came back for his senior season and has 33 scoring passes with six interceptions.

"I think Jason's a great player," Leinart said. "If they didn't have Jason, I don't know if they'd be in this position. He's been their leader the past couple years, and he has had some adversity in his career at Oklahoma, and really getting to know him in Orlando and New York was a great experience because he's a great person. He had two phenomenal back-to-back seasons, and he's ready to finish his career and then take it to the next level."


Times correspondent