- Heisman Trophy winner (2004)
- Heisman Trophy finalist (2005)
- 2X First-Team All-American (2004, 2005)
- Manning Award (2004), Walter Camp Award (2004)
- BCS National Champion – Vacated (2004)
During the early 2000s as Pete Carroll took over, the USC Trojans were firmly in the college football spotlight. And though he wasn’t a part of that spotlight immediately, Matt Leinart became one of the most recognizable figures of that run. However, he had to work to get his spot.
Leinart’s career started by redshirting the 2001 season, which was followed by being buried on the depth chart as a redshirt freshman in 2002. Playing behind both Carson Palmer — who won the Heisman that year — and Matt Cassel, Leinart barely saw the field and accrued now statistics for the year as a result. However, he beat out Cassel for the starting job in 2003 and never looked back.
As a redshirt sophomore, Leinart led the Trojans to an 11-1 regular-season record and a big Rose Bowl win over Michigan for the year. In doing so, he was fantastic under center as the quarterback threw for 3,556 yards, 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the year, numbers that earned him a sixth-place finish in Heisman voting.
Leinart would improve that the following year, going on to win the Heisman with a phenomenal year as he threw for 3,322 yards, 33 touchdowns and six interceptions. Furthermore, he led the Trojans to an undefeated regular season and a now-vacated blowout BCS National Championship win over Oklahoma.
In his final season, Leinart was again fantastic as he threw for 3,815 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions on the year, good enough for third in the Heisman voting. He also again made it to the title game, though he and USC lost in one of the best National Championships ever to Vince Young and Texas.
With his sustained individual and team success, there’s no way Leinart is anything but one of the 10 best quarterbacks of the 21st century, vacated title and all.