Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 20 News List

USC locks up championship

COLLEGE FOOTBALL The battle between the top two teams in the US turned into a rout as the Trojans secured an undesputed national championship in the Orange Bowl

AP , MIAMI, FLORIDA ANDNEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Quarterback Matt Leinart, right, of the USC Trojans, scrambles with the football against the Oklahoma Sooners defense during the second quarter at the Orange Bowl in Pro Player Stadium, Miami, Florida on Tuesday. The Trojans beat the Sooners 55-19.

PHOTO: AFP

Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart threw a record five touchdown passes Tuesday and the University of Southern California overwhelmed Oklahoma 55-19 in the championship matchup.

The Orange Bowl win assures the Trojans will end the season just as they started: No. 1.

"I think we proved tonight that we are the No. 1 team in the country without a doubt," Leinart said.

The much-anticipated battle of unbeatens, No. 1 versus No. 2, turned into a coronation for USC, which had to settle for a share of the national championship last year after being left out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.

"We didn't expect it to be this easy, but the game went our way from the beginning," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I was a little surprised."

That was no consolation for unbeaten Auburn, the odd team out of the BCS title game this season.

The Tigers (13-0) stated their case with a 16-13 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night and could have done no worse than Oklahoma against Southern Cal. But they finished second in the final Associated Press poll.

USC became the first team to repeat as AP national champions since Nebraska in 1994-1995 and joined Florida State in 1999 as the only teams to go wire-to-wire -- from preseason to post bowls -- as No. 1.

"I think they're great, and they sure proved it," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "We just got whupped."

The Trojans wrapped up their 2003 national title three days before the BCS championship game by beating Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl.

USC won't have to wait for their trophy this season.

With the aide of four Oklahoma turnovers, the Trojans (13-0) ambushed the Sooners (12-1) with 38 points in the final 20 minutes of the first half.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was on hand to witness the rout in a game he believed his team should have been playing in.

"It's a little empty feeling," Tuberville said of being at the Orange Bowl. "You want to have some kind of recognition."

The first meeting of Heisman winners couldn't have been more one-sided. Leinart set an Orange Bowl record with his five scoring tosses and Jason White spent another BCS title game running for his life.

Oklahoma's Heisman winner finished 24-of-36 for 244 yards with three interceptions and two touchdowns.

Leinart was 18-of-35 for 332 yards and he had the USC band playing "Fight On" all night. The laidback Californian who replaced Carson Palmer became the first Heisman winner to win a national title since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997.

Leinhart looked nothing like the overrated quarterback for an average offense as Oklahoma defensive end Larry Birdine described him.

He tossed four scores in the first half as the Trojans turned an early 7-0 deficit into a 38-10 halftime lead.

And when the demolition had ended, the Trojans bounced and danced their way to the locker room, grooving in the end zone as Outkast's "Hey Yeah" blared through Pro Player Stadium. Meanwhile, the Sooners trudged off having already allowed more points in a bowl game than any team in school history.

Leinart shrugged off Birdine's comment and played great in what could be his farewell to college football. The junior could be a top pick in the next NFL draft.

He also got plenty of help. The Trojans reached a season high for points and turned the game into a USC highlight reel, with Leinart making pinpoint passes and his receivers making spectacular catches.

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