MIAMI (AP) — Matt Leinart and his Southern Cal teammates played to perfection, leaving no doubt about this national championship.
Even better, they don’t have to share it.
The Heisman Trophy winner threw a record five touchdown passes and Southern Cal overwhelmed Oklahoma 55-19 last night in the Orange Bowl, assuring 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. “No doubt.”
The much-anticipated battle of unbeatens, No. 1 vs. No. 2, turned into a coronation for Southern Cal, which had to settle for a share of the national championship last year after being left out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.
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 can only hope for second when the final Associated Press poll is released early Wednesday morning.
“We didn’t expect it to be this easy, but the game went our way from the beginning,” Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll said. “I was a little surprised.”
Southern Cal surely will become the first team to repeat as AP national champions since Nebraska in 1994-95 and join Florida State in 1999 as the only teams to go wire-to-wire — from preseason to post bowls — as No. 1.
Southern Cal was shut out of last season’s BCS title game, despite topping both the AP Top 25 and coaches’ poll at the end of the regular season. The BCS computer rankings favored Oklahoma, even though the Sooners lost the Big 12 title game 35-7.
Oklahoma then washed out in the BCS championship game, losing to LSU in the Sugar Bowl 21-14 to give the Tigers the top spot in the coaches’ poll.
The Trojans wrapped up their 2003 national title three days before the BCS championship game by beating Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl.
They 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.
“I think they’re great, and they sure proved it,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We just got whupped.”
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 342 yards and he had the Southern Cal band playing “Fight On” all night. The laid-back Californian who replaced Carson Palmer became the first Heisman winner to win a national title since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.
Leinart 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.
Steve Smith caught an Orange Bowl record three touchdowns, LenDale White ran for 118 yards and two scores and the Southern Cal’s defense smothered Oklahoma’s freshman sensation Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, the Heisman runner-up, managed just 82 yards on 25 carries.
Senior Mark Bradley made a freshman mistake that set off one of those Southern Cal runs that have done in so many opponents during the Trojans’ 22-game winning streak.
The Sooners’ most versatile player and the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Danny Bradley tried to scoop up a punt that had bounced inside the Oklahoma 5. Collin Ashton grabbed on to Bradley, the ball squirted away and Southern Cal recovered at the 6.
Bradley trudged back to the sideline, where he received some pats on the head and back.
His mood no doubt worsened on the next play, when LenDale White reached the ball over the goal line to give the Trojans a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Southern Cal made it 21 straight points with the help of Oklahoma’s second turnover. Under pressure, White heaved a deep ball into quadruple-coverage and Jason Leach came up with Southern Cal’s 20th interception of the season.
Then the Trojans went to work on Oklahoma freshman cornerback Marcus Walker with their own star freshman, Dwayne Jarrett.
The 6-foot-5 Jarrett went over the 5-11 Walker for an 18-yard gain on third-and-8.
Walker ended up in no-man’s land on the next play. He looked like he wanted to blitz but stopped. Meanwhile, Jarrett ran straight down the sideline and hauled in a perfect throw from Leinart for a 54-yard score.
The Southern Cal deluge continued.
White was upended while throwing and was picked off by Eric Wright deep in Sooners territory.
This time Leinart found Steve Smith alone in the end zone from 5 yards out, to cap a four-touchdown barrage.
In a span of 10:10, Southern Cal turned a 7-0 deficit into a 28-7 lead that left the Sooners looking dumbfounded.
Oklahoma drove for a field goal on the next possession, but all it did was give Southern Cal enough time to catch its breath.
Reggie Bush ripped off a 33-yard run to start the Trojans on their way and Leinart again picked on a secondary that looked like Oklahoma’s soft spot much of the season.
Leinart went deep to Smith, who hauled in a 33-yarder while hitting the ground to make it 35-10.
Coach Pete Carroll greeted Leinart with a hug after the left-hander’s fourth touchdown pass. Leinart gave a sly grin as he glanced up at the scoreboard.
Oklahoma’s season-high fourth turnover, led to Ryan Killeen’s 44-yard field goal just before halftime.
An aching White trudged into and then limped through the Sugar Bowl last year. But he was spry and agile against the Trojans at the start.
He rolled out, scrambled and stepped up in the pocket while completing four of his first five passes for 75 yards. He finished the 92-yard TD drive by zipping a 5-yarder to Travis Wilson.
Leinart answered quickly, hitting four straight and finding Dominique Byrd deep down the middle for a spinning, one-handed 33-yard touchdown. It was the first touchdown the Sooners had allowed in four games.
And it would only get worse from there for the Sooners.