Matt Leinart Should Be First Ballot CFB Hall of Famer

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USC football great Matt Leinart headlined the nominees for 2016 College Football Hall of Fame class Tuesday for good reason. He has as strong a claim towards a first ballot induction as there could be.

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The quarterback joined Mark Carrier and Dennis Thurman among Trojans eligible for induction in 2016.

Revisionist history likes to paint Leinart’s career in the frame of the talent around him. “He did not succeed in the NFL, so it must have been a mirage. Reggie Bush or Lendale While or the offensive line made him,” doubters like to say.

Make no mistake, Leinart’s career stands on its own.

Jul 16, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; NFL quarterback Matt Leinart arrives at the 2014 ESPY Award show at Nokia Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Throwing for 3,556 yards with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2003, Leinart led the Trojans to a share of the national championship before Reggie Bush emerged as one of the country’s top players.

It was Leinart who went on the road to Auburn in his first ever start and led the team to a 23-0 victory. He capped that season with 327 yard and four total touchdowns in USC’s Rose Bowl win over Michigan.

In 2004, Leinart earned his Heisman by finishing with 3,322 yards, 33 touchdowns and just six interceptions despite losing top receiver Mike Williams. He never threw more than one interception in a game that season and scored multiple touchdowns in all but one contest.

One such outing came in the biggest game of them all, when Leinart embarrassed trash-talking Oklahoma defensive end Larry Birdine, who claimed the Trojan signal caller was overrated, by throwing five touchdowns against the Sooners to claim the national title.

The senior quarterback took a backseat to Bush in national acclaim in 2005, but his achievements were no less impressive. He threw for a career-best 3,815 yards, with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His six rushing touchdowns were also a career mark, the most important one coming in the final seconds against Notre Dame.

All told, Leinart lost a total of two games in three years as a starter at USC. In addition to his Heisman Trophy, he took home a laundry list of national awards — the Walter Camp Award, the Manning Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Touchdown Club of Columbus’ Quarterback of the Year Award, the Sporting News Sportsman of the Year, and AP Player of the Year.

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As for the College Football Hall of Fame, Leinart’s credentials make him a no-brainer.

Of the three Heisman winners on the ballot, alongside Nebraska’s Eric Crouch and Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam, Leinart clearly had the most decorated career as a two-time All-American.

Only a handful of Hall of Fame candidates can claim two national titles to their name, and none brought their team to three consecutive title tilts.

Regardless of Leinart’s NFL disappointment, which is not taken into account when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, he stands as one of the all-time great quarterbacks in the history of college football.

His team and individual accomplishments will punch his ticket into the Hall of Fame whether it comes this year or next. Why wait?