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A big day in the Notre Dame-USC game never hurts Heisman chances

Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen could bolster his campaign for college football's biggest honor. It worked most recently for USC's Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

October 17, 2009|Gary Klein

Notre Dame has produced seven Heisman Trophy winners, four of them quarterbacks: Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung and John Huarte.

This season, the Fighting Irish have quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who leads the nation in passing efficiency coming into today's game against sixth-ranked USC.

Notre Dame has lost seven in a row to the Trojans, and Clausen, a junior from Westlake Village Oaks Christian High, would like nothing more than to beat USC, which also aggressively pursued him as a recruit. In doing so, he could supercharge his own bid for the Heisman with a big performance.

That's just what happens when Notre Dame is involved.

But it also works the other way.

USC, perhaps more than any other school, knows how outstanding performances against college football's most famous program can catapult players into the Heisman discussion, if not help them clinch the award.

USC also has seven Heisman winners -- five of them running backs.

"It's two classic, championship-winning, Heisman-gathering programs," USC Coach Pete Carroll says. "Because of all that history, it carries a level of regard and respect that can help guys position themselves."

Trojans quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart won the Heisman after big games against the Fighting Irish in November at the Coliseum. And tailback Reggie Bush pushed his way to the forefront of the Heisman discussion with his dynamic performance in a legendary October game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Charles White did the same en route to winning the Heisman in 1979. Anthony Davis never won the award, but his 11 career touchdowns against the Irish in 1972-74 are the stuff of legend.

A look at how USC's last three Heisman winners benefited from the Irish experience:

2002

Palmer passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns as sixth-ranked USC beat the No. 7 Irish, 44-13, in the regular-season finale.

Palmer, a fifth-year senior, completed 32 of 46 passes with two interceptions, but those mistakes did not prevent him from becoming the first USC quarterback to win college football's most prestigious award.

2004

Leinart passed for 400 yards and five touchdowns in the top-ranked Trojans' 41-10 victory.

Leinart, a fourth-year junior, completed 24 of 34 without an interception.

2005

Bush rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns in 15 carries and, perhaps most important, provided Leinart with a game-winning push into the end zone in the top-ranked Trojans' 34-31 victory over the ninth-ranked Irish.

Bush scored on runs of 36, 45 and nine yards in a performance that kept alive USC's 28-game winning streak.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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