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Other Colleges 68th Heisman Trophy Winner: Carson Palmer's 233-point margin as improbable as his selection

Sunday, December 15, 2002

By Andrea Szulszteyn, The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Quarterback Carson Palmer can forget those first three seasons at Southern California, when he lost as much as he won and failed to fulfill the high expectations.

The Heisman Trophy does that for a player.

USC quarterback Carson Palmer poses with the Heisman Trophy after winning the award at The Yale Club in New York last night. (Mark Lennihan, Associated Press)

Palmer capped his rise from mediocrity to stardom by winning college football's most prestigious award last night at the Yale Club, taking the bronze statue back to the West Coast for the first time since USC's Marcus Allen won it 21 years ago.

Palmer kissed his fiancee, then stepped up to the podium and accepted the trophy.

"My heart's about to come out of my shirt," Palmer said. "This has been amazing, this whole journey through this season."

Palmer received 242 first-place votes and easily won by 233 points over Iowa quarterback Brad Banks in what was expected to be a much closer race.

Palmer went 16-16 as a starter before his senior season, unable to live up to the expectations he brought with him when he joined the Trojans.

He turned around his career dramatically this year, leading the Trojans to a 10-2 record and a spot in the Orange Bowl -- against Iowa and Banks. Palmer's season highlights included a stunning performance against Notre Dame on national television, crucial for a West Coast Heisman hopeful who doesn't get as much exposure as other candidates.

"I think it was the Notre Dame game," Palmer said. "If anyone else was playing in that game, maybe they would have gotten the trophy."

Palmer completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this year.

"When he walked up there and started making his speech, oh, my gosh," said Palmer's mother, Danna. "But it really wasn't until he gave me that hug that it felt real.

"I can't believe it. My son won the Heisman. It will follow him. You win this, and you're forever."

He is the fifth winner from USC, joining Allen, Charles White (1979), O.J. Simpson (1968) and Mike Garrett (1965). USC has the third-most winners, behind Notre Dame (seven) and Ohio State (six).

In what was expected to be one of the closest races in Heisman history, Palmer topped Banks, with Penn State's Larry Johnson third. Miami's Willis McGahee was fourth and teammate Ken Dorsey finished fifth.

It was the first time all five finalists received more than 100 first-place votes. Palmer won five of the six regions. Banks won the Midwest with 289 points, 100 more than Palmer.

Palmer and his fiancee, Shaelyn Fernandes, met as freshmen at USC, and their wedding is in July. His two brothers also were at the ceremony.

One brother, Jordan, is a redshirt freshman quarterback at UTEP.

"This is the most prestigious award in all of sports," Jordan said. "People can say the NFL MVP is a big deal, but I can't name last year's MVP. I can name the last six Heisman Trophy winners, and it's awesome my brother's going to be that guy."

Voters list three choices on their ballots, and players are awarded three points for first place, two for second and one for third.

Palmer, the first USC quarterback to win the award, had 242 first-place votes, 224 second-place votes and 154 third-place votes for 1,328 points.

Banks, who led the NCAA in passing efficiency and went 155 of 258 for 2,369 yards, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions, had 199 first-place votes and 1,095 points.

Johnson, who became the ninth player in Division I-A history to rush for more than 2,000 yards when he finished with 2,015, had 108 first-place votes and 726 points.

McGahee, who broke the school record with 27 touchdowns and also set school records for yards rushing (1,686), total yards (2,036), and 100-yard games (10), received 101 first-place votes and 660 points.

Dorsey, 38-1 as a starter, received 122 first-place votes and 643 points.

Last year, there was no clear favorite for the Heisman and only four finalists were announced. Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch edged Florida quarterback Rex Grossman by 62 points, the fourth-closest vote in the 68-year history of the Heisman.

The result was a disappointing end for the Hurricanes teammates. It was the first time teammates finished in the top five since 1994, when Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter was second and Kerry Collins fourth.

Dorsey and McGahee helped the top-ranked Hurricanes return to the national title game, where they will play Ohio State. Last year, Dorsey finished third in the Heisman voting.

"It's good for Willis and myself not to have that added pressure going into a bowl game," Dorsey said. "Even though I finished dead last, the last time I looked, we're still going to the Fiesta Bowl."

Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich was sixth, followed by Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser, Colorado running back Chris Brown, Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury and Oklahoma running back Quentin Griffin.

In a race that was unpredictable, perhaps Palmer's performance against Notre Dame in the season finale put him over the top. In a 44-13 victory against the Fighting Irish, he passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns -- the most passing yards allowed by the Fighting Irish.

Palmer was at his best during USC's final eight games, passing for 2,676 yards and 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

He is the Pacific-10 Conference offensive player of the year and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback.

This year, he set USC season records for yards passing (3,639), passing touchdowns (32), pass attempts (458) and total offense (3,513). He also threw a school record 147 consecutive passes without an interception in 2002.

"I couldn't be more honored to take this trophy back to share with my teammates in Los Angeles," Palmer said. "This award is as much theirs as it is mine.

"A lot of people have been talking about the East Coast bias and I think this takes care of that."

This year, 811 ballots of 921 ballots (88 percent) were received. Sixty-seven percent of the votes were received after Dec. 7.

Last year, Heisman officials mailed out 924 ballots, but only 585 were counted among the top 10 finishers, or just 63.3 percent. On average, there's about an 80 percent return rate.

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