Unlike other years, there was no deliberating, no agonizing, no hesitation before filling in the name of the winner.
The Bush Campaign Headquarters didn’t even have to open. This election already had turned into a clear landslide.
My ballot, dispatched to Deloitte and Touche, the certified public accountants who tabulate the results, read like this:
1. Reggie Bush, USC.
2. Vince Young, Texas.
3. Matt Leinart, USC.
Bush took the trophy and, appropriately enough, ran away with it in his final two performances of the season. He not only rushed for a mind-blowing total of 554 yards against Fresno State and UCLA, he put on one of the great displays of breakaway running in NCAA history.
The Trojans’ magical junior included two 65-yard runs, and three more for 50, 45 and 35, all from scrimmage in the two games to end any Heisman suspense.
It validated Bush as not just the best running back of this year, but as the best running back of this generation.
Marcus Allen, a Heisman Trophy winning tailback in 1981, admits he is blown away by Bush’s ability.
"I think he’s phenomenal," Allen said. "As a former running back, I just enjoy watching an artist like Reggie do his thing."
A year ago, it wasn’t until the final game, until Leinart lit it up against Notre Dame when the Irish devoted all their defensive attention toward Bush, that USC’s quarterback edged ahead of his more spectacular teammate.
What shouldn’t be forgotten here in the rush to celebrate what should be the Trojans’ third Heisman winner in four years is the significance of having two players from the same backfield win this thing in back-to-back seasons.
The only other time that happened was in 1945-46 when Army’s famous Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis, won it in consecutive years.
It is fitting that Leinart and Bush will combine to make history, because they seem to have formed a deep personal bond.
As a Heisman winner with a vote in this season’s election, Leinart made it clear which way was he was leaning. He has been saying Bush was the best college football player in America for the past two years.
"It’s been an honor to play with him," the quarterback said.
Bush said it has "been a blessing" to play alongside Leinart.
"It’s not only his talent, it is the kind of person he is that makes him so special," Bush said. "He’s the leader of our team. He did everything for us. He’ll definitely be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play college football."
The two of them likely will be remembered as one of the great backfield tandems in college football history.
And in what was probably the final home game for both as college players, it was fascinating to watch the interaction on an afternoon when an emotional Leinart struggled early, while Bush was putting on another eye-popping show.
"You have to understand Matt was crying the entire first quarter," said Bob Leinart, Matt’s dad. "He just couldn’t get his emotions under control. But you know, that’s what makes him who he is."
The senior from Mater Dei High revealed that in the midst of his siege of uncharacteristically poor passing in the first half, Bush came up to him on the sidelines.
"He said, ‘You’re the best quarterback in America. You’re going to be fine,’" said Leinart, who obviously appreciated the support.
Some of Leinart’s numbers aren’t as impressive as they were a year ago. But his career isn’t about statistics as much as it is results.
He has just completed back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, and if he and the Trojans can beat Texas in the BCS title game Jan.4, he will finish with an extraordinary 38-1 record at USC.
More important, Leinart played his best when the Trojans really needed it this fall.
Against Notre Dame, he delivered the signature play of his college career, ignoring the pressure of a fourth-and-9 from his own 26-yard line in the final two minutes to stroll into the huddle, smile and say, "Let’s make a big play."
That’s exactly what he did, delivering the soft, accurate spiral that fell into Dwayne Jarrett’s hands for a 61-yard gain.
It was a completion that set up the theatrical quarterback sneak, accomplished with an appropriate push from his buddy, Bush, for that touchdown in the final seconds that preserved USC’s undefeated season and the winning streak that has since grown to 34.
Against Fresno State, when USC required a late touchdown to stave off a stunning upset by the Bulldogs, it was Leinart who audibilized after recognizing Bush was covered by a linebacker, resulting in the 43-yard pass and run that set up the winning touchdown.
"People don’t realize how great a call that was," Coach Pete Carroll said. "He did that all season. In terms of calling the right plays and checking off and making the clutch passes when he had to, it was easily Matt’s best year."
Having Bush running and Leinart passing is a luxury USC fans have come to expect. They should appreciate it while they can.
From all accounts, the two only will be around for one more game at the collegiate level.
One more chance to play for a national title. One more chance to make history.
The way it should be for the first back-to-back Heisman winners from the same school in almost 60 years.
© 2005, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.