This current MNC Wednesday miniseries is analyzing Heisman Trophy history, and in 48 seasons overall so far, we have confirmed just 16 winners—clarifying that the voting process really came down to a lot of hype and bandwagon voting. It is sad to think about how sports history could be different if the voters had been able to apply any objective, critical-thinking skills to their decision-making processes. So, here we go again … on with our Heisman show, which is better than the real Hypesman, of course.

2004 Heisman Trophy winner: Matt Leinart, QB, USC (original); Alex Smith, QB, Utah (revised)

The USC Trojans went 12-0 in the regular season to qualify for the BCS Championship game, and their QB, Matt Leinart, won the Heisman vote. His 156.5 QB rating against the No. 5 schedule was solid enough, but his counting stats probably won him the award: 3,322 passing yards with 36 total touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. His QB rating was actually 8 points lower than it had been the year before, when he was one of our finalists, and of course, he basically was playing on an all-star squad.

So, as usual, there are always other candidates to consider, and this is our final list of firmly vetted Heisman candidates for the 2004 Heisman Trophy, which is insanely loaded with super-talented teammates this time around:

  • Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma: 1,937 total yards and 15 TDs (No. 11 SOS)
  • Jason White, QB, Oklahoma: 3,205 passing yards with 35 TDs and 9 INTs for a 159.4 QB rating
  • Alex Smith, QB, Utah: 3,604 total yards with 42 TDs and 4 INTs for a 176.5 QB rating (No. 70 SOS)
  • Reggie Bush, RB, USC: 2,330 total yards with 15 TDs
  • Cedric Benson, RB, Texas: 2,013 total yards with 20 TDs (No. 23 SOS)
  • Vince Young, QB, Texas: 2,976 total yards with 26 TDs and 11 INTs
  • Jason Campbell, QB, Auburn: 2,730 total yards with 23 TDs and 7 INTs for a 172.9 QB rating (No. 55 SOS)
  • J.J. Arrington, RB, California: 2,135 total yards and 15 TDs (No. 15 SOS)
  • Aaron Rodgers, QB, California: 2,702 total yards with 27 TDs and 8 INTs for a 154.3 QB rating
  • Stefan Lefors, QB, Louisville: 2,899 total yards with 23 TDs and 3 INTs for a 181.7 QB rating (No. 77 SOS)

With two top candidates each, USC and Oklahoma were loaded rosters—which eliminates all their collective players from consideration here. That leaves Smith as our early leader, although his SOS leaves a lot to be desired. However, the Utes did go undefeated to earn a Fiesta Bowl bid, which was impressive for a small school (at the time). Benson played with Young at QB, and Young’s presence means both of them are out, too. This is getting nuts, isn’t it?

Campbell’s numbers are inferior to Smith’s production, with his own middling competition level; plus, in leading Auburn to a 12-0 mark and a Sugar Bowl bid, Campbell had the aid of two RBs who combined for over 2,500 total yards—and were Top-5 NFL draft picks. So, there goes that option. Same for the Golden Bears duo! What a ridiculous season … all the top teams featured multiple players who were worthy candidates for the Heisman. What are the odds? Smith did a lot of the dirty work alone at Utah.

Lefors topped the nation in rating efficiency, but his SOS is worse than Smith’s mark, and the Cardinals only posted a 10-1 record before getting stuffed into a Liberty Bowl bid. That isn’t Lefors’ fault, but we see Smith as the better Heisman candidate here—and Smith did finish fourth in the voting, so it’s not a stretch to hand him our hardware. Lefors didn’t crack the Top 10 in the voting process. So, we guess Smith earned it, really.

Congratulations to Alex Smith, the real Heisman Trophy winner for 2004.