All too easy
Palmer crushes competition in winning Heisman TrophyPosted: Saturday December 14, 2002 8:59 PM
Updated: Sunday December 15, 2002 12:51 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Carson Palmer can forget those first three seasons at USC, when he lost as much as he won and failed to fulfill the high expectations.
The Heisman Trophy does that for a player.
Palmer capped his rise from mediocrity to stardom by winning college football's most prestigious award Saturday night, taking the bronze statue back to the West Coast for the first time since USC's Marcus Allen did it 21 years ago.
The quarterback completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this year. His biggest performance was his last against Notre Dame in a nationally televised game.
He 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. (Complete voting.)
Palmer went 16-16 as a starter before his senior season, unable to live up to all the expectations he brought with him when he joined the Trojans. But this year, things started to click under coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
In Chow's offense, Palmer set seven Pac-10 records and 23 Southern Cal passing and total offense marks.
"It was really an amazing experience to watch," said Carroll, who was not at the ceremony. "I can't imagine what he was going through. It's an amazing story for Carson. I wish we were all standing there with him.
"I had no clue -- all of a sudden he's the winner. My logic told me he'd win it, but I didn't know for sure."
Palmer 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. His stunning performance against Notre Dame, in which he threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns, was 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."
He is the fifth winner from USC, joining Allen, Charles White (1979), O.J. Simpson (1968) and Mike Garrett (1965). USC now has the third most winners, behind Notre Dame (seven) and Ohio State (six).
"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."
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. The margin was the widest since Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne beat Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton by 1,048 points in 2000.
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.
"He had no idea," Fernandes said. "It was an amazing shock. His emotional side came out a little. I saw a tear in his eyes. He just looked at me in shock. He never, ever expected this."
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 3 points for first place, 2 for second and 1 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 nation 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.
"In a way I was expecting to win," Banks said. "I was hearing all this hype. But it went to a good person."
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.
"The pressure's off, I don't have to worry now," McGahee said. "There was not disappointment. I wasn't expecting to win. I was just happy to be in the category. I was disappointed for Ken."
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 ended up beating 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 back to the national title game, where they will play Ohio State.
"Not many players can say they were back-to-back national champions," McGahee said. "That would be my trophy."
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 over the Fighting Irish, his 425 yards were the most passing yards ever 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 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback. Palmer set USC season records for yards passing (3,639), passing TDs (32), pass attempts (458) and total offense (3,513) this season. He also threw a school record 147 straight passes without an interception in 2002.
The win erased any East Coast bias there may have been in voting for a player from the West.
"I'll just say that great play overcomes any bias," USC athletic director Mike Garrett said.
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.
"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.
"This has been amazing. I still haven't come to the realization this has happened."