Matt Leinart Is A First-Ballot Hall of Famer…Or At Least, You Would Assume

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Two-time national champion — er, sorry, one-time national champion wink-wink — two-time Heisman finalist and 2004 winner Matt Leinart makes his debut on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.

His credentials from three seasons as USC Trojans quarterback, during the program’s most dominant era, make Matt Leinart a shoo-in first-ballot Hall of Fame selection.

Well, at least one might assume so. Joining Leinart on this year’s College Football Hall of Fame are several nominees whose inductions you could rightly assume would have come years ago.

Consider Raghib “Rocket” Ishmail, the multifaceted playmaker from Notre Dame, whose electric kick-and-punt-returning made him a Heisman finalist in 1990. Ishmail scored as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher, but his dynamic ability on returns made him one of the most exciting players of the time, and a forerunner to future Heisman contenders Tyrann Mathieu and Desmond Howard, who won the award one year after Ishmail’s nomination.

Ishmail’s exclusion from the College Football Hall of Fame might be the result of his statistics not necessarily jumping off the page at you. One would have had to be aware of his game-changing ability and buzz from the time to truly appreciate how ahead of his time he was.

Matt Leinart won’t have the problem of lacking gaudy stats. But then, he is not the only Heisman Trophy winner on the ballot.

Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam, winner of the Heisman 10 years before Leinart, was also a unanimous All-American and Walter Camp Player of the Year.

Another Heisman winner up for induction is 2001 recipient Eric Crouch from Nebraska, though winning the game’s most prestigious individual honor doesn’t necessarily mean Crouch will be inducted in Atlanta anytime soon.

Though he never won the Heisman, two-time national champion Tommie Frazier is widely considered the greatest quarterback in Nebraska, if not college football, history. And yet, Frazier wasn’t selected to the College Football Hall of Fame until 2013, 18 years after his career as a Cornhusker ended and almost double the duration of his eligibility on ballots.

Nominees first appear 10 years after the end of their careers, and consideration to players’ conduct in that time is given to nomination.

Perhaps that’s what has kept former SMU star running back Eric Dickerson out for so long. Dickerson is on the ballot once again this year. He’s already inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his bona fides from his time at SMU make him worthy of selection for the college version, too.

Dickerson left SMU with around 4,500 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns, staggering figures given the era in which he played (1979-1982). He was also a figure within the scandal that led to SMU’s death penalty in the late 1980s, as depicted in the ESPN documentary, 30 For 30: Pony Excess.

How much that contributes to Dickerson’s otherwise unfathomable exclusion is certain debatable, and I can’t help but wonder if voters will hold USC’s NCAA troubles from Matt Leinart’s era against the quarterback as he comes up for induction.

Similarly, it took former Oklahoma linebacker great Brian Bosworth almost 30 years for his induction. The Boz, like Rocket Ishmail, was ahead of his time, albeit in a much different fashion.

He was feared on the Sooner defense, but his swagger made him a prototype for future bad-boy stars of the college game like Johnny Manziel. Perhaps Bosworth’s induction will pave the way for others into the College Football Hall of Fame.

This year’s ballot is indeed loaded with the above names. Matt Leinart seems like a slam dunk. And yet, he’s not the only one.