One of the most thought-provoking yet hot taking causing debates a sports fans and pundits can have is the “What If” game. In sports, it takes the slightest decision or event to completely alter history in a what-could-have-been sense. In 2004, USC quarterback Matt Leinart stepped up to the stage in New York City to receive the Heisman Trophy. Leinart had led USC to (at least a share of) the National Championship and many projected him as the top pick in the draft. Instead, he chose to return to school.
Leinart decided to return for his senior season at USC (his fifth at the school) with the hope of winning a third straight national championship and the hope of winning his second Heisman Trophy – a feat accomplished only once before. He only needed two more classes to graduate and enrolled in ballroom dancing. With teammate Reggie Bush, Leinart and USC were ready to dominate.
USC went on to have a season for the ages, going 12-0, setting up a matchup with Texas in the Rose Bowl for the title. Vince Young led the Longhorns over the Trojans in one of the most exciting games finishes ever, leaving Leinart with his first loss since 2005.
Instead of playing in the NFL and earning millions, Leinart opted for a season in which he lost in the championship game and finished third in Heisman voting (behind Bush and Young). At the 2006 draft, Leinart was taken with the 10th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. He started 16 games over his first two years, but he was usurped as the starter by Kurt Warner, and would only start two more games in his career. Could leaving USC a year earlier led him to a better situation and longer career?
Leinart said, “I don’t think there were any guarantees. The Niners were picking No. 1 that year. I had an injury to my elbow. I think all along, I wanted to come back, but people always ask. I don’t ever think that way because I have no regrets. I went to Arizona for a reason. Things happen for a reason. I’m at Fox, which I love. It’s been a crazy unbelievable journey. I don’t think that way. Great question, but I don’t have any regrets.”