Carson Palmer led USC to 11 wins in 2002, their highest win total in 23 years. The Trojans, however, missed an appearance in the BCS National Championship by two spots in the final BCS Standings thanks to two early-season losses by a combined 10 points.
Palmer, a senior who won the 2002 Heisman Trophy, was succeeded in 2003 by redshirt sophomore Matt Leinart, who did lead USC to a national title and remains one of only two quarterbacks to win a national championship in their first year replacing a Heisman-winning quarterback.
Thirty-five quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy. Twenty-five left college football after their Heisman season, including most recently Baker Mayfield. Mayfield will be replaced atop Oklahoma’s depth chart by redshirt junior Kyler Murray, a former Texas A&M transfer who is seeking to join an exclusive club.
Leinart and Steve Walsh, who led Miami (FL) to the 1987 title after the departure of 1986 Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, are the only quarterbacks in college football history to win a national championship (AP, 1938-97; BCS, 1998-2013; CFP 2014-present) in their first year after taking over for a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy the previous year.
Palmer won the Heisman in 2002; Leinart won the national title in 2003. Testaverde won the Heisman in 1986; Walsh won the title in 1987. Everyone on the same page now?
Every other Heisman successor — from Notre Dame‘s Frank Dancewicz in 1944 to Oregon‘s Vernon Adams Jr. in 2015 — has failed to win a national championship. Will Kyler Murray join Leinart and Walsh? Or Dancewicz, Adams and the other 20 quarterbacks who couldn’t lead their team to the national title after losing a Heisman winner?