On this date in 2004, Matt Leinart was in New York City getting his Heisman Trophy. Then a junior at USC, Leinart was a month away from winning at least a share of the national title for the second straight season. He etched his name into Trojan glory and was projected by many analysts to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

But Leinart shocked the world, announcing he would return for his senior season -- his fifth at USC -- despite all his accomplishments at the collegiate level. It was a decision never about education, as Leinart needed only two more classes to graduate. He fulfilled this by taking one ballroom dancing class with his girlfriend.

How would Leinart's career have changed had he gone to the NFL in 2005?

"No idea," Leinart says. "It's a good question. 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."

Of course, Leinart and the Trojans dominated the 2005 regular season, going 12-0. Leinart came in third in Heisman voting, behind teammate and winner Reggie Bush (whom Leinart voted for) and Texas quarterback Vince Young. Young went on to outduel Leinart in the Rose Bowl, giving Texas a stunning national championship. It was Leinart's first loss since September 2003. (All wins from the 2005 season were eventually vacated due to a series of improper benefits provided to Bush, who was also forced to vacate his Heisman Trophy.)

With no Leinart in the 2005 draft, the 49ers selected Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick. The next quarterback taken was Aaron Rodgers at No. 24 by the Packers.

In 2006, Leinart was selected by the Cardinals at No. 10 (Bush went No. 2 and Young No. 3) and started 11 games as a rookie and five in his second season. But in 2008, Kurt Warner started every game and led the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance. After being released by the Cardinals just before the 2010 season, Leinart made stops with the Texans, Raiders and Bills. He finished his NFL career with just 33 games played (18 starts).

While speaking to ThePostGame, Leinart also says he intends to help current USC quarteback Sam Darnold make a decision to stay in school or jump to the NFL.

"I loved going back to school and I loved being in college," Leinart says. "I have no regrets to this day, but every situation is different."


Leinart, a Fox Sports analyst, is part of the 2017 College Football Hall of Fame Class, which was honored last Tuesday at the National Football Foundation Annual Awards event in New York City.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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