Who's USC's Heisman candidate?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- On page 76 of the "Book of College Football's Unwritten Rules", it says: "When USC is ranked No. 1 and stomps on all-comers, the Trojans will feature a leading Heisman Trophy candidate".

It appears that rule will be in effect in 2008. The only question is: Which Trojan will be leading the race for the program's eighth bronze trophy?

Linebacker Rey Maualuga had an original idea when asked about who his team's top candidate should be.

"You are looking right at him," quipped Maualuga, who returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown in the Trojans 35-3 pounding of No. 5 Ohio State. "Unfortunately, quarterbacks always get all the attention."

He then said some nice things about his quarterback and endorsed him. It made Mark Sanchez, who was sharing a stage at the time, start blushing.

Most of the Trojans felt the same way.

"Clearly our defense is our strong point -- there's no question that Rey and [Brian] Cushing are special, special football players -- but if you play defense you can't win the Heisman Trophy," guard Jeff Byers said. "So it's got to be Mark. He fits into that spot so well. And, truth be told, he's good enough to win it."

Sanchez threw four touchdown passes against the Buckeyes and now has seven on the season. His overall numbers -- 17 of 28 for 172 yards with an interception -- weren't spectacular, but he was playing against what was billed as the nation's best defense.

"He's working the offense the way it works," coach Pete Carroll said. "We really can count on him. He's really a big-time player for us already."

While Sanchez is the undisputed leader of the Trojans offense, he might get some competition for the unit's most "special" talent designation.

There were a number of moments during the game in which sophomore running back Joe McKnight looked like the second-coming of Reggie Bush.

McKnight scooted and juked and whirled and sprinted for 106 yards on just 12 carries (8.8 per carry) and often left the Buckeyes grabbing air.

"He's so explosive," Sanchez said. "In my head, the only thing I'm thinking about with Joe is get it to him -- quickly and as smooth as possible. When he's got time and a little space, anything can happen. He can light up that scoreboard."

McKnight, however, has a problem. There's only one quarterback, but six other running backs carried the ball against Ohio State.

"Joe is obviously a tremendous football player but we've got a stable full of running backs and it's hard to get enough carries," Byers said.

With the Pac-10 -- other than the Trojans, of course -- having a terrible day Saturday, it doesn't appear the road to another conference title and BCS title game will be too arduous.

That means Sanchez and McKnight likely will be front-and-center all season.

At this point, Sanchez looks like he leads the ticket.

"I think you've got to go with the shot-caller out there -- Mark is well on his way," defensive tackle Fili Moala said.