Leinart not affected by USC sanctions

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- In the eyes of the NCAA and the record books, USC didn't beat Oklahoma in the 2005 BCS national championship game and its 2005 season never happened, including the 2006 Rose Bowl.

Former USC quarterback Matt Leinart, however, isn't about to forfeit the memories and mementos from the Trojans' 34-game winning streak, which included the infamous "Bush Push" at Notre Dame and a Heisman Trophy season capped by a BCS national championship.

Leinart, who was in town for a celebrity bowling benefit for his foundation, shook his head when asked about the NCAA sanctions levied against the USC football program last month. The school has been banned from the postseason for two years and has forfeited its victories from December 2004 through the 2005 season.

"It's tough but no one can take away what we did on the football field there in those years," said Leinart, who was 37-2 as USC's starting quarterback from 2003 to 2005. "So whether they take the wins away or whatever it doesn't affect us. Selfishly it doesn't affect us as much as it affects the kids who are there right now, which is the hard part. I feel for the coaches and the team there now, but Lane [Kiffin] is going to do a great job there. He'll get through these next couple of years and USC is still great. They have a great coaching staff and they're still going to get great recruits. Once they get past the next couple of years they'll be back in title games again."

Leinart said he isn't losing sleep over lost records and stats, and said the numbers he put up in college were never that important to him. He said he and his teammates still have their championship rings to remind them of the title.

"People can say whatever they want but we still played every game the way we had to, we beat almost every team we played and, to me, no one will ever be able to take that away," Leinart said. "I've talked to a lot of people I played with on those teams and we all say the same thing. Everyone who knows football knows we won those games and we won the title. It's unfortunate what happened and you move on from it but I just feel for the guys who are there now but they'll move on from it."

Although the sanctions against the football program were caused by the actions of Reggie Bush and his associates, Leinart said he doesn't blame Bush and talks to him regularly. The two former teammates spoke a couple time this week leading up to Wednesday night's ESPY Awards.

"Me and Reggie are very close and we talk all the time," Leinart said. "I actually saw him a few times this week. It's a tough time for him and he took this pretty hard but I'm proud of him. He's held his head up high and he's continued to move on. It's five years ago and you have to move forward."

Bush attended Leinart's bowling event, but did not speak with reporters.

Leinart, who is slated to be the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback in the wake of Kurt Warner's retirement, doesn't believe the sanctions will tarnish his legacy at USC. He said the Trojans will perform better than most expect next season before once again competing for national championships.

"It won't affect how they play on the field but it might be hard with recruiting," Leinart said. "The thing about Lane and his coaching staff, they're all great recruiters so I still think they're still going to get great recruits but it might be a tough period the next couple of years but they're still going to be competitive. Once the ban is off I think they'll be back where they were before, playing in title games almost every year."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ArashMarkazi.