The season is over for the Trojans, and in addition to looking forward to next years recruiting class, taking shots with alumni in the middle of campus, kicking the pole, and storming the Coli to obliterate whatever team happens to be standing between the most talented team this side of Texas, it’s time to reflect on the accomplishments of the team and their predecessors.
All of them have shed sweat, blood, and tears in an effort to make USC a Top-5 of all-time college football program. With a program that has countless hall of famers, six (cough-cough) Heisman trophy winners, and a plethora of players on NFL rosters today, we have to put an end to the debate: Who’s the best? To be the best Trojan, you cant just have stats, you cant just have the status in the NFL, you have to have something else: you have to have the will to succeed, the heart of not only a champion, but a warrior, and the spirit to put a team on your back no matter what the circumstances may be. You must define Trojanhood in order to be remembered in the Lore of the Coliseum. That being said, here are the Top 10 Trojans of all time.
10. Matt Barkley
3528 yards. A Pac-12 record 39 touchdowns (to only 7 interceptions). A 70% completion rating. Who’s stats are these? NFL Hall of Famer Dan Fouts? No. Superbowl MVP and 2011 NFL MVP front-runner Aaron Rodgers? Try again. Oakland Raiders QB Carson Palmer? Not even close. These are Barkley’s JUNIOR year stats. No one has performed better under more scrutiny than he has, and in Pac-12 history, his stats are unmatched. The list of QB’s that he’s statistically bested in his time at USC is a who’s who of college football history: Dan Fouts, Aaron Rodgers, Joey Harrington, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Rudy Carpenter, Jake Plummer, Nick Foles, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, and of course Todd McShay’s favorite player Andrew Luck. And the kicker is that he’s done all of this while facing the pressure of being the number-1 recruit in his graduating class, the first true freshman starter in Trojan history, and the leader of a team that (we can see now, given the other improprieties of other programs across the country) was royally screwed over by the NCAA. When Jordan Campbell, Jarvis Jones, and classmate Seantrel Henderson all tucked tail and ran during the NCAA’s sponsored ransacking of the Trojans talent cupboard, Barkley STAYED. Not only did he stay, but he also put the weight of the expectations on his shoulders and performed in a record-setting fashion. Throw the numbers out of the window, the heart that Barkley has shown through all of this is the reason that he’s on this list and poised to shatter every remaining Trojan passing record. All that remains to be seen is whether Barkley will push his way up this list as a senior or cash in his chips and head to the draft.
9. Ronnie Lott
How could the greatest Safety of all time not be on the list of Top 10 Trojans? When one builds the perfect safety it would be easy to say that you want Ed Reed’s ball hawking skills and Taylor Mays’ sheer athleticism, but only Ronnie Lott was able to combine both into the body of Mike Singletary and the heart and leadership ability of Tom Landry. During his tenure at the University of Southern California he played in 2 Rose Bowls and was selected as an All-American before going on to become a San Francisco 49er and setting the standard for secondary play, becoming an all-decade player at both the cornerback and safety positions. Ronnie Lott is the toughest Trojan to ever touch the field, and was the undisputed leader of McKay’s secondary. And lets not even get started on his hitting ability…No one this side of the Assassin Jack Tatum was able to strike so much fear into the heart of opposing offensive players. Watch the highlights fondly, because there will NEVER be another Ronnie Lott.
8. Sam Cunningham
Sam Cunningham doesn’t have the greatest stats of his time, but his place on the list is based on his contribution to college football as a whole. Sure, he was a reliable option, and sure, he was a member of a national championship team, but at a time when college football and America were undergoing a racial revolution of sorts he walked into Tuscaloosa Alabama, shook Bear Bryant’s hand, and proceeded to molly-whop a national powerhouse in Alabama for 60 minutes to the tune of 135 yards and 2 TDs. As a result, Bear Bryant was able to convince the boosters and athletic director of the University of Alabama to allow him to recruit black players, which resulted in the integration of Southern college football and the death of great football among HBCU’s. Sam “Bam” Cunningham was the man, Sam Cunningham was a fighter, and to this day he carries himself with the poise, confidence, and humility of a man that used his talents while not forgetting that they were gifts and not birthrights. He’s representative of a spirit that we as Trojans attempt to embody every day, while being something that our dark side, Arrogant Nation, prides itself on every day: Doing it first, and doing a damn good job at it. Thank you, Sam.
7. Matt Leinart
The Quarterback is the face of the team. Most of the time at USC, the golden child of West Coast athletics, that face is a pretty boy. Enter Matt Leinart, who retired as the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. With 1 Heisman in tow, Leinart was a sure-fire Top-3 pick when he attempted to make history and etch his name into the pathos of Trojan lore by coming back and winning a second national championship, and more importantly a second Heisman trophy. Could he have predicted the offensive explosion that was Reggie Bush? Probably not, but he wanted it all, and we can’t fault the man for chasing greatness. Matt Leinart embodies everything that is 2000 era Trojan football: He had a great camaraderie with his teammates, he enjoyed the game, he was loyal to the program, and he was damn good at what he did on and off of the field. If Pete Carroll could have put a piece of himself on the field every day, that piece would have looked and sounded a lot like Matt Leinart. Many people would detract from Matt’s legacy based on his performance to date in the NFL, but there’s no denying that what he did while he was at USC was special. He was the man on campus, and handled the expectations with a Hollywood smile and a swagger that set the tone for the rest of the decade. Matt Leinart IS Arrogant Nation, and for that we salute him.
6. Charles White
I don’t know what to say about Charles White. Honestly. Words don’t quite do the man justice. Probably the least celebrated Heisman trophy winner by the masses in Trojanland, every running back that’s come after him should be paying homage to a man that’s legitimately a monster. His stat line was incredible: 1478 as a sophomore, 1849 as a junior, and 2050 as a Heisman-winning senior, but for some god-awful reason his name just doesn’t get mentioned outside of the circles of old folks that got to see him play in person. And this didn’t happen at a time when there were spread packages and shotgun formations to take men out of the box, oh no, he did it at a time when there would be 8-9 men in the box on EVERY PLAY. The man lowered the boom on a game-to-game basis, but he shined brightly in the games that mattered most, like a true Trojan should, including a 247 yard game against the Buckeyes in 1980, which set a Rose Bowl record.
5. Junior Seau
Why is the number 55 so coveted among linebackers at the University of Southern California? Why is it that linebackers are the first to practice and the last ones to leave every day? Junior Seau. The greatest 55 to ever play at USC, Seau is the standard for leadership from the linebacker position. He could do it all: he had sideline-to-sideline speed that allowed him to blow up option plays, the coverage skills of a safety, and the playmaking skills of an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker (eventually). Seau was the heart and soul of his defenses, and though his teams didn’t perform quite to the levels that we as Trojans have gotten used to, that is by no means a fault of his own. Seau, a consummate professional, enjoyed his time in college but used his time at USC to create the perfect weapon, a body that even after 16 seasons did not break down and allowed him to play at a consistently high level. A nice person off the field, the only people that feared him were his opponents and his teammates after a bad performance. Fiery passion, a will to win and amazing athleticism are what Seau should be remembered for, and every time you see a number 55, you should remember the name.
4. Lynn Swann
Poetry in motion. That’s the only way to describe Lynn Swann, a man who’s numbers suffer from the fact that he played at a time when the passing game wasn’t utilized nearly as much as it is now. Swann had such a fine understanding of how his body worked that he practiced ballet in an effort to hone his agility, an attribute that he became famous for, in addition to one of the greatest sets of hands to ever grace a football field. Swann’s number wasn’t called a lot, but when it was, there was usually nothing that could stand between him and the ball while it was up in the air. By far what all USC wide receivers strive to be, Swann remains an active member of the Trojan Family, an integral part of ‘SC recruiting on the east coast and community relations.
3. Reggie Bush
Simply put, Reggie Bush is the greatest offensive weapon to ever play the game of college football. I would say running back, but to attempt to pigeonhole such a prodigious talent would be an injustice to both him and the positions that he dominated. Need proof? Check YouTube—it’s a virtual Reggie Bush highlight reel. His junior year he scored (on average) every 6th time he touched the ball. Take a second to process that. 1 in 6. THAT’S INSANE! Pete Carroll moved Bush from slot to running back so much that teams didn’t even know what position to draft him at, but knew he was meant to be the number-1 overall pick. Reggie Bush is a playmaker. Think of any significant play to happen between his sophomore and junior years, and there’s a very good chance he’s involved. The catalyst for one of the greatest offenses in college football history, Reggie was a threat to score every time he was on the field. Had he not left when he did, he probably would’ve been the undisputed number-1 on this list, and any other of the kind. Catching Reggie was like trying to catch lightning in a bottle, and though his career ended on a sour note and his legacy is tainted by improprieties off the field, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who the greatest Trojan of the 21st century was, even if he technically never played here.
2. O.J. Simpson
Another Trojan who had to be moved down the list because of off the field issues, and that’s O.J. Simpson. On the field, “The Juice” should be the greatest Trojan ever: he won the Heisman by the largest margin in history, pounded his way into both the college and NFL Hall of Fames, and is responsible for two out of three of the greatest plays in Trojan football history. Unfortunately, O.J. lived a life after football that plays out like an episode of Cops, (allegedly) killing his wife and attempting to steal memorabilia that belong to him in a Vegas hotel. That’s very unbecoming of a Trojan that didn’t actually fight in the Trojan War. Still, O.J.’s accomplishments and prodigious talent offset the sheer ball of crazy enough to place him at #2 on this list, which should say a lot about his talent. Besides, what would a list of Trojans be without a little bit of controversy?
1. Marcus Allen
An NCAA record 12 200-yard games. No problem with backing up Charles White even though history shows he was a superior talent. 2,362 yards rushing en route to the Walter Camp, Maxwell, and Heisman trophies. College Football Hall of Famer. NFL Hall of Famer. No scandals, no beef, no problems with the program as it is now, and an ardent supporter of the school who can be seen at every home game. Who else could number one be other than Marcus Allen? Marcus Allen IS USC football. He’s more proud of his Heisman than his NFL career, and make no mistake, he had one hell of an NFL career. A consummate professional, a mentor to everyone that walks into the coliseum wearing a cardinal and gold jersey, Marcus Allen will forever be remembered in Trojan history as what we should strive to be. As much as a Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart embody Arrogant Nation, Marcus Allen embodies the team the Rose Bowl was created for. Don’t change, Marcus, win forever.
And those folks, are the Top 10 Trojans ever to suit up cardinal and gold and fight for Troy in the Coliseum. With those pedigrees, there is no question that they deserve to be forever immortalized, and forever remembered by members young and old of Trojan Nation.
May the football gods make room for them all on Mount Olympus, where they belong.