NCF Nation: O.J. Simpson

Greatest season in USC history?

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
9:00
AM ET
USC Trojans football has been defined by great teams and great individual seasons for decades. How about seven Heisman Trophy winners, starting with Mike Garrett in 1965 and finishing with Reggie Bush in 2005 -- though there is, of course, an asterisk by Bush's name due to NCAA violations.

ESPN.com launched its The Season package Monday, which looked at the best seasons recorded for each major college football team, and we tapped Marcus Allen's 1981 Heisman campaign as No. 1 for the Trojans. That pick, while we feel pretty good about it, wasn't easy.

SportsNation

Who had the best season in USC's history?

  •  
    37%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    3%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    39%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,090)

That's why we're curious about your takes.

In order to narrow our field to five, we dropped Garrett and O.J. Simpson from the running. Garrett's numbers don't hold up, while we'd just as soon not hear Simpson's name ever again.

So that leaves Charles White, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Bush as choices for you to unseat Allen.

As for Allen, he was pretty spectacular in 1981, becoming the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, a number he shattered with 2,427 yards. He also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, finishing with 2,683 yards of total offense and 23 touchdowns. In addition, he was the Trojans' leading receiver and set 14 new NCAA records and tied two others. Further, he beat out a star-studded list of candidates: Georgia's Herschel Walker, BYU's Jim McMahon and Pittsburgh's Dan Marino.

A downside? His team finished 9-3 and No. 14 in the final AP poll. A big finish is where White, Allen's tailback predecessor, has Allen beat.

White's USC teams won the Rose Bowl in 1978 and 1979, splitting a national title in 1978 with Alabama and finishing second behind the Crimson Tide in 1979, his senior season. That year, White led the nation with an average of 194.1 yards per game. In the last 10 games of his senior season, he averaged 201 yards rushing per game. He finished with 2,050 yards (including the bowl game) and 19 TDs. His 6.2 yards per carry bested Allen's 5.6, too.

White unseated Oklahoma's Billy Sims, the 1978 Heisman winner, with a dominant percentage of first-place votes (453 vs. 82).

Leinart and Bush were sort of a tandem during USC's dynastic run under then-coach Pete Carroll, nearly leading the Trojans to three consecutive national titles.

In 2004, Leinart led the Trojans to an undefeated national title run, including a dominant victory over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Orange Bowl. He became just the third QB in three decades to lead his team to back-to-back national titles. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,322 yards with 33 TDs and six picks. A three-time All-American, he was 37-2 as a starter and placed third in the Heisman race in 2005, when Bush won over Texas' Vince Young.

As for Bush, it wasn't just numbers for him. A human highlight film, he's probably the flashiest of all USC Heisman winners. He led the nation in 2005 with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation with 133.85 yards rushing per game. He finished with 1,740 yards rushing and an eye-popping 8.7 yards per carry with 16 TDs. A great receiver, he also had 39 receptions for 481 yards and two scores. He returned punts and kicks as well. He set a Pac-10 record with a spectacular 513 all-purpose yards against Fresno State and earned perhaps dubious honors as the namesake of the "Bush Push" against Notre Dame.

Finally, there's Palmer, a four-year starter who suffered through some lean years before leading the 2002 Trojans to the opening of their dynastic run. He won all Heisman voting regions after he passed for 3,942 yards with 33 TDs and 10 picks, completing 63 percent of his passes.

Palmer also didn't have anyone to lean on while winning over voters. He was the first West Coast winner of the award since Allen. Palmer mostly rewrote the Pac-10's passing record book and went on to become the first pick of the 2003 NFL draft.

That's a pretty scintillating list. So how do you rank them?

Building a Pac-10 'House of Pain'

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
11:00
AM ET
Here's our take on the most painful losses for each Pac-10 team.

Feel free to disagree.

Arizona

Oregon 44, Arizona 41, 2OT, 2009

With "College GameDay" on campus for the first time, Arizona fans stormed the field in celebration. Prematurely. And that set up a red ring of disappointment around the field at packed Arizona Stadium, when Jeremiah Masoli rallied the Ducks late for a tie in regulation and then a win in double-overtime. As it turned out, if the Wildcats had won, they would have gone to the school's first Rose Bowl. Masoli tied the game at 31-31 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson with six seconds left, capping a 15-play, 80-yard drive. Two plays before, he had converted an 8-yard pass on fourth-and-5. Masoli scored the game winner from 1-yard out in the second overtime. It was his sixth touchdown of the night -- three passing and three running. It may have been the best game of 2009.

Arizona State

Ohio State 20, Arizona State 17, Rose Bowl, 1997

So close to a national championship. The Sun Devils' 11-0 regular season included a 19-0 victory over defending national champion Nebraska, and they looked poised to win in Pasadena when Jake Plummer, on third-and-11, scrambled for a touchdown and 17-14 lead with 1:40 to play. But the Buckeyes weren't done. They drove 65 yards for the winning score, with David Boston hauling in a touchdown pass from five yards out with 19 seconds left. That pass was thrown by Ohio State's backup quarterback, Joe Germaine, who came off the bench to earn game MVP honors. Germaine was born and raised in Arizona and grew up rooting for ASU but opted to go to Ohio State because the Sun Devils coaches wanted him to play defensive back.

California

USC 23, California 17, 2004

Cal dominated the best USC team of the Pete Carroll era -- the Bears outgained the Trojans 424 yards to 205 -- but a comeback attempt fell short at the end. It was the Bears only regular season loss, despite quarterback Aaron Rodgers tying an NCAA record by completing 23 consecutive passes. Rodgers was nearly perfect until three throws missed from the USC 14-yard line in the final minute. Cal was undone by poor special teams play and three turnovers (versus one from USC). Making the defeat even more bitter: After a lobbying effort from Texas coach Mack Brown, the Longhorns eclipsed the Bears in the BCS standings and played in the Rose Bowl, which relegated Cal, which hadn't played in the Rose Bowl since 1959, to the Holiday Bowl, where they played without passion in an upset lost to Texas Tech.

Oregon

Arizona 34, Oregon 24, 2007

It's hard to decide between the 49-42 loss to Stanford in 2001 -- the Ducks lone defeat that season -- or this one (the 2000 Civil War defeat also deserves note). The Stanford loss -- after leading 42-28 -- ended a 23-game winning streak and was the Ducks first home loss in four years. It also cost the Ducks a shot at the national title against Miami. At Arizona in 2007 on Thursday night on ESPN, the 8-1 Ducks were ranked No. 2 and quarterback Dennis Dixon was the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. They led 8-7 and were driving when Dixon blew out his knee (he'd first hurt it 12 days before versus Arizona State). Things mostly fell apart from there, in the game and over the final two games of the regular season. Here's the distinction: 2001 and its final No. 2 ranking still rate as the best season in program history. If Oregon had beaten Stanford, however, it would have played Miami in the Rose Bowl, the BCS title game, and that Hurricanes team was, well, awesome (in the real sense of the word). If the 2007 Ducks had won out and played LSU or Ohio State for the national title, their chances would have been very good to win the program's first national title. Instead, the season ended in major disappointment -- the Sun Bowl -- and an overwhelming sense of what might have been.

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