1928 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
They whip the ends, they buck the guards, the line begins to yield
And the “greatest team in history” backs slowly down the field
And finally comes the whistle as a seal to Stanford’s fate,
And the “greatest team in history” goes staggering through the gate
--Excerpt from a 1928 poem about the USC-Stanford clash.
The “Thundering Herd,” under Hall of Fame coach Howard Jones, galloped to the Trojans’ first national championship in 1928. A swarming defense, led by tackle Jesse Hibbs and end Garrett Arbelbide, gave up only 59 points all season, while an offensive backfield of Harry Edelson, Russ Saunders, Don Williams and Marshall Duffield rolled over, under, and through their opponents.
USC finished the season with nine wins and no losses, with the only blemish being a 0-0 tie with Cal as the Golden Bears continued to be a nemesis for Troy in the 1920s.
The Trojans beat Glenn “Pop” Warner’s Stanford Indians, 10-0, forcing five fumbles in the process. Warner had never lost to Jones and he considered his 1928 team to be his best. But USC used a special strategy called the “quick mix” to disrupt Stanford’s offense and help offset the Indians’ 10-pound-per-man weight advantage. The strategy worked in what was a landmark game for the Trojans, who established themselves as the preeminent football power on the West Coast. Warner never beat Jones again.
The 1928 season also saw USC beat Notre Dame and Knute Rockne for the first time, 27-14. Williams passed for 111 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 93 more as the Trojans clinched the national title.
1931 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“I’ve waited for two years for this day — but, boy, what revenge!”
--USC’s Erny Pinckert after beating the Irish.
The 1931 edition of Howard Jones’ “Thundering Herd” was the team that captured the imagination of college football fans everywhere, and the hearts of the citizens of Los Angeles. More than 300,000 welcomed the Trojans home from a thrilling 16-14 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend—a victory clinched by what sportswriter Maxwell Stiles called “Johnny Baker’s 10 little toes, and three BIG points.”
USC trailed the Irish14-0 at the outset of the final stanza, but stormed back behind the running of Gus Shaver and the passing of Orv Mohler. Baker’s 33-yard field goal with one minute remaining made the difference. The win snapped Notre Dame’s 26-game unbeaten streak and was the Trojans’ first victory in South Bend.
The season started inauspiciously enough with a 13-7 loss to St. Mary’s. “I have no alibis to offer,” said Jones afterward. But Troy then proceeded to roll over its next 10 opponents by a combined score of 356 to 39. There were six shutouts.
“(USC is) the greatest team I have ever seen,” said Georgia coach Harry Mehre, after his Bulldogs were blanked, 60-0. The usually taciturn Jones agreed, calling his team “the greatest offensive machine I have ever coached.”
USC capped the season with a 21-12 victory over Tulane in the Rose Bowl. Four Trojans garnered All-American acclaim: Baker, Shaver, Erny Pinckert and team captain Stan Williamson.
1932 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“Fortunately, I have a strong line to start with. I have Mohler, and if anything happens to him, I have Griffith and Warburton.”
--Howard Jones to famed sportswriter Grantland Rice before the 1932 season.
The Trojans breezed to their second consecutive national championship in 1932 as the Howard Jones era reached its pinnacle. But at the start of the season, future greatness was not apparent for this team. Seven regulars had graduated from the 1931 squad, including three All-Americans. By the end of the season, however, it was hailed as perhaps Jones’ finest squad. In fact, some still regard this as USC’s best team.
The line, one of the greatest in Trojan history, included All-Americans Tay Brown, Aaron Rosenberg and Ernie Smith. The offense, directed by Homer Griffith and featuring back Cotton Warburton and ends Ray Sparling and Ford Palmer, was potent despite losing star Orv Mohler to injury. Meanwhile, the defense shut out its first five opponents, before finally being scored upon in the fourth quarter of game six. Jones’ squad allowed only 13 points all season while scoring 201. USC defeated Notre Dame 13-0 and smashed Pittsburgh 35-0 in the Rose Bowl.
The masterful 1932 season firmly placed Jones in the upper echelon of collegiate coaches. He even appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, where he was compared to the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg and Glenn “Pop” Warner. In 1999, Athlon magazine rated the 1932 team among the greatest of the 20th century.
1939 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“We weren’t off form, stale or crippled. We were just outclassed.”
--Tennessee coach Bob Neyland after his undefeated, unscored-upon Vols lost, 14-0, to USC in the 1940 Rose Bowl.
The year 1939 witnessed Howard Jones’ Thundering Herd capture its fourth national championship. The head man remarked at the team banquet that this team-his next to last at Troy-was his finest (at least in terms of depth) in his 16 years at USC.
As tanks rolled in Europe, Jones’ team rolled to an 8-0-2 record, shutting out six teams and allowing just 7 points to three others. Only 33 points were scored upon Troy that year-a mark no Trojan defense has topped since.
The season had its share of huge games. There was a 19-7 win over No. 11 Oregon State in Portland and a 20-12 win over No. 7 Notre Dame at South Bend (USC wouldn’t win again at Notre Dame Stadium until 1967). The regular season finale was an epic 0-0 tie with No. 9 UCLA in front of 103,303, the second-largest crowd in Coliseum history. The capper was a 14-0 win over No. 2 Tennessee in the Rose Bowl against a Volunteer team that hadn’t been scored upon in 16 games and hadn't lost in 24 games.
Lineman Harry Smith was a unanimous All-American, while quarterback Grenny Lansdell-who led the team with 742 rushing yards and 54 points-was also named to some teams.
At season’s end, the Trojans were given the Knute Rockne Trophy, awarded each year to the No. 1 team in the country by Professor Frank G. Dickinson, a respected analyst who declared, “The Trojans were the best team in the best section…and the nation’s other top teams did not play as strong a schedule as USC.”
1962 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“Our intention was to win today....and what does the scoreboard say?”
--John McKay after the 1963 Rose Bowl.
In 1962, John McKay led USC to its first national championship in 23 years and inaugurated one of the greatest dynasties in college football history. From 1962 to 1981, the Trojans won five national titles, played in 11 Rose Bowls, collected four Heisman Trophies and contributed dozens of All-Americans to what was already a remarkable football heritage.
McKay’s third team featured the talented quarterback tandem of Pete Beathard and Bill Nelsen, who combined to pass for 18 touchdowns while tossing only three interceptions. A then-school-record 11 of those touchdowns went to consensus All-American end Hal Bedsole, who also set the standard for passes caught (33) and yards receiving (827). The ground attack was run from the I-formation, led by the versatile Willie Brown at tailback and co-captain Ben Wilson at fullback. Brown led the team in rushing, interceptions, punt returns and kickoff returns, and was the second leading receiver.
The Trojan defense allowed only 92 points all season. All-American linebacker Damon Bame led a unit that had three shutouts (including a 25-0 blanking of Notre Dame) and allowed more than 10 points only twice during the regular-season.
Troy capped the year by outlasting Wisconsin, 42-37, in one of the most exciting games in Rose Bowl history. McKay was named Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association and the Football Writers Association of America.
1967 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“Well, gentlemen, I guess I wasn’t so stupid today.”
--John McKay after beating UCLA, 21-20.
The 1967 Trojans relied on the running of tailback O.J. Simpson, the blocking of Outland Trophy-winning tackle Ron Yary, and a stifling defense to win USC’s sixth national championship.
Simpson’s weaving 64-yard touchdown run, perhaps the most famous run in college football history, was the difference in a 21-20 victory over UCLA. The showdown between the top-ranked Bruins and the No. 4-ranked Trojans remains one of the greatest games in the history of the crosstown series.
USC’s only blemish on the season was a 3-0 loss in the rain and mud to Oregon State in Corvallis. The Trojans would not be shut out again for 26 years and did not lose again to the Beavers until 2000. The other key victory for Troy, a 24-7 win over Notre Dame, was USC’s first win at South Bend since 1939. Linebacker Adrian Young’s four interceptions (a USC record) helped to repel the Irish. The Trojans celebrated New Year’s Day 1968 with a 14-3 victory over Indiana in the Rose Bowl.
The incomparable Simpson, the Heisman runner-up that year, ran for a then-NCAA-record 1,543 regular-season yards (1,709 overall) to go with 13 touchdowns. Mike Battle, Tim Rossovich, and Young led a defense which allowed only 87 points. A record five Trojans were selected in the first round of the 1968 NFL draft, with Yary going first overall.
1972 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“USC’s not the number one team in the country. The Miami Dolphins are better.”
--Washington State coach Jim Sweeney.
The 1972 national champions averaged 39 points per game and never trailed in the second half. In going 12-0-0, the Trojans scored 467 points, second most in school history. The defense intercepted 28 passes, limited their opponents to 2.5 yards per rush, and never gave up a run longer than 29 yards.
The roster was a perfect blend of talent, youth, and experience. Senior Mike Rae and sophomore Pat Haden handled the quarterback duties. Sophomore Anthony Davis rushed for 1,191 yards despite not starting until the eighth game. All-American fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham was an outstanding blocker and a tremendous leaper, especially in goal-line situations. Tight end Charles Young was equally adept blocking and receiving, while split ends Lynn Swann, Edesel Garrison and J.K. McKay were excellent pass catchers.
The defense was fast and strong. Sophomore linebacker Richard Wood burst onto the scene with 18 tackles in the season-opener on his way to garnering All-American honors. John Grant and Jeff Winans anchored the defensive line, while Artimus Parker, Charles Phillips and Charles Hinton led the secondary.
USC’s smallest margin of victory was nine points (versus Stanford). The Trojans beat No. 4-ranked Arkansas 31-10, No. 18 Washington 34-7, No. 14 UCLA 24-7, No.10 Notre Dame 45-23 and No. 3 Ohio State 42-17. USC was unanimously chosen No. 1 in the final AP and UPI polls, the first team to be so honored.
The 1972 team is considered to be John McKay’s finest at USC and one of the greatest college teams of all time.
1974 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“We turned into madmen.”
--Anthony Davis, after USC came back to beat Notre Dame.
The 1974 team earned John McKay his fourth national title behind the big-play heroics of All-American tailback Anthony Davis, the steady leadership of quarterback Pat Haden and the clutch play of a defense that forced the second-highest interception total in USC history.
Davis, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, rushed for 1,421 yards and 13 touchdowns. His three-year yardage total of 3,724 yards and 52 touchdowns was a Pac-8 record. He set an NCAA record for most kickoffs returned for TDs in a season (3) and career (6). He scored four touchdowns to lead the Trojans to an amazing 55-24 comeback win over Notre Dame in the regular season finale. In his career, Davis scored 11 touchdowns against the Fighting Irish.
Pat Haden threw 13 touchdown passes, but his biggest completions came with the Trojans trailing Ohio State 17-10 in the 1975 Rose Bowl. His 38-yard TD strike to J.K McKay with two minutes to play and his subsequent 2-point conversion to Shelton Diggs gave USC an 18-17 victory and the writers’ share of the national championship.
Senior linebacker Richard Wood, Troy’s only three-time All-American, led the defense. Defensive back Charles Phillips set NCAA records for most interception return yardage in a season (302), most interception return yardage in a game (181), highest average gain per interception for one game (90.5), and most touchdowns on interception returns in a season (3).
The win over Notre Dame, dubbed “The Comeback,” was sparked by Davis’ 102-yard kickoff return to start the second half. Trailing 24-0 late in the second quarter, the Trojans scored 55 unanswered points in just under 17 minutes to win going away.
USC had five players selected to the All-American team for the third consecutive year. A school-record 12 Trojans were selected to the All-Conference squad (since equalled by the 1989 Trojans). Fourteen players from the 1974 team were taken in the NFL draft—an all-time record also shared by the 1976 Trojan team.
1978 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“I don’t remember ever playing against a tailback who can run like White.”
--Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, after witnessing Charles White rush for 199 yards against his Alabama team.
The 1978 national champions, coached by John Robinson, were a USC team stocked with great college players and several future NFL stars.
The Trojans finished 12-1, including a solid 24-14 road victory over co-national champion Alabama, a nail-biting 27-25 win over Notre Dame, and a 17-10 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
All-American tailback Charles White rushed for 1,859 yards to become the Pac-10 career rushing leader as a junior. Freshman tailback Marcus Allen provided depth. Quarterback Paul McDonald led the conference in passing and tied a USC record with 19 touchdown passes. Fullback Lynn Cain rushed for 977 yards, the most ever by a Trojan fullback. Flanker Kevin Williams had 17 receptions, 10 of them for touchdowns. The offensive line included All-American guard Pat Howell, All-Pac-10 tackle Anthony Munoz (considered by many to be the game’s greatest tackle ever) and All-Pac-10 guard Brad Budde (a four-year starter and the 1979 Lombardi Award winner). The back-ups on the line included future All-Pros Roy Foster and Keith Van Horne.
The defense featured the talented safety duo of Dennis Smith and Ronnie Lott. Linebackers Dennis Johnson (the team’s tackle leader) and Riki Gray manned the middle, while Larry McGrew and Chip Banks roamed the outside. Rich Dimler, Myron Lapka and Dennis Edwards keyed the defensive line.
The Trojans’ only loss was at Arizona State, 20-7. They would remain unbeaten for the next 28 games. USC took the top spot in the coaches poll, but finished second in the writer’s poll to Alabama despite beating the Crimson Tide earlier in the season.
2003 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“If you stay with me, I’ll take you places you’ve never been.”
--Pete Carroll, at a team meeting to open 2003 fall practice.
After a 25-year hiatus, USC returned to the top of the college football world when it won the 2003 AP national championship.
Head coach Pete Carroll, in just his third year at Troy, guided his Trojans to a 12-1 record and their second consecutive Pac-10 title. USC closed the season by winning its last 9 games, including a dominating victory over No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. USC scored at least 30 points in 11 consecutive games, including 40 points in 7 in a row (both Pac-10 records), en route to tallying 534 total points (another Pac-10 mark). For just the second time in history, USC swept traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame in consecutive years.
Not many predicted the 2003 team’s success. After all, these Trojans had to replace a Heisman Trophy winner (Carson Palmer) and an All-American safety (Troy Polamalu), among others. But Trojans fans got an inkling of the team’s potential when USC opened its season at No. 6 Auburn with a 23-0 whitewash. The only loss came in triple overtime at California.
Five players won All-American first team honors: quarterback Matt Leinart, wide receiver Mike Williams, defensive end Kenechi Udeze, offensive tackle Jacob Rogers and punter Tom Malone. Leinart and Williams finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in the Heisman Trophy voting. And Carroll was recognized as the National Coach of the Year.
Leinart, who had never thrown a pass in his USC career before the 2003 campaign, was the Pac-10’s Offensive Player of the Year (Stanford’s John Elway was the only other sophomore so honored) and set a Pac-10 record with 38 TD passes. Williams, another sophomore, caught 95 passes with a school-record 16 TDs. Udeze tied for the national lead in sacks with 16.5, while soph Malone shattered the USC season punting average record (49.0). Other key contributors were wide receiver Keary Colbert, who became USC’s career receptions leader, the rotating tailback threesome of Hershel Dennis, LenDale White (the first true freshman to top Troy in rushing) and Reggie Bush, cornerback Will Poole, center Norm Katnik, defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, placekicker Ryan Killeen and linebacker Lofa Tatupu.
The Trojan defense topped the nation in rushing defense and was second in turnover margin, forcing 42 turnovers and scoring 8 TDs.
2004 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
“USC Leaves No Doubt”
--Los Angeles Daily News headline after USC’s Orange Bowl win.
From the start of training camp, the motto for the 2004 USC football team was “Leave No Doubt.” The Trojans did just that, winning their second consecutive national championship. And, unlike 2003, this title was undisputed, as USC demolished Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game in the Orange Bowl, 55-19. Troy went 11-0 overall (not including 2 wins vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 13-0, a school record for victories) and became just the second team ever to hold the AP No. 1 ranking from pre-season through the entire campaign. It was only the 10th time that a team won back-to-back AP crowns. At 7-0, USC won its third consecutive Pac-10 title(not including 1 win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 8-0). The Trojans swept traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame for an unprecedented third year in a row (UCLA win vacated due to NCAA penalty).
USC concluded the season riding a 20-game winning streak, as well as 21 straight home games, a Pac-10 record 15 consecutive league home games, 14 straight Pac-10 games and 8 road games in a row (not including 2 overall wins, 1 Pac-10 win and 1 road win vacated due to NCAA penalty: original record: 22-game winning streak, 15 Pac-10 games, 9 road games).
Troy was in the national Top 10 in every defensive statistical category (its total defense average was USC’s lowest in 15 years), including first in rushing defense and turnover margin and third in scoring defense. USC outscored opponents by 25.2 points (including a school-record 8 games with a margin of at least 30 points). USC played before 3 home sellouts, 7 regular-season sellouts and 8 season sellouts, all school marks. And Troy set a USC and Pac-10 record for home attendance average, as well as school records for total home attendance, overall attendance average and total overall attendance.
A school-record 6 Trojans (Heisman Trophy quarterback Matt Leinart, Heisman finalist tailback Reggie Bush, defensive linemen Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, and linebackers Matt Grootegoed and Lofa Tatupu) were named All-American first teamers. Leinart and Bush were named the Pac-10 Co-Offensive Players of the Year, while Cody was the Pac-10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
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College Football Playoff Odds 2022-23
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