The 50 Greatest USC Football Players of All Time
When I took on this daunting challenge to name the fifty greatest football Trojans of all time, I knew I would have some difficult decisions to make.
First, I had to identify those fifty players. Then I had to somehow rank them in a logical order that expressed their place of importance in a hallowed football program.
So many wonderful players, each of which had left a stamp of Trojan greatness in the era they played. How was I going to do this?
What you see in the following slides is a representation of this difficult task but one that I found brought back memories for many that I personally remembered and illumination for those who came before my time.
I will admit that the majority of these players came from the 1970's through the last decade, and if I have left some off the list that deserve inclusion, I most humbly apologize.
So lets get started on my list of the 50 greatest football Trojans of all time...
#50 Keyshawn Johnson
A two time all American while at USC, Keyshawn Johnson was a force for the Trojans at wide receiver. Johnson had a knack for playing his best games in the spotlight as evidenced by his selection as MVP in both the 1995 Cotton bowl and the 1996 Rose bowl where he caught 12 passes for a record 216 yards.
Keyshawn Johnson, despite his obvious greatness, could also be fairly high maintenance as evidenced by his playing for four teams in the NFL after being drafted first overall by the New York Jets in 1996.
#49 Mike Williams
Anyone who watched Mike Williams earlier this decade knows just how dominant he was as a wide receiver. Williams, who had a penchant for the spectacular, also could be counted on to make the tough catch when needed.
Though he was a bust as a pro, Mike Williams’ college career was good enough to merit his inclusion on this list.
#48 Lynn Cain
This one is for the blue collar guys, those rugged individuals who don't mind getting their uniforms dirty for the benefit of their more heralded teammates.
Lynn Cain is one of those guys. Though a very good running back in his own right, Cain was known more for opening holes for some guy named Marcus Allen.
Thanks for your unselfishness Lynn. For that, you make my list of 50....
#47 Marvin Powell Jr.
USC has produced a lot of great offensive linemen and Marvin Powell Jr. certainly belongs among them. A blocking machine, Powell Jr. earned all American honors twice and helped the Trojans earn a national championship in 1974.
A three year starter for the Trojans, Marvin Powell Jr. went on to a successful career in the NFL where he earned all-pro honors five times.
#46 Jim Sears
Jimmy Sears was a three year letterman at USC in the early 1950’s who could do it all. In fact, in his best year, 1952, Sears did do it all for the Trojans. Leading the men from Troy to a 10-1 record and a win over Wisconsin in the Rose bowl, all Jimmy Sears did was lead the Trojans in passing, total offense, scoring and punt return yardage.
That year, 1952, saw Jimmy Sears earn all American honors and he finished seventh in the Heisman trophy voting.
#45 Shaun Cody
Shaun Cody was a great defensive lineman for the Trojans earlier this decade but that isn’t why he is being included in this review of all time great Trojans. The reason why I have included Cody is because his signing with Pete Carroll and the Trojans represented the first big time recruit in the Carroll era and paved the way for all the five star recruits to follow. With that single signature, Shaun Cody helped usher in an era of Trojan domination not seen in decades.
Oh, and by the way, Shaun Cody also was an all American in his senior year who registered 10 sacks while being named co-defensive Pac-10 player of the year
#44 Paul McDonald
Paul McDonald was one of those unheralded Trojan players who rarely gets his due. McDonald, a left handed quarterback, led the Trojans to a share of the national championship in 1978 before being named all American in 1979.
These days Paul McDonald broadcasts Trojan games on the radio and his son Mike, also played quarterback for the Trojans a few years ago.
#43 Tim Rossovich
Tim Rossovich was one of those mid-sixties Trojan players that marched to the beat of their own drum. Rossovich, definitely a “free spirit,” who later would go to an acting career after his football career was over, also was a helluva football player who wound up being named an all American in 1968. Rossovich also was one of five Trojans who went in the first round, also in 1968.
Note: This picture is of Rossovich as an NFL Eagle.
#42 Tim McDonald
Tim McDonald, like a few others that will be highlighted later on, is an easy choice for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Tim McDonald was a great safety. An all American in 1986, McDonald, who was a three year starter, also was named on the Walter Camp all century team and a runner-up for the Jim Thorpe award.
In addition, showing that cardinal and gold blood runs deep, Tim McDonald is also the father of up and coming TJ McDonald, also a safety and a player who big things are expected from.
#41 Tay Brown
We’re going old school with the inclusion of Raymond “Tay” Brown. Brown, an offensive tackle and captain of USC’s undefeated 1932 squad that was coached by the legendary Howard Jones, also was an all American and, from reading reports from the day, a thoroughly dominant lineman.
In addition, Brown also played for Jones on the 1931 national championship team, which meant that Brown was a back-to-back winner of national championships.
Not a bad resume, even if it was way before my time….
#40 Rodney Peete
Rodney Peete was an under appreciated quarterback in the mid 1980’s who combined speed and a good arm to become a lethal combination for the Trojans.
Although hampered by injuries through much of his Trojan career, Peete nonetheless played well enough to earn the Johnny Unitas award and finish second to Barry Sanders for the Heisman trophy.
#39 Carson Palmer
When Carson Palmer signed his letter of intent in 1998 to play for the Trojans, he was a golden boy whose star was expected to rise quickly. However, mired in then coach Paul Hacketts system, the progress was slow although Palmer did manage to supplant Mike Van Rapphorst late in his freshman season.
After Pete Carroll took over, Palmer and the Trojans began to blossom. Although the 2001 season found the Trojans finishing 6-6, much better things were on the horizon.
In the 2002 season, Palmer guided the Trojans to an 11-2 season, a 38-17 blowout win over Iowa in the Orange bowl and a #4 ranking the highest the Trojans had been ranked in years. Perhaps more importantly, Carson Palmer had signaled that the Trojans were back.
For his efforts in 2002 and the incredible talent he possessed, Carson Palmer won the Heisman trophy and a spot in the annals of all time Trojan greats
#38 Chris Claiborne
Chris Claiborne was yet another of the fine defensive players who wore the #55 with distinction for the Trojans.
An all American, Claiborne is also the only Trojan to have won the “Butkus” award as the nation’s top linebacker.
Chris Claiborne was a first round draft pick of the Detroit Lions but had a short and disappointing NFL career.
#37 Clay Matthews Jr. & Clay Matthews III
In this slide show, there will be a few “combination” choices that I have included simply because their legacy also includes sons, nephews, or brothers. This is one of those slides and it features a father and son (also of note is Bruce Matthews, who will be featured with a slide of his own, is Clay Jr.’s brother and Clay III, uncle) combination that menaced opposing offenses a generation apart.
Clay Matthews Jr. was a stalwart linebacker for the Trojans that played on some of the best USC defenses during the mid 1970’s. A first round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns in 1978, Clay Matthews Jr. went on to a long and distinguished career in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Clay Matthews III came to USC as a 160 pound walk on. By the time he was finished, Clay Matthews III had turned himself into a 245 lb terror that was so good that Pete Carroll had to invent a special hybrid position called “elephant” just to get him on the field. Clay III parlayed that effort into a first round draft choice by the Packers where in his rookie season, recorded 10 sacks.
#36 Willie McGinest
The number “55” has carried a long legacy of Trojan defensive stalwarts, and one of the best to have ever worn it was Willie McGinest. McGinest, who followed another Trojan great in Junior Seau, mostly played defensive end for USC and along the way, accumulated 29 sacks and 48 tackles for loss among his gaudy stats.
McGinest also was a perennial all conference player who also earned all American honors. A first round draft choice by the New England Patriots in 1994, Willie McGinest went on to have a distinguished career in the NFL.
#35 Joey Browner
Part of the “dream” defensive backfield for the Trojans that also included Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith (along with long time Tennessee Titan coach, Jeff Fisher), Joey Browner was also named the 1982 Trojan defensive MVP.
A four time All American, Joey Browner, who hailed from a family with a rich tradition for producing great football players, became a first round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings.
#34 Brad Budde
Yet another tremendous Trojan offensive lineman, Budde, who played for the Trojans from 1976-79, helped USC compile a 42-6-1 record and was one of 12 Trojans from the 1979 team to be a first round draft choice in the NFL.
Brad Budde was also the first recipient of the “Lombardi Award,” and a runner up for the Outland trophy given to the nation’s outstanding offensive lineman. An all American in 1979, Budde started all four years he played for the Trojans.
#33 Junior Seau
The consummate Trojan linebacker, Junior Seau was the complete package of speed and power. Donning the “55” jersey, Seau’s ferocious play came to represent the epitome of how to play the position.
A unanimous all American selection in 1989 when he recorded an amazing 19 sacks, Seau’s play has helped USC become known as “linebacker U,” where perhaps only Penn State could challenge the Trojans as a university that produces top flight players at the position.
A first round draft choice of the San Diego Chargers, Seau has gone on to a stellar NFL career.
#32 Don Mosebar
Following in the tradition of great Trojan offensive linemen, Don Mosebar, who played for USC from 1979-82, lettering all four years also garnered all American honors in 1982.
Mosebar then was made a first round choice of the Oakland Raiders where he played 13 years.
Note: Photo is of Mosebar as a Raider
#31 Mark Carrier
A two time consensus all American, Mark Carrier, who graduated in 1989, also was USC’s only recipient of the “Jim Thorpe Award,” given to the nation’s outstanding defensive back.
Carrier, who was a three year starter while at USC, also finished his career with 13 interceptions and was inducted into the Trojan’s hall of fame in 2006.
#30 Willie Wood
It was not so much what Willie Wood did while playing quarterback at USC but when he did it and what it represented. When Wood took the field for the Trojans, it marked the first time a black quarterback played in what was then known as the “Pac-8.”
After leaving USC, Willie Wood would go to an enormously successful career as a safety for Green Bay Packers where he made the pro bowl eight times.
#29 Keith Van Horne
One of the all time great Trojan offensive tackles, Keith Van Horne earned all American honors as he led one of the greatest Trojan offensive lines.
In the NFL, Keith Van Horne would be a #1 draft pick of the Chicago Bears where he would go to a successful pro career.
#28 Mike & Marlin McKeever
The first set of twins to earn all American honors, Mike and Marlin McKeever, were bonafide stars for the Trojans in the late 1950’s. Though Mike McKeever would suffers a head injury that would end his playing career, brother Marlin, who starred as a receiver for the Trojans, would go to NFL as a linebacker.
Sadly, Mike McKeever suffered head injuries in a car accident in 1965 resulting in his being in a coma for 22 months before dying at the age of 27. His twin brother died in 2006 after slipping and hitting his head which also found him slipping into a coma before he died the next day.
#27 Mosi & Lofa Tatupu
Recently, I wrote an article honoring Mosi Tatupu when he passed away. In that article, I mentioned that when the Trojans would get close to the opponents goal line, they would just give the ball to Mosi and when they did, it seemed he would always score. That was my recollection as a very young man, and it is why I am including Mosi and his son Lofa, in this list of all time great Trojans.
Mosi finished his career with the Trojans in 1978, and, in addition to his running back capabilities, he was also a fantastic special team’s player, so good in fact, that college’s special team’s player of the year award is named “The Mosi Tatupu award”
Meanwhile, Mosi’s son Lofa, a transplanted linebacker from University of Maine, followed in his father’s footsteps at USC where he played two years 2005 and 2006 and helped lead one of the stingiest defenses in the college game.
Lofa then went on to a very successful career in the NFL where he still stars for the Seattle Seahawks.
#26 Troy Polamalu
One of the all-time greatest Trojan safeties, Troy Polamalu was so good that USC developed a hybrid spot for him. Troy began playing as a freshman in 1999, where in limited duty, he still created havoc by forcing two fumbles and, for good measure, a couple of sacks as well.
In his sophomore season, Polamalu became the starter and was the recipient of numerous honors as an all American by several services. As a junior in 2001, Polamalu once again garnered all American attention as he led the Trojans in tackles and among his three interceptions, two were returned for touchdowns.
Finally, as a senior, Polamalu, despite playing with an ankle injury for most of the year, he would still make several all American teams and helped lead the Trojans to a 38-17 victory in the Orange Bowl over Iowa.
For his efforts at USC, Troy Polamalu would be made the first round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers where he has gone on to a very successful career and is considered one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
#25 Tony Boselli
Tony Boselli was quite simply the most dominating offensive college lineman overall during his USC career. At 6’7” and 322 lbs, Boselli was nimble enough to play quarterback in high school but obviously his true calling was in the trenches.
A three time all American, Tony Boselli became the first ever #1 draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In a twist, Boselli also became the first ever draft pick of the newly created Houston Texans in the 2002 expansion draft although he never played a down for them due to injuries.
#24 Charles Young
A member of college football’s hall of fame, Charles Young was one of the first premier tight ends when tight ends were considered part of the offensive line. Known for his blocking ability as well as his soft hands, Charles Young was a unanimous all America selection in 1972 when he collected 68 receptions (then a Trojan record).
Following his stellar career at USC, Young was the sixth round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, going on to win NFL rookie of the year in 1973.
#23 Dennis Thurman
Dennis Thurman, who for three seasons teamed with fellow defensive backfield mate Ronnie Lott in a dynamic Trojan defense, was also one of the most decorated. By the time he graduated in 1977, Thurman was a two time all American and helped lead the Trojans to the national championship in 1974.
Along the way, Thurman racked up 11 interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and also returned punts when he wasn’t busy blistering offensive opponents who had the guts to venture into the Trojans defensive backfield.
#22 Ron Mix
Ron Mix, who entered USC as a medium sized wide receiver and left as a 250 lb. dominating offensive lineman, was a force both on the gridiron and in the locker room. Named team captain for the 1959 season, Mix also garnered all American honors as the Trojans wound up 8-2 with a #14 ranking.
Ron Mix was one of the first dominating offensive linemen from USC and his legacy can be found in those who followed, such as Ron Yary, Tony Boselli, et. al.
#21 Pat Haden
Pat Haden will forever be remembered as a consummate team player and simply a winner while he was at USC.
Haden guided the Trojans to three Rose bowl appearances and two national championships during his stint as USC quarterback, although his first year (1972), found him backing up Mike Rae, who led the Trojans to a national championship. Incredibly intelligent (Haden was a Rhodes Scholar), Haden used those smarts to overcome any physical liabilities (a suspect arm and small stature), to become one of the most successful quarterbacks in USC history.
Ironically, Haden is now a broadcaster for USC’s hated rival, Notre Dame.
#20 Frank Gifford
In the late 1940’s, early 1950’s, Frank Gifford literally became the face of Trojan football. With his Hollywood good looks, Gifford played both offense and defense in an era when that type of effort was the rule rather than the exception.
In the 1950-51 season, Gifford was chosen to an all-American team mostly for his offensive exploits both running and passing for the Trojans but also for his defense, which was good enough to result in two interceptions against Navy.
However, make no mistake about it, Frank Gifford was a ladies man and his visibility as a pseudo-celebrity brought even more renown to the Trojan football program.
#19 Bruce Matthews
I may have placed Bruce Matthews a bit too high but the man was a great guard whose lineage also included a brother, Clay, who played for the Trojans and two nephews, Kyle and Clay III, who donned the cardinal and gold as well.
However, Bruce Matthews, even if he had no relations who played for USC, would still make the list.
Matthews was an all-American guard for the Trojans and a workhorse who never missed games. This would be borne out in the NFL where Bruce Matthews was a four time all-pro and one of the most durable offensive lineman ever to grace the gridiron.
#18 Dennis Smith
Dennis Smith was part of what might be one of the greatest defensive backfields in the history of college football. Along with teammates, Joey Browner and Ronnie Lott, the Trojans posed a fearful challenge to any who might have the temerity to test them.
Smith, who also was named an all-American in 1980, had 16 interceptions for his career, helped lead the Trojans to the national championship in 1978.
Oh, and in his spare time, Dennis Smith lettered three times in track for the Trojans as well.
#17 Ron Yary
Not only was Ron Yary the prototypical dominating offensive lineman in college football, he was also a consummate team player.
Yary, who went 6’5” and a heavy (for the time) 255 lbs, actually started out as a defensive tackle. And not just any defensive tackle. As a sophomore, Yary was the Pac-8 defensive lineman of the year and an all-west coast selection! Despite this, coach John McKay asked Yary to switch to the offensive line as a junior. Yary, agreed and the rest is history.
In 1966, Yary’s first year on the offensive line, he was voted a consensus all-American. With a year of seasoning under his belt, Yary topped that off with a unanimous selection as an all-American while helping lead the Trojans to the national championship in 1967.
Ron Yary was simply dominating no matter where he played. Whether as a defensive or offensive lineman, Yary ran roughshod over whoever was unlucky enough to be across the line.
#16 Hal Bedsole
The first in a long line of great Trojan tight/split ends, Hal Bedsole was a winner whose work ethic became contagious for his Trojan teammates.
As a two time “all Pac-10” selection, Bedsole helped lead the Trojans to the national championship in 1962.
In addition, Bedsole became the first Trojan to collect 200 yards in a single game.
For these reasons, I include Hal Bedsole high on my list of greatest Trojans.
#15 Anthony Munoz
Anthony Munoz was the prototypical offensive lineman who showed that big men could be agile as well as dominating. A two time all American while at USC, Munoz, who stood 6’6” and weighted 280 lbs, was also agile enough to have pitched for the Trojan’s national championship baseball team in 1978.
Knee injuries proved to be a problem for Munoz while at USC, but it did not keep him from having a stellar NFL career, starting 164 of 168 games at the next level.
#14 Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott is simply considered as one of the toughest men to ever play football. At USC, Ronnie Lott was a three year starter and led the 1978 team to a share of the national championship. After playing in two Rose Bowls in 1978 and 1979, Lott was a unanimous choice as an all American in 1980.
Ronnie Lott was the epitome of toughness both at USC and later in the NFL. A fiery leader who would never quit, Lott has followed the Trojans since his retirement and remains close to the program.
#13 Richard Wood
As a linebacker, Richard Wood was a terror on the field. Known as “Batman” for his menacing eye black that he wore, Richard Wood was not only the starting linebacker on that fabulous 1972 USC team, but also the signal caller, a rare accomplishment for a player so young on a John McKay coached team. That same year, Wood led the team in tackles by a wide margin and was named all American.
After once again being named as an all American in 1973, Richard Wood topped off his USC career with yet another all American season leading the Trojans once again to a national championship.
#12 Jon Arnett
“Jaguar Jon,” as he was known, was a rare blend of power and speed. An all American in 1955, Arnett also was the recipient of the Voit award as the best college player in the west.
Captain of the USC team in 1956, Jon Arnett was voted into the USC hall of fame in 1994 and then the college football hall of fame in 2001.
Jon Arnett appeared to be on the fast track to the Heisman trophy in 1956 but an accusation leveled at Arnett and some other players, probably generated by less successful members of the Pac-8, cost Arnett half of the season. It is at this point, I should let readers know that I was contacted by the great Jon Arnett who let me know that the "violation" had to do with a conference sanctioned program that helped lower income scholarship players make ends meet with a $75 per month job that was embellished by a "sponsor" who could add another $75 to chosen players. The ncaa, in its infinite wisdom, penalized Jon Arnett for taking advantage of a conference approved program, that was also sanctioned by USC. Hardly the stuff that would make headlines these days. Nonetheless, Jon Arnett, probably the best player in the country that year, lost half of his season.
I am honored to make this edit and only wish I had done more research instead of perpetuating a misconception that tarnishes the reputation of one of the greatest Trojans of all time. I will learn from this mistake and I thank Jon Arnett for being so gracious in opening my eyes.
#11 Ricky Bell
One of the greatest tailbacks in USC history also was one of the most tragic. When Ricky Bell ran, he was a force. Bell, who played for the Trojans in the mid-seventies, was a workhorse who never seemed to tire. It was that never ending perseverance that made his death as a young man all the more tragic.
Typical of Ricky Bell’s work ethic was his 347 yards gained against Washington State in 1976. That same year, he finished as the runner up to Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh for the Heisman trophy. This followed his junior year in 1976 when Bell led the nation in rushing with 1,875 yards.
Upon his graduation, Bell was made the first overall pick in the NFL by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who were led by Bell’s coach John McKay in 1977. After a spotty NFL career, which was due to a heart condition, Ricky Bell died in 1984 at the young age of 29.
#10 Sam Cunningham
Sam “Bam” Cunningham was a great fullback for John McKay but that is not why I am honoring him as a top ten “greatest Trojan.” Cunningham was almost a sure thing every time he would get the ball within the opponent’s five yard line by launching himself high into the air and bulling his way into the end zone, but that also isn’t why he is included so high on my list. Was it because he was a member of USC’s undefeated and national championship 1972 team? No.
The reason Sam Cunningham makes my list is because of road game against Alabama in 1972 when Cunningham rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns against Bear Bryant’s lily white Alabama team in a 42-21 beat down of the Crimson Tide. It was this game that finally convinced the legendary Tide coach to integrate his team.
That alone raises Cunningham to top ten level.
#9 Lynn Swann
Lynn Swann was perhaps one of the most graceful and fluid wide receivers ever to don the cardinal and gold. Blessed with great speed and soft hands, Swann was a constant threat every time he stepped on the field.
In 1972, Swann was named all-American as he helped lead the Trojans to an undefeated season and a #1 ranking. This was the team that legendary announcer Keith Jackson called the “greatest team I ever saw.”
In 1991, Lynn Swann was elected to the college football hall of fame, a worthy honor for a great Trojan.
#8 Anthony Davis
I can tell you from personal experience that Anthony Davis was a far greater tailback than a kind person. I had the displeasure of meeting Davis a few years ago and I can honestly say, at least based on my experience; the dude was a true butthead.
Nonetheless, Davis was a legendary Trojan and it may be that I am placing him too low. In 1974 alone, Davis cemented his place in Trojan lore in a game against #4 ranked Notre Dame that saw the Trojans fall behind early 24-0. A seven yard pass from Pat Haden to Davis cut the score to 24-6 and a second half opening kickoff return for 102 yards cut the Notre Dame lead to 24-13 and the comeback was in full swing. When all was said and done, Davis scored four touchdowns and the Trojans had come back to thrash the Irish 55-24.
That same year, the Heisman trophy ballots had to be returned by those voting prior to the USC-Notre Dame game and Davis finished second to Archie Griffin for the coveted honor. Although it was of little consolation to Davis, from that year forward, the voting would be conducted after the regular season is completed.
#7 Vacant (Formally Reggie Bush)
This spot was reserved for Reggie Bush who now has been removed and placed as #1 on the all time "50 Greatest Villains in USC History."
#6 Matt Leinart
There may be a valid argument that I am being blinded by the shine of recent success but there is little argument that Matt Leinart belongs in the upper echelon of great Trojans.
After backing up Carson Palmer in 2002, Leinart beat out Matt Cassel and others to take hold of the quarterback position in 2003. After leading the Trojans to an upset victory over Auburn on the road, Leinart went on to throw 38 touchdowns against only nine interceptions as USC finished #1 in the AP poll.
In 2004, Leinart continued with the success found in 2003 by leading the Trojans to an undefeated season culminated by a 55-19 thrashing of also undefeated Oklahoma. That season, Leinart also snagged his own Heisman trophy, only the second USC quarterback so honored.
Finally, in 2005, Matt Leinart led the Trojans to another undefeated regular season, and that streak stood at 34 games before the Trojans lost to Texas in the Rose bowl, a game that saw Leinart’s impressive 359 yard passing game over shadowed by Texas quarterback Vince Young’s amazing performance.
#5 Morley Drury
Nicknamed “The Noblest Trojan of Them All,” Morley Drury, a 6’0,” 185 lb. quarterback, began the great tradition of domination on the gridiron. Named to the All American team in 1927, Drury also participated in the first USC-Notre Dame game that same year.
In addition, Morley Drury was the first Trojan to rush for 1,000 yards (1,163 yards), which was a record that stood until Mike Garrett broke it in 1965. Also on Drury’s lists of “firsts” was a 200 yard rushing effort against Cal in 1927.
The legend of Morley Drury has been somewhat lost to time, but for those who came after him, Drury laid the foundation for what has become a Trojan dynasty.
#4 Charles White
Charles White was the consummate Trojan. A four year letterman, White began his career backing up the great Ricky Bell but still managed to rush for 858 yards as a freshman.
After Bell graduated, White began the steady climb which would culminate in a Heisman trophy by rushing for 1,478 yards as a sophomore. This would be followed by 1849 yards rushed as a junior and then a spectacular 2,050 yards and the honor of the aforementioned Heisman trophy.
Charles White was a big game player though. In 1977, filling in for an injured Ricky Bell, White rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown as the Trojans beat the Michigan Wolverines 14-6. In 1979, White again menaced the Wolverines by rushing for 122 yards and the so-called “phantom touchdown” as the Trojans once again beat Michigan, 17-10.
While those were big games for White, the biggest by far occurred in 1980 when he ran for a Rose Bowl record 247 yards in another USC victory, this time over the Ohio State Buckeyes, 17-16.
#3 Mike Garrett
A compelling argument could be made that Mike Garrett is the all time greatest Trojan based on the entirety of his career, including his ongoing stint as the Trojans athletic director.
However, I am just going to go on his marvelous career as a tailback where he became the first Trojan Heisman winner in 1965 after leading the nation in rushing with 1,422 yards.
That year, Garrett also caught 36 passes, ran back punts and even threw two touchdown passes in his…ahem…”spare time.”
With that magical season, Mike Garrett ushered in the golden era known as “Tailback U” at USC, where he blazed a path for four more Trojan tailbacks that would join him as a Heisman trophy winner.
#2 O.J. Simpson
Forget the trials and tribulations the “Juice” has experienced since his football career ended. The man was simply electric when he donned the cardinal and gold.
With his fluid running style and world class speed, OJ was the epitome of what defined a tailback in his college career.
Because Simpson only played two years for the Trojans after transferring from the City College of San Francisco, I have relegated him to #2 on my list, but oh, were those two years amazing.
In 1967, in his first year with the Trojans, Simpson ran for 1,451 yards and 11 touchdowns. Included in that year was his iconic 64 yard run to beat rival UCLA in the fourth quarter. That run remains a highlight film that helped define college football in the 1960’s.
In 1968, Simpson followed up his solid junior year by rushing for 1,709 yards and 22 touchdowns. Along the way, Simpson collected the Heisman trophy and both the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards.
Whatever problems faced OJ Simpson later in life, Trojan fans will remember him for what he did on the field first.
#1 Marcus Allen
To be honest, you could probably throw a blanket over any of the top ten players I have chosen and make a legitimate case for their being the all time greatest Trojan.
In choosing Marcus Allen, I looked at the entirety of his career, which spanned from 1978-1981.
A consummate team player, Allen spent his first season at USC backing up Heisman trophy winner, Charles White. He then spent 1979 as a fullback before breaking out in 1980 with 1,563 yards, the second most in the country.
But it was in 1981 when Marcus Allen really hit his stride. That year, all Marcus Allen did was rush for 2,362 yards (the first time in NCAA history that occurred), had 2,683 all purpose yards and won the Heisman trophy and the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards.
Allen still shares the NCAA record for most 200 yard rushing games in a career (12), and to this day, you can usually find Marcus Allen roaming the USC sideline during games, where he is treated like the Trojan royalty he is.
It is for these reasons that I name Marcus Allen as my all time greatest Trojan.
So there you have it. My top 50 USC Trojans of all time.
My apologies to any I left out, and I am sure there are many.
For all of those noble Trojans who have donned the cardinal and gold, I thank you whether or not you made this list, for you have made many treasured memories for the legions of Trojan fans that have followed the men of Troy.
Although this was a difficult job, it was also a labor of love and for that it was a worthwhile journey and one I am glad I made.