On Jan. 4th, 2005, the USC Trojans entered the BCS National Championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners a perfect 12-0. USC was led by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart and star tailback Reggie Bush.
The build up to the game was immense, as it marked the first time two Heisman winners would face off for the National Title (Jason White was the other). However the game was never close, as the Trojans rolled over the Sooners the same way they rolled over every other team that season.
Matt Leinart threw an Orange Bowl record five touchdowns passes as USC destroyed Oklahoma 55-19. ESPN ranked Leinart’s performance in that game as the 10th best in BCS history back in 2008. That 2004 USC team was one of the best college football teams I’ve ever seen.
On Monday, the Bowl Championship Series’ Presidential Oversight Committee voted to strip the 2004 USC Trojans of their BCS National Championship. The decision may have centered on one player’s poor decisions, but it stripped 95 others of something they worked incredibly hard for. For the rest of their lives, those 95 players will have an asterisk by an accomplishment that no doubt, meant the world to them.
Back in June of 2010, the NCAA imposed sanctions on the USC football program after it was determined that Reggie Bush received improper benefits while playing for the Trojans. Those gifts, provided by sports agents anxious to obtain Bush as a client, are said to have begun in December of 2004. The regular season finale against UCLA was played Dec. 4th.
Whether or not Bush took the bribe before, or after that game will probably never be known, but the NCAA ruled that the running back was ineligible for both the matchup against UCLA, as well as the National Title Game against Oklahoma.
Let's be clear about something, in 2004 this team was Matt Leinart’s team, not Reggie Bush’s. If the NCAA had learned of the improper benefits before the final game of the regular season, would losing Bush have cost USC the win against cross-town rival UCLA?
Granted, Bush had a huge game against UCLA, but given time to game plan, I believe Coach Carroll could’ve plugged in the bruising LenDale White, and the outcome would’ve been the same. The Trojans went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in ’04 and proved they had the mettle to face adversity.
And as far as the BCS National Championship Game goes, Bush disappeared in that game. It was Heisman winner Matt Leinart and the aerial attack of USC that stole the show.
I believe that the NCAA could’ve put a stop to this whole thing seven years ago with a little oversight, but USC was the most successful team in a gigantic media market. The members of that team were treated like rock stars in Los Angeles, and it wasn’t uncommon to see celebrities on the sidelines of their games.
The 2004/2005 USC teams were a spectacle in a city without an NFL franchise, and I don’t believe the NCAA possessed the leadership, integrity or courage to pull the plug. In the end, the NCAA and the Pac-10 got paid, but at whose expense?
For many of us, college sports have become more about the “sports” than about the “college.” We forget these young men are 18 or 19 years old. We rant and rave when they perform poorly, and lift them on our shoulders when they succeed.
The Bowl Championship Series’ Presidential Oversight Committee doesn’t know what it’s like to wake up with aches and pains for eight months out of the year. They don’t know what it’s like to practice twice a day in sweltering heat. And they don’t know what they just took away from a lot of good men.