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Reggie Bush Talks Heisman, USC, Caleb Williams, CFB Playoff and More in B/R Interview

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 13, 2022

Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Perhaps the only thing scarier for any college football defender than having to go up against Reggie Bush during his USC days is the idea of going up against him in today's Trojans offense.

Because arguably the most electrifying player in college football history might have been even better with head coach Lincoln Riley scheming him into open space.

"I'm winning two Heisman Trophies in this offense, without a doubt," Bush told Bleacher Report when discussing what he would have done if he lined up in USC's backfield in 2022.

It's safe to say things worked out fairly well for Bush with head coach Pete Carroll leading the program during his era. After all, his resume included the 2005 Heisman Trophy, two straight Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year awards and two straight selections as a consensus All-American.

USC finished atop the Associated Press poll during his freshman year in 2003, won the national title in 2004 and then lost a thriller to Texas in the national championship game to end the 2005 campaign.

It's been some time since the Trojans were operating at that level, and last season's 4-8 mark was quite the low point. Just when it appeared they were in danger of falling further behind the other college football bluebloods, they hired Riley away from Oklahoma this offseason and hit the transfer portal hard with a number of notable additions, including quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Jordan Addison.

"What a difference a head coach makes," Bush said while praising the early returns for USC's 2-0 start this season.

"It's just such a breath of fresh air watching this brand of football being played and being brought back to USC," he said. "And I gotta be honest, the way that they've looked these past two weeks reminds me a lot of the way our teams played. The Coliseum is rocking; the offense and defense are making plays. That's what we were, that's what we were about. Making plays on both sides of the football."

USC put up 66 points against Rice and 41 points against Stanford in a Pac-12 game that was not as close as the 41-28 final score indicated thanks to two late touchdowns for the Cardinal.

It has already climbed to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 and appears to be rolling even quicker than one of its most famous former players expected.

"I don't think anybody was expecting it to look this good this early," he said. "They look like they're in postseason form right now with the way that the offense is clicking and the way that Caleb Williams is finding his targets. The throwing lanes are tremendous. He's throwing into some of the biggest throwing lanes, and that's a testament to Lincoln Riley and his offensive creativity. The [opposing] defense the last two games has been on their heels the entire time. They didn't know what was coming."

Bush is going to be watching plenty of the Trojans this season and will need something to eat during the games.

It's fitting, then, that he partnered with Wendy's for a second straight year, this time to help announce the return of the pretzel bacon pub cheeseburger to the Made to Crave menu.

"It's been a great relationship," he said. "The commercials have been nothing short of just fun and allowed me to step into some foreign territory a bit and start to expand my abilities with acting and doing some fun skits. It's been amazing."

There is a tongue-in-cheek element in the commercial about Bush's Heisman Trophy that was vacated for NCAA violations, and he appreciated the opportunity to inject some comedy into the Wendy's pitch.

"I loved the direction that we took the commercials this year," he said. "... I love comedy, growing up as a kid some of my favorite shows were Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, In Living Color, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and shows like that. So comedy has been something that's been a part of my life for a very long time."

While the commercial brings levity to the situation, the NCAA's decision to force Bush to retroactively return his Heisman Trophy following an extensive investigation because it determined he and his family accepted impermissible benefits still stands as one of the most shocking developments in the sport's history.

USC also vacated its 2004 national title as part of the punishment, and Ryan Kartje of the Los Angeles Times reported in July 2021 that the NCAA said it would not reconsider prior penalties such as Bush's even during the name, image and likeness era that gives players more individual freedoms and opportunities.

It should be noted that the Heisman Trust said at the time it would welcome him back "should the NCAA reinstate Bush's 2005 status," and he said he believes his Heisman Trophy will eventually be reestablished.

"Whatever the NCAA said last year is BS," he added. "It's smoke and mirrors by the NCAA, as usual. I'll just leave it at that."

While Bush is hoping to one day get his Heisman Trophy back, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is striving to join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only players in college football history to win the coveted award two times.

While Bush said he believes there may be some hesitation from voters to give Young the award againโ€”which could open the door for Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, USC's Williams or someone elseโ€”he still sees the Crimson Tide signal-caller as the "front-runner" after he engineered a pressure-packed drive in the final minute of Saturday's game at Texas to clinch a 20-19 victory.

"I think the front-runner right now is Bryce Young," he said. "He's playing great football. I think a lot of times when we think about statistical games and guys having a great day, sometimes the stats don't always show that last-minute drive. He didn't flinch, broke a tackle from a free rusher and made a great play to extend the drive. Sometimes the stats don't show that. That's why Bryce Young is in the lead right now. It's his playmaking ability, but it's also the timing. Great players are able to be great when it's needed most. And he was great when his team needed him most."

Bush, who is part of Fox's college football coverage and was in Austin, Texas, as part of the network's presentation of the game, was also impressed by what he called a "good loss" that will "instill confidence" for the Longhorns even though quarterback Quinn Ewers is expected to miss four to six weeks with an SC sprain to his left shoulder.

"Texas will be a team now that I have my eye on," he said. "They showed me a lot. The defense played great. They were fast; they were physical. Quinn Ewers looked really good. It sucks that he got hurt. He could have been the difference. If he stays in that game, they probably would have won. Texas outplayed them in just about every aspect of the game except that last minute and a half."

Unfortunately for the Longhorns, moral victories don't count in the race for the College Football Playoff.

There are a number of familiar faces right in the middle of that race in the early going with the reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs sitting atop the AP poll and Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson and Oklahoma rounding out the top six.

They have all been to the CFP since the postseason format was instituted, and Bush believes Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State will be there again at the end of this season.

But he also thinks he could have a serious rooting interest in the fourth and final team to make the field.

"USC could be the dark horse," he said. "I think they could be a team that sneaks in there and gets into the Playoff with the brand of football they're playing. The only thing that worries me is strength of schedule. They've got Notre Dame at the end of the season, but Notre Dame just looks so bad right now."

Notre Dame may be 0-2 and trending in the wrong direction, but the Trojans won't have to worry about strength of schedule as much if they win every game.

After all, that's what they did in 2004 when Bush was leading the way.

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