USC Trojans Football: The Best 25 Bowl Games in School History
For most college football teams, just finding 25 bowl appearances, much less that many victories, would be an impossible challenge.
Not so for the Trojans.
What was difficult was first deciding which 25 would make the final cut and then placing them in some sort of order of importance.
In coming up with this list, I attempted to use a variety of criteria, including the Trojans' game performance, historical significance and quality of their opponents, among other less critical considerations.
So what are the best 25 Trojan bowl victories?
Let's find out…
NOTE: The bowl dates represent the post season game for the year before (Ex: 1978 Trojans played In the 1979 Rose Bowl)
No. 25: 1995 Cotton Bowl (USC 55, Texas Tech 14)
A very disappointing season for USC was made a bit more bearable when they smoked the Red Raiders in a Cotton Bowl that was over almost before it started.
This game marked the beginning of the legend of USC wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who grabbed three touchdowns and accumulated a bowl record 222 yards while being named MVP.
USC would finish 8-3-1 for John Robinson in his second to last season as the Trojan head coach.
No. 24: 1985 Rose Bowl (USC 20, Ohio State 17)
A disappointing season for the Trojans, who came into the game with an 8-3 record, was salvaged by a close win over Earle Bruce’s Buckeyes, who were led by quarterback Mike Tomczak.
In the game, Trojan quarterback Tim Green threw for two touchdowns, and, along with a pair of 51 yard Frank Jordan field goals, was able to hold off the Buckeyes at the end.
Green and Trojan linebacker Jack Del Rio were named co-MVP in a game that was witnessed by over 102,000.
No. 23: 1990 Rose Bowl (USC 17 Michigan 10)
In Bo Schembechler’s final game as the Wolverine head coach, USC broke Michigan’s heart by winning a close game in front of 103,000.
In the game, touchdowns on runs by Trojan quarterback Todd Marinovich and running back Ricky Ervins, who was named MVP, were just enough to gain a measure of revenge for USC, who had lost to Michigan the year before in the Rose Bowl 22-14.
USC would finish the season at 9-2-1, while Michigan ended at 10-2.
No. 22: 1996 Rose Bowl (USC 41, Northwestern 32)
The Trojans just gave Keyshawn Johnson the “damn ball,” as he helped USC welcome back head coach John Robinson to his first Rose Bowl victory in his second stint with the Trojans.
USC, which came into the game with a 9-2-1 record, won a see-saw game that Northwestern actually led by a point in the fourth quarter.
Johnson was named the MVP of the game for his two touchdowns, both of which were delivered by quarterback Brad Otten.
No. 21: 1953 Rose Bowl (USC 7, Wisconsin 0)
Trojan coach (and later, USC athletic director) Jess Hill, who also played in the 1929 Rose Bowl, led the 9-1 Trojans into this game against the 6-2-1 Badgers, who were led by Ivy Williamson.
The game itself was a defensive struggle that wasn’t decided until Rudy Bukich, who was replacing injured All American Jimmy Sears, completed a 22-yard pass to Trojan great Al “Hoagy” Carmichael for the only score of the game.
No. 20: 1944 Rose Bowl (USC 29, Washington 0)
In a game that featured Western teams due to World War II travel restrictions, the Trojans completely dominated the Huskies behind Trojan quarterback Jim Hardy’s inspired play, which featured three touchdown passes.
USC’s defense was stout as well and contributed to the scoring with a safety of its own.
No. 19: 1930 Rose Bowl (USC 47, Pittsburgh 14)
This Rose bowl marked the first of legendary Trojan coach Howard Jones' five consecutive Pasadena postseason victories.
The Trojans came into the game sporting a 9-2 record, while Pittsburgh showed off an even better 9-0 ledger.
The game itself turned out to be a mismatch, as USC completely dominated their eastern rival behind “Racehorse” Ross Saunders' three touchdown passes in a game that was never really in doubt.
No. 18: 1933 Rose Bowl (USC 35, Pittsburgh 0)
Apparently not learning their lesson of 1929, Pittsburgh once again headed out west only to have their lunch handed to them by the Trojans of Howard Jones.
In this game, USC legend Cotton Warburton, all 145 lbs. of him, ran for two touchdowns in the blowout.
No. 17: 1945 Rose Bowl (USC 25, Tennessee 0)
The last of the Trojans war-time Rose bowl victories came via quarterback Jim Hardy’s prolific arm as the USC legend delivered two more touchdown passes in a Trojan rout of the 7-0-1 Tennessee Volunteers.
The Trojans would finish undefeated, with only two ties to blemish an otherwise perfect season.
No. 16: 1970 Rose Bowl (USC 10, Michigan 3)
John McKay’s 9-0-1 Trojans, who would finish fifth in the AP poll, found a way to beat Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines in a low-scoring affair that featured stout defenses from both teams.
The late, great Trojan flanker Bob Chandler would be named bowl MVP after receiving a pass from quarterback Jimmy Jones for the only touchdown of the game.
No. 15: 1975 Rose Bowl (USC 18, Ohio State 17)
This nail biter featured USC quarterback (current athletic director) Pat Haden’s two touchdown passes to win a close contest against Woody Hayes Buckeyes.
The last score was a strike to fellow Rose Bowl co-MVP wide receiver J.K. McKay in yet another scoring tally which will be well remembered by veteran Trojan fans.
No. 14: 1977 Rose Bowl (USC 14, Michigan 6)
John Robinson’s Trojans, who would finish 10-1 and third in the AP, won a tough matchup with Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines after Trojan quarterback Vince Evans led USC with a touchdown and scoring run.
Freshman tailback Charles White, subbing for the injured Ricky Bell, ran for 122 yards and a touchdown as well.
No. 13: 1980 Rose Bowl (USC 17, Ohio State 16)
Trojan tailback Charles White, who had shared the Rose Bowl MVP the year before with Michigan’s Rick Leach, simply ran wild over the Buckeyes in this tightly contested affair.
White rushed for 247 yards and the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining.
The Trojans would finish 11-0-1 and second to Alabama, a team they beat on the road earlier in the year.
No. 12: 2004 Rose Bowl: (USC 28, Michigan 14)
First year Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart capped off a great season by throwing for three touchdowns and catching another one from wide receiver Mike Williams as USC continued their winning ways by dominating a game but outclassed Wolverine team before 93,849.
The Trojans would end the season at 12-1 and would finish the year ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches poll, but would be inexplicably ranked No. 3 in the BCS.
No. 11: 2007 Rose Bowl (USC 32, Michigan 18)
The streak of BCS bowl victories for USC would continue, as the Trojans would easily outclass the Wolverines, who were runners-up in the Big 10 conference to Ohio State.
In the game, Dwayne Jarrett, who would be named co-MVP with Trojan linebacker Brian Cushing, caught two touchdown passes from John David Booty, and Steve Smith would add another, as Booty had a very nice game with three touchdown passes.
The Trojans would finish 11-2, as did Michigan, who was favored by one and a half points coming into the game.
No. 10: 2008 Rose Bowl (USC 49, Illinois 17)
The second of three straight Rose Bowl victories for USC came at the expense of Illinois, who was clearly outclassed as evidenced by the Trojans, entering the game as 13 and a half point favorites.
The Trojans would find a myriad of ways to score on the Illini, including a trick play where Garrett Green found a wide open Desmond Reed with a touchdown pass for the Trojans second score.
Quarterback John David Booty would be named offensive MVP after throwing three touchdown passes, and he would be joined by linebacker Rey Maualuga, who was named defensive MVP.
No. 9: 2009 Rose Bowl (USC 38, Penn State 24)
USC’s last major bowl victory would also be its third Rose Bowl win in a row, as the Trojans took it to Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate.
In a game the Trojans led 31-7 at the half, Mark Sanchez was pretty much unstoppable, as he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another.
For his efforts, Sanchez would be named offensive MVP, while linebacker Kaluka Maiava would take home the defensive honors.
USC would finish 12-1, and, as was the case so often last decade, would just miss out on a national title.
No. 8: 1923 Rose Bowl (USC 14, Penn State 3)
The very first Rose Bowl to be played in Pasadena featured two teams that were powerhouses in the era: Penn State and the USC Trojans.
In the game itself, the Nittany Lions' 29-man team travelling squad couldn’t stand up to the potent Trojans, who finished 8-1 that year. Penn State could only manage a total of 105 yards for the game, and their only score came via a “drop kick” by Mike Palm.
No. 7: 1963 Rose Bowl: (USC 42, Wisconsin 37)
One of the most exciting Rose Bowls ever also featured a great comeback by the Badgers, who fell just short behind quarterback Ron Vanderkelen, who completed 33-of-48 passes in bringing Wisconsin back from a 42-14 deficit.
The Trojans, behind quarterback Pete Beathard’s four touchdown strikes, ran out to a quick lead, only to barely hold on against a furious Badger rally.
The Trojans would finish 11-0, while Wisconsin tallied an 8-2 record, and this game would end with a myriad of Rose Bowl passing records.
No. 6: 1968 Rose Bowl: (USC 14, Indiana 3)
John McKay’s Trojans would finish No. 1 in the country after disposing of John Pont’s 9-1 Hoosiers, who would finish No. 4 in the AP poll.
This game featured Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson, who would run for both Trojan scores against a stingy Indiana defense.
Simpson would be named Rose Bowl MVP, adding to his collection of postseason awards he collected in that memorable year.
No. 5: 1979 Rose Bowl (USC 17, Michigan 10)
In a game that was marked by tailback Charles White’s “phantom touchdown,” the Trojans, led by quarterback Paul McDonald’s TD pass to tight end Hoby Brenner and a tough defense featuring interceptions by Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith, turned back Schembechler and his Wolverines, who lost their fifth straight Rose Bowl.
The Trojans would finish 12-1 and ranked first in the coaches poll, but second in the AP.
No. 4: 2003 Orange Bowl (USC 38, Iowa 17)
This was the game that truly showed the Trojans were back to their former glory under head coach Pete Carroll.
Carson Palmer, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, threw for a touchdown and was named Bowl MVP, and running back Justin Vargas tossed in a 50-yard touchdown run for good measure.
The Trojans came into the game perhaps the hottest team at the time, and though the Hawkeyes were a very good team at 11-1, they had no shot at winning this game after the first quarter, which they led 10-7.
No. 3: 1973 Rose Bowl (USC 42, Ohio State 17)
106,829 fans would witness one of the most dominant college football teams ever, as John McKay’s Trojans would decimate Woody Hayes Buckeyes on their way to an undefeated 12-0 season and a first time ever unanimous choice as the No. 1 team in the nation.
USC running back Sam “Bam” Cunningham was named bowl MVP, as he ran for a Rose Bowl record four touchdowns and wide receiver Lynn Swann added another in the rout. This Trojan team featured 33 players who would play in the NFL, including an amazing five first-round draft choices.
No. 2: 1939 Rose Bowl (USC 7, Duke 3)
In one of the greatest upsets in college football history, the Trojans came into this game at 8-2 to face a juggernaut of a Duke team that entered the Rose Bowl with an unblemished 9-0 record.
But it just wasn’t that Duke was a very good undefeated team.
The thing is, the Blue Devils hadn’t even been scored upon all year! A daunting Trojan task to be sure lay in front of them.
In the game, which was a struggle for both teams from the start, Duke led 3-0 with just a few minutes left to go.
Enter Doyle Knave, a seldom used quarterback reserve.
Knave completed four passes on the Trojans last drive, with the final pass settling into the arms of USC great, wide receiver Al Krueger, who scores with a minute left to stun the Blue Devils.
This game remains a classic in the annals of the sport.
No. 1: 2005 Orange Bowl (USC 55, Oklahoma 19)
Although the record books won’t reflect it due to the NCAA’s punishment of the Trojans over the Reggie Bush scandal, those who saw this game know how completely USC dominated No. 2 and undefeated Oklahoma in this much anticipated matchup of legendary programs.
Matt Leinart would follow up his Rose Bowl MVP performance the year before by being named the Orange Bowl most valuable player after throwing four touchdown passes, as the Trojans would put this one away early.
Of course, as any good college football fan will tell you, any bowl victory is a good victory and should be acknowledged as such.
However, when you are compiling a list of postseason wins for a legendary program such as USC, some victories will have to be left off in paring it down to 25 of the all time best.
For those players and teams who didn’t make the cut, Trojan fans everywhere still salute you, as do I.
However, this list represents one writer’s opinion of the very best bowl victories for the Trojans, and in preparing it, I was struck by how many truly great teams USC has blessed their fans with.
So it is with eternal gratefulness that I undertook this daunting task.
And I look forward to the day when the next list compiled features the greatest all time 50 Trojan bowl victories.