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The Great Ones Hardcover – October 15, 1999
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The 2004 Trojans also boast the Heisman Trophy winner, two-time junior All-American quarterback Matt Leinart. His teammate, All-American sophomore running back Reggie Bush, was a New York finalist for the award. USC won a repeat National Championship, a feat rarely done. They are in the middle of a 22-game winning streak. They beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, a game that was previewed as the greatest game in college football history. The 1944-45 Army Cadets featured a similar winning streak and two Heisman winners, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. There are other teams that compare, but nobody has done it quite the way Carroll's team is doing it.
A few came close. The 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers featured an undefeated regular season that included winners of the Heisman and Outland Trophies. They lost to Miami in the Orange Bowl. The 2003 Oklahoma Sooners looked to be on a similar path, but their Heisman winner, Jason White, faltered in the Big 12 championship game as well as the Orange Bowl.
In light of USC's recent dominance, it is worth considering their place in history. Not just the current Trojans, but USC's football program going back to the beginning of the 20th Century. It is time to take the mantel of "greatest program in the history of college football" away from the struggling Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and lay it squarely with the deserving new champions from USC. Furthermore, USC continues to lay claim to the greatest historical athletic program in college history, as well.
The two-time defending National Champions are a dynasty. If Leinart returns for his senior year in 2005, they will be better than they were this season. Leinart will be a senior, the Heisman favorite (as he was all of this year), and a three-time All-American. He will walk away from his career with more honors than any player ever; three National Championships (?), two Heismans (?), the Johnny Unitas Award, the Walter Camp Award, the Maxwell Trophy, the Davey O'Brien Award, et al. He will probably be the number one pick in the NFL draft.
The 2003-04 Trojans are very possibly the greatest two-year dynasty ever. If they win a third title in 2005, that will be a first. They lose a couple of linebackers, but aside from Leinart, Bush will be a junior, running backs LenDale White and Herschel Dennis return, the whole offensive line returns, the tight ends and receivers are back, and the defense will be, for the most part, experienced. The 2005 Trojans have the potential to be the greatest single-season team ever assembled, better even than the 1972 Trojans. Soph-to-be Jeff Byers was the nation's best lineman coming out of high school and could win the Outland Trophy before graduating. Soph-to-be linebacker Keith Rivers was the top prep at his position and may garner a Butkus trophy some day. If Leinart leaves for the NFL, USC will re-tool at quarterback with one of two blue chip recruits.
In 2005, John David Booty will be a red-shirt sophomore. He was the top prep quarterback in America at Louisiana's Evangel Christian High School. His competition? Mark Sanchez, the top prep quarterback in the U.S. at Mission Viejo High (the nation's number two team) in Orange County, California in 2004. USC has had the number one recruiting class in the country for three years in a row. Last year's was considered the greatest of all time. The 2005 class, which will be finalized in February, promises to be just as good. The pipeline is endless. In light of the fact that they will enter next season ranked number one, favored to win their third National Championship in a row, they are worthy of continued hype. Consider that if Troy runs the table in '05, their winning streak will probably be 35. With either Booty or Sanchez living up to the challenge, maybe with senior running back Bush winning the Heisman and starring with a cast headlined by juniors Rivers and Byers, the 2006 Trojans could challenge Oklahoma's 57-game winning streak of the 1950s. Now we are looking at four National Championships in a row, but wait, there is more. Booty could quarterback the team in 2006 and 2007. Sanchez would be a red-shirt junior and senior in 2008-09. Considering that the last two SC quarterbacks (Carson Palmer in 2002 and Leinart in '04) won the Heisman, USC could conceivably come away with four more of the trophies before the end of this decade. The scenario could be:
2005: Senior quarterback Matt Leinart, USC.
2006: Senior running back Reggie Bush, USC.
2007: Senior USC quarterback John David Booty, USC (Oklahoma running back Adrian Petersen will be a pro by then).
2009: Senior quarterback Mark Sanchez, USC.
Steven Travers is the author of the Best Selling "Barry Bonds: Baseball's Superman". A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is currently working on a new book, "The Turning of the Tide", with former Trojan football stars Sam "Bam" Cunningham and John Papadakis. "The Turning of the Tide" documents how the 1970 USC-Alabama game ended segregation in the American South. In addition to the book, a film and documentary are in development. Steven can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com.
So Matt Leinart came back for his senior season. Yet strangely, he didn't win a third national championship. As a matter of fact, he never won a "second" national championship...Matt Leinart is the holder of one and one-half national championships, the "half" championship being a generous deferral to the breach of contract between the Associated Press and the Bowl Championship Series. Let's not forget that LSU, not USC, took home the Sears Trophy in 2003. USC and LSU each had one loss: USC to an 8-6 Cal team, LSU to an 8-5 Florida team. Of course, USC was all too eager to claim this bogus national championship in 2003. In fact, they should be thankful that they played Oklahoma, and not the undefeated Auburn Tigers in 2004--if they had met the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, their non-championship from the year before may have been the closest they ever came to the Sears Trophy (for that matter, where were the writers in 2004? Why was no one scrambling to award Tommy Tubberville a bogus national championship in '04 just as they had done for Carrol in '03?)
So Reggie Bush won a Heisman (although as a junior, not a senior). However, after January 3, I don't think anybody in the country really thinks that Reggie was the proper recipient of that award. Vince Young was twice the player that Bush was all season (need proof? Vince wears #10. Bush wears #5. 10 is twice as much as 5. I rest my case). Bush was a beneficiary of media coddling and a masterful spin campaign. Bush gains 500 "all-purpose" yards against a pitiful Fresno State team (over 100 of which were punt return yards), and ESPN doesn't stop talking about it for two weeks. Yet just days before, Vince had racked up 500 REAL yards (that's passing and running, kiddies) against Oklahoma State, on the road in Stillwater, and all anyone wanted to talk about was how the Longhorns should never have been down to OSU in the first place. Of course no one mentioned that the Fresno State team that took USC down to the wire was drilled the very next week by the mighty Nevada Wolfpack. Reggie owes Vince Young that Heisman just as surely as his mom and dad owe two years of back rent on the mansion they lived in for free during Reggie's time at USC.
I laughed out loud at the claim that USC is the "greatest historical athletic program." The University of Texas has dominated in football, baseball, track and field, swimming, diving, softball, and just for good measure, we decided to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen in basketball this year. Our football and baseball teams are concurrent national champions. USC, on the other hand, has borrowed a page from Notre Dame (a school towards which USC has an obvious inferiority complex) by retroactively awarding themselves a number of so-called "national championships" that they were never actually awarded, from a period of time before there was a reliable, nationally-accredited polling system.
In fact, it turns out the "dynasty" in Pasadena lasted about a year. With its predictable penchant for hyperbole, ESPN boldly claimed to its millions of viewers that the 2005 USC Trojans were superior to all of the previous college football greats: Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and so on and so forth. Yet USC was beaten by the indominatable Vince Young and the National Champion Texas Longhorns. So the conclusion is inescapable: the 2005 Texas Longhorns are the greatest team ever.