Narrowing down a list of the best players in a college football program’s history is always a challenge. But it’s an especially tough exercise for a program as storied as USC. Regardless, here are our eight greatest USC football players ever.
8. Junior Seau
Career accolades: 1989 PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year
Junior Seau’s USC career is an abbreviated one, as he played just two seasons with the Trojans. However, his brief tenure was a dominant one. In 1989, he recorded 27 tackles for loss and 19 sacks. Seau’s dominance set the precedent for a lineage of USC linebackers.
7. Mike Garrett
Career stats: 3,221 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 399 receiving yards, 29 touchdowns
Career accolades: 1965 Heisman Trophy winner, 1962 national champion
Five USC running backs have won the Heisman Trophy, but Garrett was the first. He set the bar high for all the incredible Trojan tailbacks that came after him. And without Mike Garrett, USC may have never earned the reputation of “Tailback U.”
6. Ronnie Lott
Career accolades: 1978 national champion
Lott is one of the greatest defensive backs in both collegiate and professional football. But his legendary career started at USC, where he goes down as arguably the most dominant defender in program history. He picked off 14 passes during his collegiate career and was one of the hardest-hitting players in the game.
5. Reggie Bush
Career stats: 3,169 rushing yards, 95 receptions, 1,301 receiving yards, 38 total touchdowns
Career accolades: 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, 2004 national champion
Technically, Bush is no longer the 2005 Heisman winner after the NCAA (foolishly) revoked the award years after he was found to have received improper benefits. But his ability during his Trojans tenure was undeniable and there’s no doubting his validity on this list.
And even though Bush ranks just eighth all-time in rushing at USC, his 2005 campaign is perhaps the most electric in the school’s iconic history. Bush put up more than 2,100 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Bush is a transcendent player, whether the archaic NCAA chooses to acknowledge it or not.
4. Matt Leinart
Career stats: 10,963 passing yards, 64.8% completion percentage, 99 touchdowns, 23 interceptions
Career accolades: 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, 2004 national champion, 37-2 record as starter
Leinart is perhaps the most decorated quarterback in USC history. He lost two games in three full seasons as a starter and ranks third all-time in passing yards. In a way, Leinart also represents the program’s last glorious run, as USC hasn’t had a quarterback as great as him since.
3. O.J. Simpson
Career stats: 3,423 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 320 receiving yards, 36 touchdowns
Career accolades: 1968 Heisman Trophy winner, 1967 national champion
O.J. Simpson ranks sixth all-time in rushing at USC. He only played two seasons at USC. Simpson put up 1,543 yards in 1967, when he finished runner-up in the Heisman voting. However, he left no doubt the following season, when he put up 1,880 yards and 23 touchdowns. Simpson is one of the most talented players in Trojans history.
2. Charles White
Career stats: 6,245 rushing yards, 59 receptions, 541 receiving yards, 53 total touchdowns
Career accolades: 1979 Heisman Trophy winner, 1978 national champion
The leading rusher in USC history isn’t Reggie Bush, or O.J. Simpson, or Marcus Allen. No, it’s actually Charles White, who put more nearly 7,000 all-purpose yards from 1976-79. White is also one of 35 running backs to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a single season.
1. Marcus Allen
Career stats: 4,810 rushing yards, 86 receptions, 801 yards, 47 total touchdowns
Career accolades: 1981 Heisman Trophy winner, 1978 national champion
Marcus Allen’s first two years at Southern Cal were, a bit quiet. Why? Oh, he just happened to be behind USC’s all-time leading rusher during the 1978-79 seasons. But once Allen got his chance, he sure took advantage. In 1980 he burst onto the scene with a 1,563-yard season. But Allen’s senior season was one of the best in college football history. Allen rushed for 2,427 yards, the fourth-most in a single season in the sport’s history, and scored 23 total touchdowns.
The only real question about Allen’s career is what he could’ve done if given a full four years as the starter. All it took him was two years to cement his legendary status.