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The Greatest Teams of All-Time: We've Got Four

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As DC Trojan mentioned in a previous post, ESPN's "experts" put together the All-Time Greatest College Football Playoff, a chance for us to vote for the "greatest team ever" in a 32-team bracket format. Here's the hype:

How would John McKay's 1972 USC Trojans fare against Herschel Walker's 1980 Georgia Bulldogs? What about the national champion Texas Longhorns of 2005 against the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners? Which team would win head-to-head?
This is cool, but the really great news for USC Football fans is that we have four chances to win: USC teams from 1932, '62, '72, and '04 made the "tournament." Oklahoma has the most with five. As for USC's rivals, ND has three, and alas, ugla has none.

Anyway, the first-round winners will be announced tonight, so get over to ESPN.com and vote. But before you do, we've put together a rundown of three of our four teams in the "tournament." We figure there's no need to review 2004, since we all saw it for ourselves, right? It's the three teams ending in "2" that we may have some trouble remembering. DC Trojan profiles 1932, Paragon SC takes on 1962, and I've got 1972. Enjoy ...

1932 USC National Champions

by DC Trojan

USC's 1932 National Championship team, known as the Thundering Herd, built on several years of success with Coach Howard Jones. Jones had come to USC in 1925 after Elmer "Gloomy Gus" Henderson was let go for failing to beat Cal for several years in a row and USC subsequently then failed to lure Knute Rockne west. Within a couple of years Howard Jones had the Trojans playing well enough to win the Pacific Coast Conference in 1928, narrowly missing a chance at the National Championship after going 9-0-1. It's worth noting that the Cal game in 1928 included some field "management" that makes the long grass in South Bend look like nothing at all:

The playing field conditions at Cal were terrible and were the subject of considerable controversy. To begin with, the field had no grass and was covered with a thin layer of sand. Also, despite the absence of rain all week,the field was extremely wet. As the Herald reporter observed: "Just how it got wet is one of those intriguing mysteries. One version is that there was a slight precipitation, limited by some strange meteorological freak to the confines of the Memorial Stadium." To make matters worse, prior to the main event there was a preliminary game between the Cal freshmen and a service team, which left the field a disaster before USC and Cal came out of the locker rooms. Interestingly, neither Brick Morse nor Dan Brodie mention any of this in their otherwise fine histories on California football. -- Ray Schmidt, 1989.
In any case, 1931 was really the watershed year for the Thundering Herd, including the first win over Notre Dame in South Bend, which turned out to be also the first of three in a row, and which prompted 80,000 people to turn out to welcome the team home to Los Angeles. For the 1931 season, the team managed an overall record of 9-1-0, a Rose Bowl win over Tulane, and a National Championship.

In 1932, however, there were concerns as USC had to replace several standouts from the 1931 team who had graduated. Showing some considerable depth, the Thundering Herd took it up a notch on defense and was even more dominant against opponents, producing an unbeaten 10-0-0 season in which they scored 201 points and allowed only 13. The first five games were shut-outs, and it wasn't until the fourth quarter against Cal that USC gave up a touchdown. The Thundering Herd consoled themselves by pasting Oregon 33 - 0 during the next game, and then in a slight let-down only managed a 9 - 6 win over Washington. That was it for opponents scoring in the 1932 season; Notre Dame was held off to a score of 13 - 0, and a Rose Bowl win of 35 - 0 over Pittsburgh brought USC the National Championship.

Incidentally, the last member of that 1932 Thundering Herd team passed away only last month: Larry Stevens was a guard on the 1931 and 1932 teams, and died on November 29, 2006, in Sacramento.

(Note: This is based on several articles from College Football Historical Society Newsletters at the Amateur Athletic foundation homepage, principally by Ray Schmidt in 1989, and Joe Marvin in 1992, and the USC 2006 Media Guide.)

1962 USC National Champions

by Paragon SC

1962 was Head Coach John McKay's third year at USC as they began the year unranked. Team Captains were Marv Marinovich and Ben Wilson. USC ran the "I" formation, adopted by Coach McKay with tailback Willie Brown, fullback Ben Wilson.

This was the year that was considered the "breakthrough" year for Coach McKay. Recruiting was the key to his success in '62. (Gee, where have we heard that before?) He also "borrowed" the Arkansas defensive scheme from his good friend Frank Broyles. With speed on both sides of the ball and two great QB's in Pete Beathard and Bill Nelsen, as well as wide receiver Hal Bedsole, a big man (6-5, 220), who could fly. SC would become a formidable force that year. McKay revolutionized the game when he adopted the "I" formation; he had the tailback stand up in backfield ~ 7 yards deep, so he could scan the defense. He moved Willie Brown from flanker to the backfield.

The Trojans started out the season by beating 8th ranked Duke 14-7 moving to 9th in the polls. They had shutouts of Iowa, 7-0 on the road, Washington, 14-0 at the Coliseum and ND 25-0 also at the Coliseum. They also beat UCLA 14-3. In 1962 they beat three ranked teams, #8 Duke, #9 Washington and #2 Wisconsin (Rose Bowl). In 10 regular season games USC outscored the opposition 219-55 and held eight opponents to seven points or less.

From the USC Media Guide:

The 1962 team had a perfect 11-0 record to win the national championship. The best and most thrilling aspect of the season was the 1963 Rose Bowl game with Wisconsin. The Trojans built what seemed an almost insurmountable lead, 42-14. They almost lost the game when Wisconsin quarterback Ron VanderKelen completed 18 of 22 passes in the fourth quarter, 33 of 48 in the game for 401 yards, in a remarkable near-comeback. Final score: USC 42, Wisconsin 37.

The team led by QB duo of Pete Beathard and Bill Nelsen. The duo threw 18 TD's to just 3 INT's. Consensus All America end Hal Bedsole caught 11 TD's, 33 receptions and 827 yards overall.

Brown led the team rushing, interceptions, punt returns, kickoff returns, and was second leading receiver. USC allowed more than 10 points just once during the regular season.

More on the Rose Bowl:
USC beat Wisconsin 42-37 in the Rose Bowl, a classic game as USC was up big, sat on the ball, Wisconsin came back but USC held on. USC had a 42-14 lead in John McKay's Rose Bowl debut, Pete Beathard threw 4 TD's. Wisconsin scored 23 points in the fourth quarter, 11 Rose Bowl records were broken, and comeback led by Ron VanderKelen who hit 33 of 48 passes for 401 yards. Rose Bowl against Wisconsin was one of USC's six all-time "one versus two" appearances. It was USC's first title since the '39 team, and it started a dynasty of sorts. From 1962 to 1981, USC won 5 national titles, played in 11 Rose Bowls, collected four Heisman Trophies.

Miscellaneous Stats:

Team rushing totals:
509 carries, 1997 yards, 3.92 YPC, 19 TD's

Team passing totals:
91/197 (.462) 1644 yards, 18 TD/3 INT.
331 yards of total offense/game, 37 TD's.

One weakness that didn't matter: USC kicked just one field goal that year, only connected on 22 of 28 extra-point tries, and were successful on just 3 of 10 2-extra point tries.

Rush defense: 460 carries/1401 yards, 3.0 average, 8 TD's, 127.4 yards/game

Pass defense: 133/249 (.534), 4 TD/22 INT, 1461 yards, 132.8 yards/game, 90.33 efficiency

rating

Total defense: 260 yards/game, 12 TD's, 8.4 Points/game allowed.

Post-season awards:

Coach McKay was named coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association and Football Writers Association of America.

All-Americans: End Hal Bedsole, linebacker Damon Bame.

All-Conference: Bedsole, tackle Gary Kirner, Bame, quarterback Pete Beathard, halfback Willie Brown.

Also of note: This was all done BEFORE the debut of Mike Garrett. This title was won without any of the great Heisman winners that were to come and it no question did a lot to convince a number of future greats to come to SC.

(Note: A big Thank You to CFR in tracking down this data for the post.)

1972 USC National Champions

by Displaced Trojan

Four years ago, ESPN's Page 2 ranked the 1972 USC Trojans as the second best college football team of all-time, just behind Nebraska's 1971 Cornhuskers. Said the "world wide leader":

USC, coached by John McKay, finished the season 12-0 after blowing out Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl. In the process, the Trojans became the first team to be named No. 1 on every ballot of both the coaches and media polls. Keith Jackson, who's forgotten more about college football than we'll ever know, said the '72 Trojans were the best ever. He might be right, but we're giving Nebraska just a slight edge.
Of course, this was written before USC's "Leave No Doubt Tour" of 2004, but we know Keith Jackson is right! Not only were the '72 Trojans the unanimous No. 1 in both polls, but USC's strength of schedule and the dominance it displayed in plowing through its opponents was astounding, if not unprecedented.

The `72 Trojans beat their 12 opponents by an average of almost 28 points per game. Their schedule included six ranked teams -- No. 4 Nebraska, No. 15 Stanford, No. 18 Washington, No. 14 UCLA, No. 10 Notre Dame, and No. 3 Ohio State -- which USC beat by an average of 20.2 points per game. And, as ESPN pointed out, the '72 Trojans capped the season with a 25-point victory over the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl.

In terms of pure talent, '72 USC also had five first-team All-Americans: linebacker Richard Wood, fullback Sam "Bam" Cunningham, offensive tackle Pete Adams, defensive tackle John Grant, and consensus pick at tight end Charlie Young. In addition, 10 seniors were taken in the 1973 NFL draft, including three first-round selections: Young, Cunningham, and Adams.

But that's just the seniors. The '72 underclassmen included future All-American (not to mention NFL Hall-of-Famer) Lynn Swann, who was a junior that year, as well two standout sophomores: USC legend and "Irish" killer Anthony Davis and Wood, the Trojans' first three-time, first-team All-American.

No doubt about it. Keith Jackson knows what he's talking about. Then again, there's 2004 ...