This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
It would be easy to point to the 2003-2005 USC teams as the greatest ever. With all of the talent, all of the expectation and all of the hype it is an easy choice. It is also the freshest in our memories. Regardless of the controversy no surrounding that era it is hard to argue just how great those years were.
But that "Team" wasn't the best...
Eight years ago, ESPN's Page 2 ranked the 1972 USC Trojans as the second best colleg e football team of all-time, just behind Nebraska's 1971 Cornhuskers. Here is what they said...
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.
Hard not to argue that 'SC was blistering that year. Of course, this was written before USC's "Leave No Doubt Tour" of 2004, but we know Keith Jackson is right!
There is no question that Nebraska was right there during this era, they were dominant as well but '72 USC team was arguably the greatest college football team ever, so we will simply leave that as a toss up and to be discussed for another day.
The 1972 team had balance and talent on both side of the ball...the best example I could give is to take the offense of 2004 and the defense of 2008 and put them on the same team...you might get close. These guys could play.
From ESPN's college Football Encyclopedia...(emphasis added)
The 1972 McKay-coached team ranks as one of the greatest in college football history. It had a dizzying array of talent, including sophomore tailback Anthony Davis, fullback Sam Cunningham, offensive tackle Pete Adams, tight end Charles Young, wide receivers Lynn Swann and Edesel Garrison, defensive tackles Jeff Winans and John Grant and linebacker Richard Wood. Five of those players were All-Americas that year; another six were likewise honored during the next two seasons. "I've never seen any team that could beat them," said McKay. USC began 1972 ranked No. 8 and quickly established its superiority, throttling fourth-rated Arkansas on the road. Then it breezed. Its only victory by single digits was a 30-21 decision at Stanford against a 15th-ranked team. The final two games were illustrative of USC's dominance.
Behind Davis' six touchdowns, including two kickoff returns for scores, the Trojans swamped Notre Dame 45-23, and in the Rose Bowl, USC battered Ohio State 42-17 as Davis ran for 157 yards, Cunningham dove for four touchdowns and quarterback Mike Rae completed 18 of 25 passes for 229 yards. USC gained every first-place ballot in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls, a first.
That is how dominant a team they were. 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.
Like in the Pete Carroll era the USC team of 1972 was not afraid to play anyone. They started on the road against Arkansas.
The season opened at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Razorbacks were fourth in the country, USC eighth. Arkansas had come close to a national title shot before losing to Texas, 15-14 in 1969. Coach Frank Broyles was at the height of his great career. Quarterback Joe Ferguson was a star who would be a fine player with the Buffalo Bills. With integration, the Hogs were now a complete football program. But press reports before the game foretold a possible USC win. It was stated that USC possessed 20 pro prospects to Arkansas' four. USC, dressed in their road whites, looked enormous in pre-game drills. A Razorback scout stated that when his team lined up against Troy, each would face "the best player he's ever seen."
Six-point favorite Arkansas struck first to lead 3-0. 54,461 fans went Hog wild. Memories of mediocrity crept into the minds of the Trojans. USC fumbled the kickoff, but shakily managed to recover. A defensive struggle ensued, with Arkansas holding USC in a goal line stand before Lynn Swann returned a punt 35 yards to set up Mike Rae's 26-yard field goat to make it 3-3 at the half.
Rae hit Edesel Garrison for 43 yards in the third quarter, then ran it in himself from the five to put USC ahead, 10-3. Wood intercepted a Ferguson pass, setting up McNeill's run to make it 17-3. McNeill added an 18-yarder. Then Cunningham went in from 17 to ice it, 31-10.
Wood became an instant Trojan legend when he made an incredible 18 tackles in addition to breaking up passes, one interception and two quarterback sacks.
"I know we have the quickest and fastest defense in the country," said Wood. "I'm not worried about the national championship. I just want to go to the Rose Bowl three years in a row."
Mike Rae, finally installed as the starter, directed three touchdown drives. He now was one with a little bit of job security.
"They kept us off-balance all night, run or pass," said Broyles. "Their offense was as strong physically as any we've ever faced, and Wood destroyed everything we tried to do."
Arkansas' hopes for a national championship were transferred to Southern California. On the basis of the impressive road win and Nebraska's loss to UCLA, they vaulted all the way to number one.
This team was so good that some of the same comparisons we heard about the 2003, '04, and '05 teams were said thirty years earlier...
"They're much quicker, have greater over overall size, and their quickness just stuns you," said Beaver coach Dee Andros when asked to compare them to the 1967 national champions. "They are a bunch of great athletes with one overpowering factor: their aggressiveness on both offense and defense."
Reminds me of what Houston Nutt said after 'SC demolished the Hogs after the opening game of the 2005 season...
This was one of the first years that I remember going to games with my dad. I couldn't tell you much about that season the way I could read about it now but it was special because I went with my dad. This wasn't just the greatest USC team ever, I think this was THE greatest CFB team EVER!