Despite missing a bowl game this year, the USC Trojans have been to 54 total bowl games, going an impressive 35-19. That ranks as the best winning percentage (64.9 percent) among teams that have appeared in a bowl game at least 25 times. Here are the ten best performances by USC in a bowl game.
10. USC vs. Pittsburgh Panthers, Rose Bowl 1933
In a 35-0 beating, USC completed an undefeated season and won the National Championship, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter. Led by head coach Howard Jones, USC had what may be the greatest defensive season ever, allowing just 13 points over ten games while shutting out their opponents eight times.
9. USC vs. Wisconsin Badgers, Rose Bowl 1963
After two consecutive losing seasons to start his career, head coach John McKay won his first national title, as USC beat Wisconsin 42-37 in the first bowl game matchup between teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2. Despite a pathetic fourth quarter showing, where Wisconsin scored 23 unanswered points, USC was able to hang on for the win and complete an undefeated season at 11-0. It was a good year for the Trojans, as both Notre Dame and UCLA failed to have a winning record or score a touchdown against USC.
8. USC vs. Penn State Nittany Lions, Rose Bowl 2009
After a shocking week three upset in Corvallis against Oregon State, USC was unable to play in the national title game. However, everyone knew who the best team in college football was. With a defense featuring Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews III, and Everson Griffen, USC easily beat Penn State 38-24, leading at half time 31-7. Ronald Johnson had a big game, catching two touchdowns while Mark Sanchez had five total touchdowns (four pass, one run).
7. USC vs. Iowa Hawkeyes, Orange Bowl 2003
In Pete Carroll’s coming out party, Heisman winner Carson Palmer and the Trojans pounded the Hawkeyes 38-17. After Iowa took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, USC outscored the Hawkeyes 38-3 before a touchdown was added in garbage time. USC would win the national title the following two years.
6. USC vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, Rose Bowl 1973
In front of a crowd of over 106,000, USC completed an undefeated season by humiliating Ohio State by a score of 42-17. Sam Cunningham scored four touchdowns and USC became the first team to be ranked number one unanimously in both polls. With USC leading 14-10 late in the third quarter, Anthony Davis scored on a 20-yard touchdown run. Cunningham then scored on one yard touchdown runs three times over the next 11 minutes.
5. USC vs. Michigan Wolverines, Rose Bowl 2004
Despite losing just one game on the road in triple overtime against a solid Cal team, USC was left out of the national title game by the BCS. The AP and Coaches Poll had USC ranked number one while the BCS ranked USC number three. USC then promptly proved just how wrong the BCS was by beating Michigan 28-14, punctuated by a touchdown catch by quarterback Matt Leinart from wide receiver Mike Williams in the third quarter that gave USC a 28-7 lead. Although the Coaches Poll gave LSU the national championship after beating Oklahoma, the AP Poll named USC number one, resulting in a split national title for the first time in six years.
4. USC vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, Rose Bowl 1975
In John McKay’s final national title, USC beat Ohio State 18-17. Quarterback Pat Haden threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to J.K. McKay to take the lead. On the ensuing drive, Ohio State missed a long field goal, giving USC the win. This game was all made possible by the “Anthony Davis Game” in which USC trailed No. 5 Notre Dame 24-0 near halftime and came back to win 55-24.
3. USC vs. Ohio State Buckeyes, Rose Bowl 1980
After blowing a 21-0 lead earlier in the season against Stanford which resulted in a 21-21 tie, USC was playing spoilers, as an Ohio State win would give the Buckeyes a share of the national title with Alabama. Trailing 16-10 with the game winding down, USC put the ball in their best players hands, as Heisman winner Charles White dived over the line and into the end zone for a one yard touchdown run to win the game.
2. USC vs. Penn State Nittany Lions, Rose Bowl 2017
In a season that started with a 52-6 loss to Alabama and a 1-3 record, USC could not have finished the season any better. After a quarterback change, USC reeled off eight straight wins and got the opportunity to face the Big Ten Champions, Penn State, in the Rose Bowl. In a coming out party for future number two pick Saquon Barkley and number three pick Sam Darnold, USC trailed by as many as 15 points before outscoring Penn State 17-0 in the fourth quarter to win it 52-49. Matt Boermeester nailed a 46-yard field goal as time expired while Darnold threw for five touchdowns, breaking Texas’ Vince Young’s record.
1. USC vs. Oklahoma Sooners, Orange Bowl 2005
After being left out of the national title game a year before in favor of Oklahoma, USC had extra reason to win, and to try and win big. Oklahoma opened the game with a touchdown, the only lead they would have in the game. USC promptly outscored Oklahoma 55-3 after that first touchdown until Oklahoma added points in garbage time. At one point, USC scored 38 points in a stretch of 20 minutes. Heisman winner Matt Leinart threw for five touchdowns as eventual Heisman winner Reggie Bush had little to do. USC won 55-19 to complete an undefeated season.
Which USC coach provided the best bowl game performances?