Steven Travers is the author of eight books. His latest, "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Los Angeles Lakers" was released this week by Triumph Books, a division of New York publishing giant Random House. In September, "One Night, Two Teams, and the Game That Changed a Nation," the true story of how the 1970 USC-Alabama game helped end segregation in the South, was published. It is in development to be made into a major motion picture. In 2008, Travers's book on college football history, which ranks the top 25 all-time greatest programs in order, will be published. Travers can be contacted at USCSTEVE1@aol.com. His books can be purchased at:
The 2007 college football season has seen every surprise that can be imagined, but there are more in store, folks. One of those is that the Southern California Trojans, considered down and out just a few weeks ago, can still win the National Championship. There are several scenarios in which this can occur.
With one week left in the regular season, USC is eighth in the BCS rankings. If Missouri beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, and West Virginia defeats Pittsburgh in their last Big East game, then those teams will play in New Orleans. If only one of them loses, then Ohio State will take their place. Both the Tigers and Mountaineers must lose for USC to sneak in. Improbable? Considering the crazy nature of this season, it seems less improbable and more likely. More insane things have happened week in and week out already. At this point it is almost expected.
So, if the top two teams lose, here is how USC gets in. First, the Trojans must beat UCLA at the L.A. Coliseum by a large margin. Two years ago USC beat the Bruins at this location, 66-19. Last year, UCLA ruined USC's chance for the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl. The "revenge factor" alone says Southern Cal would like to beat the Bruins, 50-10. This is not an impossibility. Add the "style points" factor and a blowout could occur.
USC would then finish the season 10-2 with a four-game winning streak. This already includes a 44-24 annihilation of 8-1 Arizona State in front of a fired-up road crowd and a national TV audience on Thanksgiving night. What America saw that night was the best team in college football. Mark May of ESPN said that. Does anybody want to play USC right now? If all the BCS contenders were polled on the single team they DO NOT want to play, USC would win that poll. If there were a play-off, USC would be favored to win it, just as they would have been favored in 2002 when they finished 11-2 with an Orange Bowl blowout of Iowa while Ohio State and Miami acted like they did not want to win in the title game.
In 2007, USC has been ranked number one for five weeks, the most of any team. They opened the season number one, and some people even said they had the best team of all time. It certainly looked to be hype, and maybe it was to some extent, but right now it looks more like form is playing itself out; the cream rising to the top. Was everybody so wrong about USC? Apparently not.
Quarterback John David Booty was the Heisman Trophy favorite. Against Arizona State, Booty looked to be every bit of that. It now appears only an injury sustained against Stanford has prevented him from competing for the trophy. Maybe Tim Tebow is better. Maybe.
USC is INCHES away from being unbeaten and untied. With one loss right now, they would be ranked number one. They suffered an absolute deluge of injuries in September and October, leading people to believe the fiction that they were over-rated. Now they are healthy and rolling like Patton through the Low Countries. Their ability to withstand the injuries and still rise is indicative of their greatness and also what separates them from the pack.
Football mirrors society. A number of pretenders made their bid for the National Championship. They were "good time Charlies." As soon as injuries or setbacks appeared before them, they folded. This is the mark of the unimpressives, the losers and whiners, the second rate. When the going got tough, they decided to cut 'n' run. They lost heart. They did not have the courage to see the battle through, to do the hard work necessary to bring victory home because they failed to realize, as so many unimpressives do, that victory is the only option and it is worth fighting for. USC fought for it. Now their victory is rapidly becoming, not a contemplated possibility, but an accomplished past act! Only the real winners of society and sports reap such benefits. Furthermore, USC may well be the "last man standing" because they have the depth other schools sorely lack. This is a program that recruits prep blue chippers to compete with each other; to wait their turn; to back up All-Americans. Heisman-quality stars arrive on coach Pete Carroll's doorstep without prompting just to be part of it. Down the stretch, when depth counts most, USC is at their best every year.
So, if after next Saturday Ohio State is in with one loss, and both Mizzou and West Virginia lose, how does USC get in? The answer is provided herein. Number four Georgia will not get in. First, they do not play a game that can impress voters and computers. Why? Because they did not make the SEC title game. Not only are the Bulldogs not the SEC champions, they are not even the SEC EAST winners. Bye, bye Bulldogs.
Kansas will say they should get in with one loss. Sorry, Jayhawks. When the lights were turned on and the opportunity presented itself, KU failed against Missouri. They will not be the Big 12 champs and, like Georgia, not even the Big 12 West champions. They played a weak schedule and have zero tradition. They have no further opportunity to redeeem themselves. They are pretenders. Nice try.
Virginia Tech is sixth. First, they might lose to Boston College in the ACC championship game, but even if they do not, the Hokies - while sentimental favorites after an off-season shooting - will not have the imprimatur to ward off the juggernauts breathing down their necks. Their conference is not strong enough, their tradition lacks enough weight to withstand final scrutiny.
If Louisiana State beats Tennessee, which they well may not do, the Tigers and lame duck coach Les Miles will certainly jawbone that they are worthy. They probably need to beat the Volunteers by a big margin, which is not likely. They are disappointed and will have to dig deep to pick themselves up against a fired-up rival. The chances that they will do on a neutral field what Southern Cal accomplished at Sun Devil Stadium are not good at all. The comparison between USC and LSU, based on that with which has already been shown before thine eyes, does not favor Louisiana State.
Even if LSU does win big and captures the Southeastern Conference championship, it probably would not be enough. This is a team that had "half a hun' " hung on 'em, to quote Barry Switzer, by an Arkansas team beaten 70-17 and 50-14 (with most of the same players) by USC in the past two seasons. They have given up a lot of points in games when they needed to step up defensively but failed. Whereby Southern Cal is inches away from an unbeaten, untied year, LSU is inches away from a four- or five-loss 2007 season. In the same Thanksgiving showdown weekend in which USC responded with a 44-point blowout of a one-loss ASU squad on the road, LSU lost at home to an unranked opponent. They will not get to back in.
Oklahoma is already ranked behind Southern Cal anyway, but if they beat Missouri they will argue that they are worthy. They have not finished strong, however, losing in unimpressive fashion late in the season to Texas Tech when the chips were down. The Sooners have a strange habit of occasionally getting blown out; looking totally helpless. It has happened on several key occasions over the years. When they faced USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl, they were beaten so badly as to cause quarterback Jason White to say, "I'm embarrassed."
So, there you have the BCS championship game scenario, but wait. If Missouri and West Virginia meet at the Superdome, one of them will undoubtedly win the Bowl Championship Series title. They will not, however, automatically win the historically-more-legitimate Associated Press National Championship. Not by a long shot. Frankly, the winner would need to be darn impressive to overcome the winner of the Rose Bowl.
With USC beating UCLA, they would be the outright Pacific 10 Conference champion, their sixth straight Pac 10 title under Carroll. The Pac 10 has produced the most National Championships in football of any conference. They have also produced the most NCAA championships in all sports; men's and women's . . . basketball, baseball, track, you name. They have the most NFL players, the most Hall of Famers, the most MVPs in all sports, the most Olympians. They are the champions of history, and Southern Cal is the best of the best.
So, USC would play Ohio State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. It would immediately be accorded the status of the "best game of the bowl season." USC vs. Ohio State? Are you kidding? How can Missouri and West Virginia compare with that? The Trojans and Buckeyes in Pasadena are dripping with more glory, more history, more greatness than any bowl game conceivable. This is Woody Hayes vs. John McKay, the "granddaddy of 'em all."
So, if Ohio State beats USC in unimpresive fashion, they very well could win the AP National Championship if the Mizzou-West Virginia winner plays like . . . West Virginia did in a number of their we-don't-really-seem-to-want-to-win games down the stretch this season. West Virginia 16, Mizzouri 13 vs. Ohio State 35, USC 10? Advantage: Buckeyes.
There is only problem with this, which is that the chances of Ohio State beating USC 35-10 are about as good as a one-legged man in a butt-kickin' contest. The Trojans own the Rose Bowl. The Bruins rent the place from September to December, but it is USC's winter residence, their house. They have dominated the Big 10 for decades. Check out footage of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler walking in disgusted, dejected manner after a tough loss. Chances are 90 percent it is footage taken after losing to USC in Pasadena. Against USC and Carroll, the Big 10 has not fared any better in the Arroyo Seco. An 11-1 Michigan squad rolled in last year and got their clocks handed to them by Booty and a Trojan team that was not nearly as good as the current, healthy men of Troy.
A USC-Ohio State Rose Bowl (which would be Jim Tressel's first trip to Pasadena) would be the great showdown for supremacy of the 1990s. Right now, USC is the team of the decade. Their only competition so far is Ohio State. So, if USC beats the Buckeyes by a wide margin on January 1, and the Tigers-Mountaineers winner is unimpressive, could 11-2 USC, the pre-season number one, win their 12th National Championship courtesy of the AP poll? It is unquestionably a longshot; more so than Ohio State's excellent chances, but beating Ohio State big would sure turn a lot of heads. A 12th title, by the way, would break the current 11-all historical tie with rival Notre Dame, a team that has ceded the title "greatest college football program of all time" to USC over the past years!
One other scenario is possible. If between Missouri and West Virginia one wins and on loses, Ohio State would play the team that wins. This is the one scenario in which USC cannot win the title. They would need to play a great, storied power like Ohio State in order to generate the value of a National Championship. If they played LSU, Oklahoma or some other lesser light, it will not be enough.
Now get ready to hear something you have never heard before . . . because nobody has ever done it. Pete Carroll is 74-14 at USC (2001-07). Fair enough. Other coaches have similar records; Bobby Bowden, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Howard Jones, John McKay, Knute Rockne, Jimmy Jones, Frank Leahy, Bear Bryant. But consider this: Carroll's teams have not lost by more than a touchdown since the October 2001 Notre Dame game. His team has been ahead, or threatening to tie or win with seconds left, or were tied in overtime, in 13 of those losses. In other words, with luck and a few good bounces, he could be 87-1 and closing in on a John Wooden-like seventh straight National Championships. Here is the list of coaches who, throughout the travails of Mankind, have a similar record: ZERO.
USC has not lost by more than two touchdowns since Paul Hackett was their coach in 2000. USC has been credited with sixteen national championships in its history. Unlike most other programs, they do not count all of them; they only count the legitimate eleven that they have earned. They do not try to say that the 1929, 1933, 1976, 1979, or 2002 Trojans were that year’s best, even though some organization or service did see fit to declare them just that. They do not use the perverse logic that a “national championship” can be awarded prior to a bowl loss, which if they did would theoretically let them print T-shirts proclaiming that in 1968 or 2005, for instance, well by gum the Trojans were “national champs.” Their eleven national titles tie them with Notre Dame, who also do not claim some of the national titles they could because they are not, as is the case with USC’s extra five, historically recognized as legitimate.
All-time bowl record: 29-16 (through 2006)
National championships: 1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978, 2003, 2004
Heisman Trophies: Mike Garrett (1965), O. J. Simpson (1968), Charles Whites (1979), Marcus Allen (1981), Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004), Reggie Bush (2005)
First round NFL draftees: 67 (through 2007)
Other programs count “national championships” from every Podunk “service” imaginable. They count those won when bowls were lost after the polls were closed; those won when they were on probation, and – perhaps the most rich of all – a consensus Associated Press and United Press International national title in a single season as two titles! Check the media guides and see for yourself.
None of USC’s titles were won in years in which they failed to win a bowl game. Each bowl victory was a major confrontation with a powerhouse from the Big 10, or in the early days with a powerhouse from the East or the South; always the very best that America had to offer. The challenge was met each time. In the years when bowl defeat against a worthy foe came the Trojans way, national championship glory did not. There is one exception to the Rose Bowl gauntlet; the 2005 55-24 BCS Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma which, by the way, was referred to by longtime college football observer Lee Corso as “the greatest game I ever saw any team play.”
National champions – legitimate and historically revised
Modern era/post-World War I (1919-2006)
1. Southern California (7 Heismans) 11 legitimate
1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978, 2003, 2004
1. Notre Dame (7 Heismans) 11 legitimate
1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988
3. Alabama 9 legitimate
1925, 1926, 1930, 1934, 1961, 1965, 1978, 1979, 1992
4. Oklahoma (4 Heismans) 6 legitimate
1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, 2000
5. Ohio State (7 Heismans) 5 legitimate
1942, 1954, 1957, 1968, 2002
6. Nebraska (3 Heismans) 5 legitimate
1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997
7. Miami (2 Heismans) 5 legitimate
1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001
8. Minnesota (1 Heisman) 5 legitimate
1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941
9. Michigan (3 Heismans) 4 legitimate
1923, 1933, 1948, 1997
10. California 4 legitimate
1920, 1921, 1922, 1937
11. Texas (2 Heismans) 3 legitimate
1963, 1969, 2005
12. Army (3 Heismans) 2 legitimate
13. Florida (2 Heismans) 2 legitimate
13. Florida State (2 Heismans) 2 legitimate
15. Louisiana State (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
15. Penn State (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
15. Pittsburgh (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
15. Stanford (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
20. Georgia (2 Heismans) 1 legitimate
20. Auburn (2 Heismans) 1 legitimate
22. Brigham Young (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Syracuse (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. UCLA (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Texas A&M (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Texas Christian (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Princeton (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Colorado (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
29. Tennessee 1 legitimate
30. Michigan State 1 legitimate
30. Clemson 1 legitimate
30. Illinois 1 legitimate
30. Washington 1 legitimate
30. Georgia Tech 1 legitimate
35. Maryland 1 ILLEGITIMATE
36. Arkansas 1 revised
If there is a single piece of evidence that nudges Southern California over Notre Dame for ultimate historical supremacy, it is the fact that their national championships came with the price tag of bowl victory while seven of the Irish titles did not. From 1925 to 1968, Notre Dame was the champions of 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949 and 1966. Their “bowl game” was always against USC. USC, champions in 1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 2003 and 2004, always had to beat not just Notre Dame in Los Angeles and South Bend, but UCLA, too. No bowl defeats mar there national title record.
The second factor favoring Southern California is the commonsensical notion that greater credence be placed on modern events as opposed to “ancient history.” There is no question that Notre Dame is the Rock <ED: CAPITALIZE Rock FOR KNUTE ROCKNE> that college football is built on, but much of that foundation is the sturdy rivalry with the Trojans that, along with the Rose Bowl, nationalized the game.
USC has the edge in that they were a power in the early years after World War I (the best record in the nation, 1920s; three national titles, 1930s); a steady power in the 1940s and 1950s; the greatest dynasty ever in the 1960s and 1970s; usually a top twenty-five, bowl-bound team in the 1980s and 1990s; and now the champions of the twenty-first century (2000s). They are not a nineteenth century Ivy League relic, nor do they do build their record on the backs of championships won in the rugby era (1900s, 1910s). They earned four national championships to Notre Dame’s three prior to World War II. In the decade in which Knute Rockne reigned supreme, it was the Trojans who actually had a better record than the Irish.
Number one overall pro football draft choices
1. Southern California 5
1. Notre Dame 5
1. Alabama 5
4. Miami 3
4. Ohio State 3
4. Oklahoma 3
4. Nebraska 3
8. Michigan 1
Bowl win-loss records
1. Southern California 29-16
2. Alabama 30-21-3
3. Penn State 25-12-2
4. Oklahoma 24-15-1
5. Miami 19-14
6. Texas 23-21-2
7. Nebraska 22-22
8. Michigan 18-20
9. Ohio State 18-20
10. Notre Dame *13-15
*Holds NCAA record, most consecutive bowl losses (9), 1994-2006
Southern California: 29-16 (Rose: 22-9, Orange: 2-0, Cotton: 1-0, Fiesta: 0-1)
Alabama: 30-21-3 (Sugar: 8-4, Orange: 4-4, Rose: 4-1-1, Cotton: 3-4)
Miami: 19-14 (Orange: 6-3, Sugar: 2-2, Rose: 1-1, Fiesta: 0-1)
Michigan: 18-20 (Rose: 8-12, Fiesta: 1-0, Orange: 1-1, Sugar: 0-1)
Nebraska: 22-22 (Orange: 8-9, Sugar: 3-1, Fiesta: 2-4, Cotton: 1-2, Rose: 0-2)
Notre Dame: 13-15 (Cotton: 5-2, Orange: 2-3, Sugar: 2-2, Fiesta: 1-3, Rose: 1-0)
Ohio State: 18-20 (Rose: 6-7, Fiesta: 4-1, Orange: 1-0, Sugar: 1-2, Cotton: 1-0, BCS: 0-1)
Oklahoma: 24-15-1 (Orange: 12-8, Sugar: 4-2, Fiesta: 1-2, Rose: 1-0, Cotton: 1-0)
Penn State: 25-12-2
Super Bowl appearances (through 2005)
1. Southern California 92
2. Miami 80
3. Michigan 62
4. Nebraska 58
5. Alabama 55
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Southern California 14 (11 players, 3 coaches through 2007)
Notre Dame 9
Ohio State 6
Penn State 5
Super Bowl - winning team (through 2005)
1. Southern California 45
2. Notre Dame 38
3. Penn State 35
USC’s “teammate Heismans”
1979 Charles White
1981 Marcus Allen
2002 Carson Palmer
2004 Matt Leinart
2004 Matt Leinart
2005 Reggie Bush
Pro football draft choices (through 2006)
1. Southern California 458 (430 (NFL, 28 AFL)
2. Notre Dame 453
3. Oklahoma 327
4. Alabama 301
5. Ohio State 316
6. Miami 283
National championships (1970-2006)
1. Southern California 5
1. Nebraska 5
1. Miami 5
4. Alabama 4
4. Oklahoma 4
6. Notre Dame 3
Bowl Championship Series national championships (1998-2006)
1. Southern California: 1, 2004 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Ohio State: 1, 2002 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Miami: 1, 2001 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Oklahoma: 1, 2000 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Texas: 1, 2005 (1-0 in BCS championship games)
6. Nebraska: 0 (0-1 in BCS championship game)
10. Alabama: 0
10. Michigan: 0
10. Notre Dame: 0
10. Penn State: 0
Streaking Trojans in the Pete Carroll Era
29-1 (2002-04) 30 games
29-1 (2002-03) 30 games
50-10 (2001-05) 60 games
46-4 (2001-05) 50 games
29-1 (2002-05) 30 games
48-2 (2002-05) 50 games
47-3 (2002-05) 50 games
60-10 (2001-06) 70 games
63-7 (2001-06) 70 games
55-5 (2001-06) 60 games
46-4 (2002-06) 50 games
38-2 (2002-06) 50 games
56-4 (2002-06) 60 games
48-2 (2002-06) 50 games
55-5 (2002-06) 50 games
48-2 (2002-03) 50 games
56-4 (2002-06) 50 games
Heisman Trophy winners
Southern California 7
Notre Dame 7
Ohio State 7
Penn State 1
Rose Bowl records
Pacific Coast-AAWU-Pac-8/10 45-41-3
Big 10 25-28
Big 12 3-2
Military service-academies 2-1-2
Independent-"Ivy League" 2-2-1
Big East 1-0
Southern California 22-9
Ohio State 4-7
Michigan State 3-1
Washington State 1-3
Oregon State 1-2
Arizona State 1-1
Penn State 1-1
Mare Island Marines 1-1
Georgia Tech 1-0
Notre Dame 1-0
Great Lakes 1-0
Washington & Jefferson 0-0-1
Camp Lewis 0-1
Southern Methodist 0-1
The "granddaddy of ‘em all" represents the single greatest barometer of college football excellence there is. The Rose Bowl is the most prestigious of all the bowl games; the oldest, the most established, the one generating the most attention. It has more consistently than any other game pitted the two best teams in the country. It has produced more national champions and decided more titles than any other bowl by a long shot. Michigan dominated in the first Rose Bowl; the Big 10 in the first decade of the post-World War II arrangement. The overall record of this game demonstrates Pacific Coast superiority.
National champions (historical, systems, polls, BCS) produced by the Rose Bowl include (years reflect the January date of the games): Michigan (1902), Washington (1916), Oregon (1917), Harvard (1920), California (1921-1922), Notre Dame (1925), Alabama (1926-1927), Stanford (1927), Alabama (1931), USC (1932-1933), Alabama (1935), California (1938), USC (1940), Stanford (1941), Ohio State (1955), Ohio State (1958), USC (1963), USC (1968), Ohio State (1969), USC (1973), USC (1975), USC (1979), Washington (1992), Michigan (1998), Miami (2002), USC (2004), and Texas (2006).
The Rose Bowl was usually, for all practical purposes, a "national championship game" until World War II. The winner in Pasadena was assured of national championship status in one way or another in 1921 (Cal over Ohio State), 1925 (Notre Dame over Stanford), 1926 (Alabama over Washington), 1927 (Stanford tied Alabama), 1932 (USC over Tulane), and 1940 (USC over Tennessee). After the war, both teams knew ahead of time that if they won, some form of the “brass ring” would come their way in 1963 (USC over Wisconsin), 1969 (Ohio State over USC), 2002 (Miami over Nebraska), and 2006 (Texas over USC). Twice, tie games still produced national champions. In 1922, Cal tied Washington & Jefferson and won the title. As mentioned, the 1927 Stanford-Alabama tie resulted in splitting the title.
Georgia Tech’s 1929 win over Cal vaulted them to national championship status in some of the systems. Georgia argued that they should have been the national champions after beating UCLA in 1943. The Rose Bowl also had the effect of knocking teams out of the national title picture (in some cases the systems as polls were closed) when they lost to non-national championship contenders. These included Pitt (to Stanford, 1928), SMU (to Stanford, 1936), Duke (to USC, 1939 and to Oregon State, 1942), UCLA (to Illinois, 1947), Cal (to Northwestern, 1949; to Ohio State, 1950; and to Michigan, 1951), Ohio State (to Stanford, 1971), Michigan (to Stanford, 1972), Ohio State (to UCLA, 1976), Ohio State (to USC, 1980), and Arizona State (to Ohio State, 1997). In 1961 Minnesota lost to Washington. They retained the AP and UPI "titles" from before the game, but history illegitimatizes them. Michigan State’s 1966 loss to UCLA relegates their "UPI title" to the broom closet, as well.
On January 1, 1980, USC’s win over Ohio State (number one had they prevailed) would have given the Trojans the national championship if Alabama had lost that night to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. In 1995 Penn State’s win over Oregon would have given the Nittany Lions the final number one ranking had Nebraska lost the Orange Bowl to Miami.
In college football there never has been a play-off. The Rose Bowl traditionally represents the greatest historical arbiter of national success. It is the closest thing the game has to a Super Bowl or a Final Four. The polls and the systems are fraught with obvious miscalculations and oversights. The Rose Bowl therefore is the best place to determine a century’s worth of superiority on the field of play.
It is not a perfect system, of course. The game tends to favor the Pac-10 team, especially USC and UCLA. It is played right next to their town. In UCLA’s case, it is played in their stadium. While the ticket distribution is as even as possible, naturally the L.A. and West Coast schools play in front of de facto "home crowds."
Call it a "historical accident," or perhaps a "self-fulfilling prophesy," but the Rose Bowl game has had the effect of elevating USC and the Pac-10 above other teams and conferences. The legend of USC is made in large part by the Rose Bowl. The legend of the Rose Bowl is made in large part by USC. It is not unlike the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. What came first? Who helps whom the most?
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism