Ranking college football schools of the 20th Century, Troy is in an elite class.
They were the stuff of myth, legend and hyperbole.
USC "wasn't a football team," Jim Murray wrote, in one form or another, many times over many years, "they were the Wehrmacht marching on Poland…Patton's Army in the Rhine…Napoleon's Italian Campaign…Sherman plundering Georgia…"
Furthermore, USC did it with style and flair, and not just a little bit of Hollywood.
After all, this was the school that produced John Wayne. Trojan football players were extras in movies for years, until the NCAA banned the practice. Aaron Rosenberg went from All-American to TV mogul.
The Cardinal and Gold loved to keep you on the edge of your seat, just like any good movie. There was Jim Baker's field goal to beat Notre Dame in 1931, and Doyle Knave's last-minute pass to Al Kreuger which beat undefeated, unscored-upon Duke in the 1939 Rose Bowl. Who could forget the 42-37 Rose Bowl thriller over Wisconsin's Ron VanderKelen in the 1963 Rose Bowl?
Ever heard of the Cardiac Kids? They went undefeated in 1969, and almost every win was filled with last-minute heroics. Or Anthony Davis' (pick one) six touchdowns in1972, or four touchdowns in 1974 vs. Notre Dame, the latter coming in a 55-point, 17-minute earthquake that took SC from 24-0 down to a 55-24 win.
Joe Montana came out guns firing in 1978, but Southern Cal put him on a plane back to South Bend stinging from a tough loss, en route to their last National Championship.
Ah, as Shakespeare said, there's the rub.
Their <ital>last<end ital> National Championship! A lot has happened since 1978. Presidents have come and gone. We have cable television and the Internet now. Film footage from 1978 looks…old. You know why? It is!
USC alumni once roamed the streets of LA like arrogant dinosaurs.
Today they just wish people would forget about O.J. Simpson.
Trojan football is pedestrian these days, and their proud tradition is, if not a thing of the past, tattered, like an aging Tennessee Williams maiden yearning for antebellum times.
Unlike Blanche Dubois, however, youth springs eternal, in the form of incoming freshman every year, and one of these seasons they will field a class that takes them back to the Promised Land.
Until that time, however, Trojans' pass legend and myth down to their young. In so doing, and in keeping with the fact that they are now embarking on their first football season of the Twenty-first Century, it seems as good a time as any to rank their tradition against other great college football programs of the past 100 years.
Up until the 1980s, the Trojans' had a firm grip on the number two position, with plenty of reserve to take the lead by 2000, but we all know that never happened. Marcus Allen (1981) had followed in the Heisman tailback footsteps of Mike Garrett (1965), Simpson (1968) and Charles White (1979).
They have eight National Championships. More Trojans have played in the NFL, and more have been All-Pro, than any other school. Legendary Trojans are part of the history of most NFL teams.
In the 1986 Hula Bowl, however, Alabama beat Southern Cal to take over as the winningest bowl team ever.
Separating the wheat from the chaff
First, let us eliminate a few teams. UCLA, SC's cross-town rival, is a great program, but they only have one National Championship (1954), and frankly, the Bruins' (who should have been better) are in the second tier.
Harvard has not played good football since Kaisers' Germany.
California's "Wonder Teams" (1920-22) were some of the best ever, but they do not have much to show for themselves since Gertrude Stein's Lost Generation.
Bernie Bierman's Minnesota teams in the 1930s were a short-lived Depression dynasty.
Red Blaike's Army squads lost all their greatness when World War II's guns stopped firing.
Florida and Miami have been powers in the last 20 years, but do not have a lot of history before that.
The cream rises to the top
If one is to try and rank the century in an AP-style Top 10 poll, the list of eligible schools must include:
10. Texas was all-white until 1970, although they did win two National Championships (1963 with Tommy Nobis, and 1969) under coach Darrell Royal. Despite the eyes of this football-mad state being on them, the Longhorns' have fallen of late, however.
9. Florida State was a backwater team in Burt Reynolds' day, Steve Spurrier put 'em on the map in 1966, but Bobby Bowden's last 10 seasons elevated them up there…just not all the way up there.
8. Nebraska did not emerge as a major power until the Bob Devaney era, winning National Championships in 1970-71, but Tom Osborne lost too many bowl games.
7. Ohio State became a Football School under Woody Hayes in the 1950s, but after Jack Tatum's Buckeyes won the National Championship in '68, they took that "three yards and a cloud of dust" thing way too far.
6. Michigan has as much history as anybody, the "Point-A-Minute" Wolverines' winning the first Rose Bowl, in the '40s Tommy Harmon won a Heisman, and they dominated Pacific Coast teams in post-war Rose Bowls. But like Ohio State, the modern game passed Bo Schembechler by for too long.
5. Penn State played in the first game at the Rose Bowl (losing to SC), but it was not until Joe Paterno that they emerged, and even then they were a team that went years without winning "the big one."
4. Bud Wilkinson put Oklahoma on the map when he lead the Sooners' to a 57-game mid-'50s winning streak, broken up by (you guessed it) Notre Dame. Chuck Fairbanks had it goin' on at Norman in the early '70s, and Barry Switzer carried on the wishbone tradition, winning it all in 1974 (tied with SC), 1975 and 1985.
3. Southern California was securely number two and close to the top spot until their stumbles in the last two decades. Troy is as high as they are based on two factors. In establishing the Notre Dame rivalry during the Knute Rockne/Howard Jones Era (1920s and '30s), they helped propel college football into national popularity. Then, with the suburban growth of California when John McKay ran the show, they may have had the most dominating run (1962-78) of any team over a 16-year period!
2. Alabama. Ranking the Crimson Tide so high is hard to do, since they were another all-white team until the '70s, but they have history (Don Hutson in the '30s) and Paul "Bear" Bryant willed them to prominence over a very long period. Besides, Joe Willie and the Snake both played in Birmingham.
1. Notre Dame. You must start with SC's greatest rival. They have known down times and disappointment, but come back every time, like Lazarus or, more in keeping with their Catholicism, the Risen Christ. Notre Dame has seven Heisman Trophy recipients (USC has four), more National Championships than anybody, and a winning record over Troy. When SC got close after 1982, the Irish got serious, putting a 12-game winning streak on the wounded Trojans'. Notre Dame is the college football School of the Century!
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism