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The '60s and '70s were a good time to pull for Tailback U
The 2012 season wasn’t a pleasant one for USC. The thud from preseason No. 1 to 7-6 with a two-touchdown loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl qualifies as one of the most disappointing for any school anywhere.
Painful as it was, that season alone doesn’t qualify as one of the toughest times for a USC fan. At least Trojans fans got to watch their team. The 1982-83 squads, also limited by NCAA sanctions, faced a television ban. And yet USC still managed to go 8-3 in ’82 and recovered to go to the Rose Bowl two years later.
The standards are higher at USC for sure, and the Trojans have rarely had long stretches of poor play. USC has only had 12 losing seasons in its history.
Certainly, the highs are more notable in Los Angeles.
The most prominent college football programs, for the most part, resided West of the Rocky Mountains when John McKay became USC’s head coach in 1960, though the Trojans at the time were a Rose Bowl regular before then. McKay set up USC to become one of college football’s premier programs with a constant stream of Heisman winners, national champions, All-Americans and future Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Here are the times when the Song Girls had a little more pep in their step as well as the times they were the better draw to the Coliseum than the football team.
BEST TIMES TO BE A USC FAN
National championships: 4
Coach: John McKay, John Robinson
Notable players: O.J. Simpson, Ron Yary, Lynn Swann, Richard Wood, Ricky Bell, Dennis Thurman, Charles White, Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Sam Cunningham
Generations of Americans will remember O.J. Simpson for reasons other than what a superstar Juice was in college. Simpson ushered in the most successful era in USC history by rushing for 3,423 yards in two seasons with 23 touchdowns as a senior. The ledger during this era is astounding: Four national titles (1967, ’72, ’74, ’78), three Heisman winners (Simpson, White and Allen), an Outland winner (Yary) nine Pac-10 titles (plus a 10th in the 7-4 season in 1966). These USC teams also brought social significance, with Sam Cunningham and USC’s 42-21 win over an all-white Alabama team in Birmingham in 1970 doing “more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 60 years,” as Tide assistant Jerry Claiborne put it. The 1972 team was one of the best in USC history, becoming the first team to gain every first-place ballot in the AP and UPI polls.
National championships: 2
Coach: Pete Carroll
Notable players: Reggie Bush (right), Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu, Dwayne Jarrett, Sam Baker, Keneche Udezi, Lofa Tatupu
Before Alabama resurfaced, USC was the dominant program of the 21st century, though the fanfare around the two traditional powers couldn’t be more different. Pete Carroll was made for Los Angeles with his big personality and open invitations for celebrities such as Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg to hang around the program. USC won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles under Carroll, a feat no Trojans coach accomplished. On a national scale, USC won back-to-back national titles in 2003-04 during a run of seven consecutive top-five finishes. With three Heisman winners (Palmer, Bush and Leinart), USC had one of the nation’s best offenses, but the Trojans had one of the best defensive performances in school history by holding eight teams to a touchdown or less in 2008. During this era, only a Vince Young-led Texas team was able to beat USC in a bowl game.
National championships: 2
Coach: Howard Jones
Notable players: Mort Kaer, Jesse Hibbs, Morley Drury, Erny Pinckert, Gus Shaver, Ernie Smith, Aaron Rosenberg, Cotton Warburton
USC quickly became the preeminent Western power in the late ‘20s, winning two pre-AP era national championships in 1931 and ’32. The 1932 team that finished 10-0 held opponents to a grand total of 13 points.
WORST TIMES TO BE A USC FAN
Coaches: Don Clark, John McKay
USC had yet to achieve dynasty status as it did in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the Trojans had come to expect more that what it got in the late ‘50s during the short tenure of Don Clark. He went 1-9 in his first season and finished 8-2, but USC endured a seven-year Rose Bowl drought, the longest for the program since the ‘20s. Clark’s tenure wasn’t all a failure; his staff included McKay and future Raiders icon Al Davis. McKay went 8-11-1 in his first two seasons before an unlikely undefeated national championship season in Year Three.
Coaches: John Robinson, Paul Hackett
Robinson’s second tour of duty with USC wasn’t nearly successful as the first, as he went 12-11 in his final two seasons. Hackett didn’t fare much better, going 11-13 in his final two seasons. This was one of the rare times USC was dormant in the Pac-10, reaching only one bowl game in five seasons.