Whenever sports media outlets publish “Greatest Ever” pieces, it almost always leads to intense discussion on social, many times drawing ire not just from the fans, but from excluded players as well. One of the reasons media outlets continuously compile these subjective lists is that they spread like wildfire on social media. All it takes is the right person to take issue with it and an entire day can be spent debating the worthiness of players on a specific list. This is exactly what happened with former USC linebacker Su’a Cravens and a list recently published by Dan Weber of USCFootball.com.
Before picking apart the issue at hand, it is worth mentioning that Cravens has always been a leader for USC. Even going back to his vaunted recruiting class, Cravens was picked by several people — myself included — to be the most important recruit the Trojans had added that cycle. In a class that included Max Browne, Justin Davis, Chris Hawkins, Darreus Rogers and Kenny Bigelow, Cravens looked and sounded like a leader of men. It wasn’t long before his play for USC matched the hype.
There can be no doubt that part of Cravens’ legacy was moving positions on a near yearly basis. While he came in as a safety, he left the Trojans as one of the most effective and feared pass rushers on the team. Regardless of where he was asked to play, Cravens did so and he did so with passion and results. He always put the team before himself and he encouraged those around him to do the same.
By and large, Cravens has a long and established history of being a well-spoken, well-rounded, intellectually-driven, and even-keeled young man. He has never been the type of person to seek individual attention within the media. That doesn’t mean he’s a recluse, far from it. Cravens has been known to give his thoughts on a number of issues, but the vast majority of his words and deeds match those of the ultimate team player and leader. Then July 6 happened.
As was already mentioned, Weber had compiled a list of the best players USCFootball.com has covered during its time as publishers of the product. Site owner Ryan Abraham took over in 2002, thus inspiring an All-Trojan team from the seemingly arbitrary years of 2002-15. The list ended up with 29 All-Americans on it. Those who were left off are certainly no slouches in their own right, but the general idea was one player per position (though this ended up being loosely enforced).
After seeing the list, Cravens ended up a bit miffed and took to Twitter to discuss his feelings. He opened his argument in a rather odd way. More than likely, it was the opening that inspired so much debate among fans and it was certainly the impetus for this column.
Cravens’ thesis appears to be that the sanctions limited USC’s ability to play in high-profile games as a result of the program not being able to recruit full classes. There is no way to infer his views on the quality of the players next to him, but it’s pretty clear that Cravens felt USC should have had a couple more. Whether or not this was one of the worst periods of time in USC football history is a matter of perspective.
Despite the sanctions, the Trojans won a total of 27 games during his tenure and only had 14 losses. In all, Cravens never lost more than four games during his tenure at USC, but is using the platform that it was one of the worst periods in the program’s history. Dealing with sanctions made things extremely difficult for USC, but it wouldn’t be out of bounds for someone to point out that the on-the-field results were a decent distance away from the worst three-year stretches in program history.
It also wouldn’t be unfair to point out that this is a completely fun and pointless list Weber has compiled, but Cravens sent six tweets discussing how people should have recognized his efforts more than they did in “the most humble way possible.” The definition of humble is to have or show a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance, but that’s pretty much the opposite of what these six tweets did.
There’s also the hidden element of unrealized expectations. Without specifying which aspect of the sanctions was what held him back, Cravens hinted at having to play out of position on multiple occasions because of a lack of depth or production. These are the kind of things team players do without asking to receive the attention for having done so.
There is the case that the sanctions also hurt USC in terms of being able to play in high-profile games, but this also is pretty subjective. Everything USC does ends up being a production, good or bad. Two of the bowl games Cravens played in were against Wisconsin and Nebraska — extremely high-profile programs. That doesn't account for the number of primetime games and marquee matchups in which Cravens participated.
Cravens’ decision to go pro was his decision, but it's unfair to say "he had a lack of high-profile games" when he did, in fact, have several high-profile games and the chance to play Alabama (if he had stayed for this season). His legacy is his to manage, but Cravens opened the door for this line of conversation when he claimed it was the sanctions that hurt his legacy. He manages his own legacy and opted to end his run with USC when he did. That's on him and perfectly acceptable, but that also means the person using the argument must accept that bigger games were available to them to cement their legacy and they opted to go a different route.
Cravens was a tremendous player and representative for the University of Southern California. His legacy is that he was the lynchpin in a recruiting class that was very much needed after sanctions. His performances on the field speak for themselves, but so do the performances of those individuals Weber listed ahead of Cravens. Whether or not Cravens likes it, leaving as a junior leaves him with less of a body of work than some of the other people who Weber slotted ahead of him. More time at a school gives you more chances to cement your legacy.
Cravens is free to define his own path. Nobody knows more about what was best for him than him. But he also has to accept that part of the deal with going pro early is that there will be other players who put in four years of work and their legacy leaves them with a bit more to chew on for creating a list like this. It's not as much throwing it in his face as it is accepting the reality of what it means to go pro early at a school with more NFL Hall of Famers, players, and first-round picks than any other school in the nation. He's got a lot of really good competition.
At the end of the day, that’s what it means to play at a school like USC. Ten-win seasons are considered the minimum, not something to celebrate. USC’s sanctions may have kicked in a different way with the reduction of scholarships in Cravens’ class, but that discounts the 10-win season Matt Barkley had, which included a win over Oregon on the road. Now that I mention his name, Barkley wasn’t on Weber’s list either and he, as a true freshman, faced on the road an Ohio State team that went on to win the Rose Bowl and won. He was the first-ever USC quarterback to start as a true freshman, he didn’t make Weber’s list.
Because the thing with lists like these is that they could be filled out a million different ways and none of them would be wrong. Cravens is going to have to learn not to get bothered by things like this if he wants to have a sustained NFL career.
There are plenty of lists Cravens won’t make, but the only one he should be focused on right now is the Washington Redskins’ 53-man roster.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for CFBHuddle. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.