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O/NSO: The USC Mount Rushmore series – The Tailbacks

The Obvious: Because of the historical greatness of the USC Trojans running back/tailback, the University’s football program has long been known as Tailback U. 

The Not So Obvious: If ever there was a USC football subject open to big debate – big big – debate, it would be Trojans running backs of the past. It’s not really who you put on Mount Rushmore, but who you don’t. There are, of course, the four Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks. Then there are All-American tailbacks like Anthony Davis, who should have won a Heisman, and the late Ricky Bell, the closest Trojans tailback to Texas running back legend Earl Campbell. And what about the likes of Jon “Jaguar” Arnett, who could swivel with the best of them?  

As always, feel free to dissent from our Mount Rushmore running back selections and tell us your own selections on the Garry P. WeAreSC message board. A reminder, our selections are not ranked in order of greatness but as a group and not by what they accomplished after their playing days at USC.

Presenting our four running backs/tailbacks for the O/NSO’s USC football Mount Rushmore.  

The Obvious: Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson (1967-68) is in the conversation as both the greatest player in USC history and the greatest collegiate running back of all-time, a two-time All-American.

Many consider that O.J. Simpson (photo above) is the greatest running back in USC football history.

The Not So Obvious: For many, it’s hard to separate today’s OJ. Simpson with all his plethora of legal and personal baggage from his glorious two-season performances while at USC. We’ll concentrate solely on his days as a Trojan. No Trojan running back in history has had the combination of size (6-2, 207), speed (9.4 100/ 4.28 40 – NFL combine numbers), strength, toughness, moves, and guile than Simpson.

The 1968 Heisman Trophy winner, “The Juice” accomplished in two years what other great Trojans back did in three or four years. A transfer from San Francisco City College, Simpson’s career totals were astounding for a two-year stint: 3,424 rushing (5.1 avg.), 36 TDs, 320 yards receiving (8.9 avg.). OJ led the Trojans in 1967 to John McKay’s second national championship and a 1968 Rose Bowl victory over Indiana. In his senior season, Simpson took the Trojans to another conference title and the 1969 Rose Bowl.

Besides winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy, Simpson also captured the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards. BTW, Simpson held the record for the Heisman’s largest margin of victory for 51 years. FYI, Simpson defeated Purdue’s Leroy Keyes, a two-way star, for the Heisman.

Simpson is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame (1983) and Pro Football Hall of Fames (1985).  

Below is a highlight video of OJ Simpson at USC:

The Obvious: Charles Raymond White (1976-1979) was named the Trojans’ third Heisman Trophy winner, capturing the prestigious honor in 1979.  

Charles White (photo above) is considered one of the toughest running backs to carry a football in Trojan history.

The Not So Obvious: All you need to know about Charles White’s USC football career is that his head coach, John Robinson, once called him the toughest football player he had ever known. The third Heisman Trophy winner in USC football history, No. 12 finished his four-year career as the NCAA’s second leading rusher ever with 5,598 regular season yards. Including bowl games, he finished with a Pac-10 record 6,245 yards.

A two-year unanimous All-American, Charles (5-10, 190) set or equaled 22 NCAA, Pac-10, USC, and Rose Bowl records. He gained over 100 yards a game 31 times in his illustrious career, which included 10 times his senior season. In his senior season, “Charlie” averaged 186.4 yards per game, 6.2 yards a carry, led the nation in rushing, and for the second straight season, led in all-purpose running.

A local product of San Fernando (Calif.) High, during his time at USC, his teams went a combined total of 42-6-1 and was the linchpin for the 1978 team co-national champions. White was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (1996), the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame (1990), and the USC Athletic Hall of Fame (1995).

After a career in the NFL, White became an assistant football coach at USC (1993-97) and later a computer consultant. 

 Below is a Charles White video overview:

The Obvious: Marcus LeMarr Allen (1978- 1981) began his USC career as a safety on defense but was soon switched to the backfield as a fullback for Charles White. After the departure of White, Allen moved to tailback and eventually became the Trojans’ fourth Heisman Trophy winner in 1981.  

There is a general consensus that Marcus Allen (photo above) is the Trojans’ greatest all-around running back.

The Not So Obvious: An outstanding athlete, the former San Diego (Calif.) Lincoln High star became college football’s first 2,000-yard rusher. When Allen (6-2, 210) won the 1981 Heisman, Marcus set 14 new NCAA records and tied two others, including most yards rushing in a single season (2,342), highest per-game average (212.9), most 200-yard games in a career (11), most 200-yards games in a season (8), and most 200-yard games in a row (5).

Marcus Allen also led the Trojans in receiving with 30 and 34 receptions, respectively, in each of his last two seasons. There wasn’t anything that Allen couldn’t do on a football field. He may be the most all-around running back in USC football history. Very few in the history of college football have had the versatility as a back as Allen.

Allen’s ability to run, block, and receive coming out of the backfield makes the case that No. 33 is the greatest all-around running back in USC lore.

Allen has the rare honor of being in both the College Football Hall of Fame (2000) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2003). He was also inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame (1995) and was selected the Pac-12 All-Century Team (2015).

Below is a video tribute to Allen.

The Obvious: Reginald “Reggie” Alfred Bush Jr. (2003-05) is the most electrifying running back in USC football history, an all-time collegiate great who ranks with the immortals of the game and deserving to take his place among the aforementioned Trojans back on our Mount Rushmore of tailbacks.    

There is no question that tailback and special teams extraordinaire Reggie Bush (photo above) is one of the most electrifying performers both in college and USC football history. No. 5 was part of one national championship team and another that reached the title game.

The Not So Obvious: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time unanimous All-American (unanimous 2005) until NCAA sanctions for improper family benefits forced him to return the trophy and placed the Trojans on draconian punishments. It still doesn’t take away from his accomplishments during his playing days in cardinal and gold.

By the end of the 2005 season, Bush had accumulated 2,611 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns (15 rushing, two receiving, one punt return). His ability to score either by rushing or receiving or on special teams were incomparable.

Bush started only 14 times in 39 games at Troy. However, No. 5 finished tenth in NCAA Division I history with 6,541 all-purpose yards, racking up 3,169 yards and 25 touchdowns on 433 carries (7.3 avg) and 1,301 yards with 13 scores on 95 catches (13.7 avg). Reggie returned 67 kickoffs for 1,522 yards and a touchdown, adding 559 yards and three scores on 44 punt returns (12.7 avg). The former La Mesa (Calif,) Helix prep superstar also completed one of three pass attempts for a 52-yard touchdown.

You can argue either way whether Reggie Bush should or shouldn’t have returned his Heisman Trophy. You can argue that Bush was technically ineligible for the 2005 season due to improper benefits, but you can’t argue his ability on the field. His NCAA banishment punishment from USC having any connection or recognition ends in June, and the belief is that USC will welcome Bush back to the University, having served his punishment.

After his playing days at Troy, Bush went on to a successful NFL career and was a major cog in the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl season and eventual Super Bowl victory over the Colts in 2009.

Below are Reggie Bush highlights:

The Obvious: And finally, let the running backs/tailbacks debate begin.

The Not So Obvious: Moving on to next Friday, the O/NSO will unveil our four-man Mount Rushmore of wide receivers and won’t that open the opinion boards.  

O/NSO USC Football Mount Rushmore series selections:

The head coaches: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-football-mount-rushmore-series-edition-presenting-the-immortal-head-coaches/ 

The quarterbacks: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-quarterbacks/   

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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