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O/NSO: Ratings and rankings edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: One of the premier feature articles in the 2017 Athlon preseason college football magazine is its list of the top 50 players since the publication began in 1967, the year of legendary USC coach John McKay’s second national title.

The Not So Obvious: Anytime a publication like Athlon makes a list of its top 50 players from 1967 to 2016, it makes for interesting conversation, intense debate, and questionable logic. And let’s not forget dramatic mistakes. Athlon’s feature is no exception. And for USC fans and historians, it brings out a critical eye to the credibility of such rankings when it includes the Men of Troy.

The Obvious: Trojans Heisman winning tailback O.J. Simpson is strongly considered in the conversation as the greatest college running back ever.

The Not So Obvious: If you saw Simpson in person, as the O/NSO did, you probably also saw all the Athlon running backs listed in its top 50 players list. Well, Trojans fans, prepare yourself as Simpson is ranked not only No. 20 overall, but The Juice isn’t even listed as the best USC back ever. As it pertains to Trojans running backs on Athlon’s list, that honor goes to Reggie Bush (No. 14), the cardinal and gold fallen angel. Another Trojan, safety Ronnie Lott (photo above), is also listed overall ahead of Simpson at No. 18. Ronnie was a legendary player and an All-American person, but he did he change as many games as Simpson? Bush did change games, but the infamous Bush had three seasons to do it while Simpson had two, being a transfer from San Francisco CC. Folks, take it from the old O/NSO, Simpson – love him or hate him – is still as good as there ever was at USC.

The Obvious: Reggie Bush was a true All-American tailback at Troy, but he was involved in off-field issues that forfeited his Heisman Trophy and his standing within the USC community.

The Not So Obvious: Of Bush, Athlon writes, “Bush possessed an utterly unique mix of skills and redefined the tailback position at Tailback U.” The O/NSO believes that Bush was a great one and maybe one could say he redefined the tailback position at Troy. However, he was not the traditional workhorse tailback that came to define Tailback U.  

The Obvious: Former Georgia All-American running back Hershel Walker was a three-season starter with the Bulldogs.

The Not So Obvious: No doubt, Walker, who chose Georgia over the Trojans in an intense recruiting battle at the time, is not only listed by Athlon as its top running back but the top player overall of the 50 players selected. It should be noted that Walker, Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (No.2), Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (No. 3), Texas back Earl Campbell (No. 4), and Auburn running back Bo Jackson (No. 5), are all ranked ahead of Simpson. Let’s face it, Simpson’s slide in the rankings is either Athlon’s repudiation of Simpson’s heinous behavior or Anthon voters who never saw him play in person. Believe the O/NSO, at the very least Archie Griffin couldn’t hold Simpson’s locker room towel.    

The Obvious: Chris Dufresne is a former Los Angeles Times college football columnist and Bud Withers is a former college football writer for the Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Eugene Register-Guard.  

The Not So Obvious: Both highly respected college football writers were part of the 16 voters of Athlon’s top 50 players. The O/NSO finds it hard to believe that Dufresne, in particular, would have placed Simpson behind Sanders, Griffin, Campbell and Jackson.

The Obvious: USC is considered one of the college football’s most storied programs.

The Not So Obvious: There were more Trojans (6) listed in the Athlon top 50 than any other college football program. Those Trojans listed were tailback Reggie Bush (No. 14), safety Ronnie Lott (No. 18), tailback O.J. Simpson (No. 20), offensive tackle Anthony Munoz (No. 26), tailback Marcus Allen (No. 27), and quarterback Matt Leinart (No. 38). FYI, Nebraska and Ohio State each had four players selected to the top 50 team.

The Obvious: Athlon top 50 also has an all-time team on offense and defense.

The Not So Obvious: The only Trojans to make the Athlon top 22 in the history of the Athlon publication is Trojans offensive tackle Anthony Munoz and safety Ronnie Lott.

The Obvious: Trojans offensive tackle Anthony Munoz was a very good player in college whose career was marred by injury, but he was a great NFL player.

The Not So Obvious: As mentioned, Anthony is part of the All-Athlon team of the past 60 years. Of Munoz, Athlon writes, “Munoz was the prototypical offensive lineman who showed that big men could be agile as well as dominating. A two-time All-American, Munoz was also talented to have pitched for the Trojans’ national championship baseball team in 1978. Knee injuries proved to be a problem for Munoz while at USC, but they did not keep him from having a Hall of Fame NFL career. For the record, Anthony was not a two-time All-American and made the All-Conference team just once (1978). To have him on the list of Athlon’s top 60 damages the publication’s credibility.

The Obvious: Of the six Trojans listed in Athlons top 50 players, none were unanimous choices.

The Not So Obvious: The only players listed on every voters’ ballot were Herschel Walker, Barry Sanders, and Earl Campbell. Please, O.J. Simpson should have been unanimous. Again, this is about football during Simpson’s USC days and not his off-field horrendous episodes after he retired from the game.

The Obvious: Herschel Walker received the most No. 1 votes (9) to garner the top overall selection to the Athlon top 50 players.

The Not So Obvious: The other No. 1 vote getters were Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (3), Oklahoma State tailback Barry Sanders (2), Nebraska quarterback Tommy Frazier (1), and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (1).

The Obvious: One would figure that one of the six Trojans listed in Athlon’s top 50 players would at least be mentioned on all but one ballot.

The Not So Obvious: Guess again. Not one of the six Trojans was within one vote of a unanimous selection. Those players that just missed being named to all 16 voter ballots were Archie Griffin, Auburn back Bo Jackson, Tim Tebow, Pitt DE Hugh Green, Florida State DB Deion Sanders, Michigan’s multi-purpose performer Charles Woodson, and Tommie Frazier  

The Obvious: The Trojans two biggest rivalries are UCLA and Notre Dame.

The Not So Obvious: In Athlon’s top 60 feature, UCLA placed two players (S Kenny Easley and OT Jonathan Ogden, who were ranked No. 25 and 42, respectively. As for Notre Dame, the Irish had no players selected, which is ridiculous. Anybody ever heard of Joe Montana?

The Obvious: Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart is one of Athlon’s top 50 players.

The Not So Obvious: Of Leinart, Athlon wrote, “The Trojans went 37-2 with a 34-game winning streak, three Pac-10 titles, and two national titles.” Here’s a dirty little secret: Had the Trojans defeated Texas and Vince Young in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game, Leinart would have and should have been listed near the top of the 50 players. It shows you how much one game can change a player’s perception.

The Obvious: And finally, Athlon is not the only publication that will come out with historical lists of players and ratings.

The Not So Obvious: One thing for sure, publications like Athlon will be under scrutiny, especially when it pertains to historical lists and rankings. At stake for publications like Athlon is credibility, and it appears that Athlon’s top 50 players – as it pertains to USC- leaves a lot to be desired.

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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