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Poll: Best USC game of all time – Final

We’ve reached the finals. The best 16 USC games of all time have been voted down to a final two by WeAreSC readers, leaving an old-school and new-school classic to battle it out for the right to be called the best USC game ever.

The 1974 USC – Notre Dame game sailed through its Final Four matchups, earning nearly 70% of the vote against the 2005 Orange Bowl blowout over Oklahoma. Now, the comeback for the ages comes up against perhaps a surprise semifinal winner, but a phenomenal comeback in its own right, as the 2017 Rose Bowl win over Penn State narrowly edged out–by three votes–what many consider to be the college football Game of the Century, in the 1967 21-20 win against UCLA.

1974 USC – Notre Dame

Defending national champion Notre Dame took a 24-0 lead late into the second quarter, when USC quarterback Pat Haden hit tailback Anthony Davis on a swing pass for a touchdown with only a few seconds left in the half.

And somehow, some way, down 24-6 at halftime, the route was on.

Davis was the next Trojan to touch the ball, gathering the Notre Dame second-half kickoff two yards deep in the endzone. Following a wall of blockers, Davis made one man miss at the 18-yard line, veered toward the left sideline, and was gone.

Davis scored on a six-yard run on the following USC drive and just 3:25 into the third quarter, USC had cut the Notre Dame lead to 24-19.

A Kevin Bruce fumble recovery and a couple passes from Haden to wide receiver J.K. McKay led to another Davis short touchdown run. And the two-point conversion gave USC a 27-24 lead just 6:23 into the third quarter. And it Just. Never. Stopped.

USC used a 56-yard punt return to set up a Haden-to-McKay touchdown. Then a Charles Phillips interception led to another Haden-to-McKay touchdown as USC went up 41-24 at the end of the third quarter.

Bruce jumped on his second fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter and Haden hit wide receiver Shelton Diggs for a 16-yard touchdown. Phillips picked off his third pass of the game and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, traveling the final 30 yards with the ball aloft in celebration. And in 17 minutes of game time, USC had scored 55 points, turning a rout into a rout, and giving the Trojans arguably the greatest game in the history of the program.

2017 USC – Penn State

While that 1974 battle turned into a one-way blowout, the 2017 Rose Bowl was a true shootout all the way through.

USC had bounced back from a 1-3 start to the season to grab a Rose Bowl berth, while Penn State registered as one of the hottest teams in the nation as well, winning 9-straight after starting the season 2-2.

USC recorded interceptions on Penn State’s first two possessions and then forced two punts, but could only take a 13-0 lead. From that point, the teams traded touchdowns on five-consecutive drives and when USC’s offense started to sputter, Penn State’s did not. The Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on four-consecutive plays, and on seven-consecutive drives to take a 49-35 lead with 1:55 left in the third quarter.

A Ronald Jones short touchdown run with 8:15 left cut the Penn State lead to seven, and a massive USC defensive stand with roughly two minutes to play forced Penn State to punt.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold took over at his own 20-yard line with 1:50 left and threw the ball five times. The first two went for first downs, the next two resulted in defensive pass interference penalties, and the fifth was an absolute dart to wide receiver Deontay Burnett for a 27-yard touchdown to tie the game with 1:20 left to play. And somehow itwas still far from over.

Penn State went for the win, and USC safety Leon McQuay III had two opportunities for interceptions. He grabbed the second and returned it 32 yards to help set up a USC field goal attempt, which USC kicker Matt Boermeester nailed from 46 yards as time expired to give USC the 52-49 win.

The 101 total points set a Rose Bowl record at the time, Darnold set Rose Bowl records with five passing touchdowns and 473 yards of total offense, and the Trojans’ 14-point 4th-quarter comeback is also a Rose Bowl record.

Erik McKinney
Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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