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Poll: The best USC game of all time – Rose Bowl bracket

While there is certainly a massively more important worldwide focus right now, a combination of missing March Madness and USC Trojans spring football, as well as some free time thanks to social distancing, has given us an opportunity to get a little creative in our coverage for the time being.

Be sure to check out and vote in our previous two quadrants:

USC – Notre Dame

Today, we’re narrowing down the USC Rose Bowl game quadrant of the bracket, and readers will be able to select winners in two matchups.

1939 Rose Bowl

The 1938 “Iron Dukes” Duke football team came out to the Rose Bowl unbeaten, untied, and unscored upon. That continued to be the case through the first three quarters of the Rose Bowl, and well into the fourth.

Duke held a 3-0 lead over USC with two minutes left, but that’s when USC head coach Howard Jones turned to fourth-string quarterback Doyle Nave. With two minutes to go and the ball on the 40-yard line, Nave found “Antelope” Al Krueger on four consecutive passes. The final one resulted in a 16-yard touchdown, becoming the first points scored against Duke all season.

USC had to withstand one final Duke attempt, but the last USC defender tripped up a Duke receiver at the 40-yard line after a 17-yard reception on the game’s final play.

1975 Rose Bowl

Like the 1939 edition, the 1975 game had a late USC score to give the Trojans a win.

USC’s 1974 season started with a dud, in a 22-7 loss to Arkansas. But the Trojans went 8-0-1 over their next nine games to secure a spot in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State held the No. 1 ranking for much of the year, until a November loss to Michigan State dropped them to No. 4. By the time this game was set, it was No. 3 Ohio State against No. 5 USC, with Ohio State favored by six points. It was also the third-straight season the Trojans and Buckeyes would meet.

Like many of these “best ever” games, it was a slow start for the Trojans, who trailed 7-3 at halftime. USC also saw tailback Anthony Davis knocked out of the game with a rib injury.

USC took a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter, as quarterback Pat Haden hit tight end Jim Obradovich for a touchdown. Ohio State scored on two possessions in a row to go up 17-10, and USC had the ball on the Ohio State 40-yard line, facing a fourth-and-one. Tailback Alan Carter picked up the first down, and Haden subsequently found wide receiver J.K. McKay on a corner route for a 38-yard touchdown with 2:03 remaining.

Head coach John McKay and offensive coordinator John Robinson decided to go for two, and to roll Haden out of the pocket. Haden ultimately found wide receiver Shelton Diggs in the endzone, whose diving grab gave USC an 18-17 lead.

The Trojans ultimately had to hang on and watch a Buckeye 62-yard field goal attempt land short, giving USC its second Rose Bowl win in three years.

1963 Rose Bowl

This was the first No. 1 vs No. 2 bowl game matchup in college football history, with the Trojans putting their No. 1 ranking on the line against the Badgers. USC was dominant early, scoring a touchdown in the very early stages of the fourth quarter to take a 42-14 lead.

USC allowed a touchdown, fumbled a kickoff, gave up another score and allowed a safety on a bad snap on a punt attempt. Eventually, the Trojans were able to run out the clock by making a tackle of a Wisconsin punt returner and forcing a fumble at his own 44-yard line.

USC quarterback Pete Beathard threw for four touchdowns and Wisconsin quarterback Ron VanderKelen threw for a record 401 yards in what is still talked about as one of the greatest bowl games of all time.

2017 Rose Bowl

Like the 1963 Rose Bowl, the 2017 version featured an offensive explosion and a late-game comeback attempt. This time, it was the Trojans coming back. And this time, the comeback was successful.

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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