Prime Years of Southern California Football

The University of Southern California has faced some challenges as of late. From the scandals off the field to poor performance on the field. It wasn’t always that way for USC Football, though. This is a program that had decades of consistent success. They not only expected you to come into the program and win, but instead expected you to always win. There was a winning spirit in southern California for years, but then it all came to a quick end. This team and its fans expected the world from you, and here are some key moments, alongside some key characters who stepped up to the call and influenced this success of USC football during the years 2000-2010.

Success of USC Football by Year (2001-2010)

2001: Matt Leinart, stud QB who becomes the prodigal, golden child for Pete Carroll and takes the starting job after Carson Palmer goes pro. 6-6 record lost in Las Vegas Bowl 10-6. Not a good result but Pete Carroll had taken over a team that was massively underperforming due to their coach and focused on recruiting. Even before the first game, lots of alumni and fan support of USC disliked the Carroll hiring. Season started 2-5 and things were hot at USC before finishing 6-6 to stifle the fans and alumni. His on and off the field work ethic while rocking a Matthew McConaughey type coolness, won a lot of people over around USC. 

2002: Carson Palmer, who won the Heisman this year, and Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steeler and NFL Hall of Famer, were both seniors that lead USC to a 11-2 record, winning 38-17 in Orange Bowl vs #3 Iowa. No crazy recruits stand out this year but they officially put their names in the NCAA rankings discussion and focused on developing the youth they had already. 

2003: Reggie Bush, who could be considered one of the greatest collegiate football players ever, and LenDale White formed an unstoppable 1-2 combo for the USC offense while Matt Leinart took over and cemented his legacy with these two hogs. Seriously YouTube Reggie Bush and watch how MARVELOUS this guy was. Junior year he averaged 8.7 yards on 200 attempts and a touchdown. ESPN top 10 moments had him every weekend. If Bush had stayed for his senior season, easily would have broken all-purpose yards record and most likely, every running back and University of Southern California record. As the kids say, no cap. #2 national recruiting class in the country. Won Rose Bowl, finished with 12-1 season.

2004: Clay Matthews followed the Matthews family football legacy at USC and eventually worked his way from special teams to be one of the three linebacker stars with Ray Maualuga and Brian Cushing, who commit the following year. #2 national recruiting class. National Champions going undefeated 13-0, winning 55-19, leading 38-10 at the half,  against Oklahoma while setting two records. Most points scored by a team in the Rose Bowl and most passing TDs by a QB with 5 by Matt Leinart. Matt Leinart also won the Heisman. They didn’t just win, THEY DOMINATED BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL AND IT WAS FUN TO WATCH. Fun fact: instant replay makes its first ever appearance in college football with the Big Ten on experimental basis in 2004. 

2005: Mark Sanchez. Ray Maualuga. Brian Cushing. #1 national recruiting class. Runner up National Champions. INCREDIBLY stacked squad that lost to Vince Young led Texas in one of the GREATEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMES EVER! Never heard? Go to YouTube right now and work your magic. Totally worth the extra 5 minutes to see some quality football and Reggie Bush’s last game before going pro. One of the top 5 college football games ever!! Vince Young and LenDale White each had 3 touchdowns! 

2006: #1 national recruiting class. Taylor Mays was a brute of a safety that excelled in run support and basically dominated the middle of the field. Never amounted into anything solid in the pros, even being passed on in the draft by-then Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll for Earl Thomas from Texas. We can say he made the right decision although I bet it was a little awkward to deal with. 

2007: USC crushed Illinois in the Rose Bowl 49-17 to go 11-2. Another huge victory at the Rose Bowl for Pete and the USC hogs. USC were -13.5 favorites. During the season they lost to unranked Stanford in dramatic fashion and #5 ranked Oregon which kept them from the National Championship. 

2008: USC take down Penn State 38-24 in the Rose Bowl to go 12-1. Mark Sanchez hogged with 400+ yards and 3 passing TDs with 1 rushing TD. USC were favorite by 9. Mark Sanchez commits to the NFL draft against the wishes of Pete Carroll, who hoped Mark would stay his senior season and develop for the pros while pushing for another Rose Bowl. Mark went 5th overall to the Jets and that led to the famous NFL blunder, the Butt Fumble.

2009: USC #24 beat Boston College 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl to go 9-4 for the season. 5-star recruit and Gatorade All-American Matt Barkley took over instantly and showed potential during his freshman year after winning the starting gig in pre-season camp. 

2010: Pete Carroll hired by Seattle Seahawks as Head Coach before 2010-2011 season. Thus ending the Pete dynasty era and the best University of Southern California football program they’ve ever had. 

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