Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Trojans near to greatness

NCAA FOOTBALL As the top-ranked team in college football closes in on a possible national championship, analysts have begun speculating as to which group of University of Southern California players were the best

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELESAP, BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIANY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, NEW YORK

Three games separate USC from greatness, but if the top-ranked Trojans pull off a trifecta and go 13-0, just where will they reside among the school's greatest teams?

USC is going for its 12th national championship (by its own count), but if the 2004 Trojans go undefeated, they immediately secure a place as one of the best.

But just how good will they be?

"I never really thought of that," wide receiver Chris McFoy said. "I don't know any USC history. Coming in, I wasn't big on USC history. Before I came here, I wasn't a USC fan. I came in here knowing nothing."

That means McFoy doesn't know about the 1972 team, which went undefeated and is generally considered one of the greatest teams in college football, period. It's closest game was a nine-point victory (30-21) over No. 15 Stanford.

This year's Trojans were nearly upset by the Cardinal (31-28) and struggled against Virginia Tech (24-13) and Oregon State (28-20), so it's unlikely they could eclipse the '72 team.

USC football historian Mike Glenn said this year's Trojans would be the school's fourth-best national champion, behind the 1932, 1962 and 1972 teams.

The 1932 Trojans were undefeated (10-0), gave up only 13 points and recorded eight shutouts.

"As far a historic USC teams, the 1972 team dominated all its opponents, including No. 3 Ohio State in the 1973 Rose Bowl," Glenn said. "[USC coach] John McKay famously indicated to [Ohio State coach] Woody Hayes that [tailback] Sam Cunningham would dive over the line for touchdowns, and Sam did, an example of a team that was truly unstoppable. There's been no better 'SC team before or since."

Like any good historian, Glenn cautions against making a final judgment on the current Trojans because there are three games left. He points out that for USC to go the BCS title game at the Orange Bowl, it will need to do something it has never done before: Defeat UCLA and Notre Dame in the same year for the third year in a row.

"Arguably, this 'SC team is three or four plays away from being 7-3, rather than 10-0," Glenn said. "But even though teams that win with ease are always remembered as the greater teams, there is something to be said for a team such as this year's which comes through with the plays, even on the brink of disaster, with no room for error."

It's notable to point out that several USC teams were in similar positions to the 2004 Trojans, only to falter at the end of the season.

There are four prominent examples:

-- In 1959, USC started 8-0, then lost to UCLA and Notre Dame. Coach Don Clark resigned after the season, and the Trojans discontinued playing the Irish at South Bend, Ind., in November.

-- In 1952, USC started out 8-0 but barely beat UCLA (14-12) and lost to Notre Dame.

-- In 1951, USC was 7-0, then lost to Stanford, UCLA, and Notre Dame, all at the Coliseum.

-- In 1988, a 10-0 USC team lost to Notre Dame at home and then to Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

The 2004 Trojans could go down as one of the top four teams in school history, but cornerback Justin Wyatt said he doesn't think going undefeated would give this year's team a special place in people's minds.

"The way our heritage is, excellence is just par around here," Wyatt said. "Making our mark on history is just keeping the stats going. As far as being greater, it's already been done before here. We're just trying to follow up."

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