It's hard to just pick 10 bowl games when making a list like this for the USC Trojans. Why? Well ... with 52 bowl games to sort through, there's a lot of material to consider! But as the Trojans get ready for yet another Rose Bowl appearance on Monday, January 2, it's time to look back at the best bowl games in USC history. Will this Rose Bowl against the Penn State Nittany Lions be ranked as one of the greats when it's over? Only time will tell, but with 34 bowl wins already, it's always a tall order for any Trojans team to perform well enough to crack this list.
USC won its first official Rose Bowl in 1923, but its most recent Rose Bowl win came in 2009 (against Penn State, incidentally). But for USC, it's not just about Rose Bowls. The school has won the Orange and Cotton, too, despite its dominance of West Coast college football for almost a century now. Regardless of the bowl variety in the Trojans' past, these are the 10 best USC Trojans bowl games ever, because five just wasn't enough. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
10. 2006 Rose Bowl: Texas 41, USC 38—Why include this game, even thought the Trojans lost? Because many people consider it one of the greatest college football games ever played. That's good enough for us. USC was going for a 35th straight victory and a third straight Associated Press poll title. The Trojans took a 12-point lead with just under seven minutes to go, but the Longhorns scored two touchdowns in the final four-plus minutes to pull off the improbable upset. While USC had two Heisman Trophy winners on the field in quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush, it was Texas QB Vince Young that stole the show with three second-half TDs that broke Trojan hearts all over the country.
9. 2009 Rose Bowl: USC 38, Penn State 24—This was the last big hurrah of the Pete Carroll era in Los Angeles, and the most recent Rose Bowl for the Trojans. QB Mark Sanchez threw four TD passes and ran for another score as USC took a 31-7 halftime lead and cruised to the easy victory. This game completed a seven-year stretch where the Trojans went 82-9 under Carroll from 2002-2008, perhaps the most dominant run in modern college football history all things considered. Since the 2008 season, USC has reached double-digit wins just twice, although with a victory on Monday, the team would reach that threshold once again.
8. 2004 Rose Bowl: USC 28, Michigan 14—The Trojans captured their first AP title since 1972 with this win over the Wolverines, the first national championship under Carroll. In this game, Leinart was the big star, throwing three TD passes to stake USC to a 21-0 lead in the third quarter. He later caught a TD pass from wide receiver Mike Williams as the Trojans easily handled the Big Ten champions once again. This game also was notable for the fact that USC—the No. 1 team in both the AP and coaches polls—was left out of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) "title game", thus continuing a pattern of the laughable BCS discriminatory judgment of West Coast football.
7. 1973 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Ohio State 17—Yeah, this wasn't even really a game, even though the Buckeyes were ranked No. 3 in the country. RB Sam "Bam" Cunningham scored twice in the third quarter and twice more in the fourth quarter for the Trojans as they broke open a tie game with 35 points in the second half. Ohio State scored a meaningless TD with 34 seconds left in the game to even make the score as close as it was. This perfect USC team made history as the first unanimous national champion in the history of the sport, in both the AP and the coaches polls. Cunningham also was the first player ever to score four times in a Rose Bowl game.
6. 1963 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Wisconsin 37—This was the first national championship of the John McKay era, and at the time, it was only the second perfect season in Trojans school history. It also was a rare-at-the-time No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, as the Badgers were the second-ranked team in the country prior to the game. Despite the score, the game was not close as Wisconsin scored the final 23 points of the game to make it look respectable. USC QB Pete Beathard tossed four TD passes as the Trojans built a 28-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
5. 1923 Rose Bowl: USC 14, Penn State 3—Even though the Rose Bowl itself dates back to 1901, this was the first appearance for the Trojans, and they made the most of it under Head Coach Gus Henderson. After the Nittany Lions took a first-quarter lead, USC responded with a dominant effort in the next two quarters. Roy "Bullet" Baker gained 123 yards and scored the final touchdown for the Trojans. This game established a serious tradition for USC, as the school would go to win its next seven Rose Bowl appearances before finally losing one in 1946.
4. 2003 Orange Bowl: USC 38, Iowa 17—This was the "Hello, World!" moment for Carroll as the Trojans coach, as Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer led USC to a huge win over the Hawkeyes in a Top 5 bowl matchup. After Iowa opened the game with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score, it was all Trojans after that. USC outscored Iowa 38-3 until the Hawkeyes scored the game's final points in the fourth quarter. The Trojans ran up 550 total yards as RB Justin Fargas ran for 122 yards and two TDs, while Palmer threw for over 300 yards with a score. Iowa had been ranked No. 3 in the country, but the Hawkeyes went home with their tails between their legs.
3. 1933 Rose Bowl: USC 35, Pittsburgh 0—The first perfect season in Trojans history came under Head Coach Howard Jones, and this USC team gave up just 13 points over the entire 10-game season (including the bowl game). QB Homer Griffith both threw a TD pass and caught one as the Trojans scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to bury the overmatched Panthers. Cotton Warburton also added two TD runs. Sadly, there's no game film for this contest, but Jones would go on to win all five of his Rose Bowl appearances as USC's head coach.
2. 1980 Rose Bowl: USC 17, Ohio State 16—Heisman Trophy winner Charles White scored on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter to win the game as the Trojans knocked off the No. 1 Buckeyes to win another Rose Bowl. USC had taken a 10-0 lead only to watch Ohio State scored the next 16 points. But White would not be denied all day as he ran for 247 yards against the Buckeyes defense. This was the fifth Rose Bowl win of the 1970s for the Trojans, which seems quite incredible now when you think about it. Only a tie against Stanford earlier in the season prevented USC from winning yet another national championship.
1. 2005 Orange Bowl: USC 55, Oklahoma 19—This was the most emphatic bowl victory of the BCS era, where the top-ranked Trojans simply demolished the second-ranked Sooners in a game that will be remembered forever. After Oklahoma took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, USC scored 55 of the next 58 points in the game to lead 55-10 with about seven minutes left in the game. Leinart threw five TD passes, and WR Steve Smith caught three TD passes. Sooners RB Adrian Peterson, who would go on to a great NFL career, was held to just 3.3 yards per carry on 25 attempts by the Trojans defense. Meanwhile, 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White threw three interceptions as Oklahoma committed five turnovers overall. Simply put, it was just the most dominant win of a bygone era in college football. You can watch the entire game on YouTube if you disagree.