BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- With 34 straight victories and
consecutive national championships, Southern California has already
reached college football's hallowed ground.
Exactly where USC's dynasty ranks among the great runs is up for
Better than Bear Bryant's best at Alabama? Behind Bud
Wilkinson's unbeatable Oklahoma teams? On par with Miami's
modern-day championship machines.
But this much is for certain: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the
top-ranked Trojans can carve out a spot in history all to
themselves Wednesday night (ABC, 8 ET) by beating No. 2 Texas in the Rose Bowl (Presented by Citi)
and winning an unprecedented third straight national title.
"Well, the very fact that no one's ever done it is testimony to
how difficult it is," said former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian,
who won two championships and 95 games in 11 seasons with Notre
Dame. "It's almost impossible to stay in that superiority position
because of the very nature of the game."
Hard rains Sunday and Monday left California drenched, but
Pasadena is expected to be dry and cool by kickoff. So only the
Longhorns will be left to slow Heisman Trophy winners Leinart and
Bush in USC's run at history.
At almost every turn, coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans have
played down the historical significance of the Bowl Championship
Series title game, insisting they haven't given it much thought.
"If I did that, then I wouldn't stay with the discipline of how
we do stuff," Carroll said. "It has never been a focus of our
program to look at the end of the rainbow."
The Associated Press poll began crowning champions in 1936 and
five years later Minnesota became the first school to win
USC became the ninth team to repeat with an emphatic 55-19
victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl last January.
In between, Oklahoma did it for Wilkinson (1955-56) and for
Barry Switzer (1974-75). Nebraska also turned the trick with two
coaches -- Bob Devaney (1970-71) and Tom Osborne (1994-95).
Running backs Doc Blanchard (Mr. Inside) and Glenn Davis (Mr.
Outside), the last teammates to win consecutive Heismans before
Bush and Leinart, led Army to championships in 1944-45.
Bryant won two in a row twice at Alabama -- 1964-65 and again in
1978-79. The Crimson Tide's first back-to-back championships were
the centerpiece of Bryant's most successful run -- from 1961-66, the
Tide went 60-5-1 and won three titles.
The Sooners won 47 straight games under Wilkinson from 1953-57,
an NCAA record and eight games more than the next closest streak.
But what is often forgotten is Oklahoma won 31 in a row from
Coach Darrell Royal led Texas to a title in 1963, but the
Longhorns slipped in the mid '60s. Looking for a new approach, he
brought the wishbone to Austin in 1968 and went on 30-game winning
streak that included the school's last outright title in 1969.
"The wishbone was good to us," said Royal, who was in Southern
California on Monday.
Comparing USC and dynasties from decades ago is in many ways
impossible. The game was so different then, from segregation to the
size of the athletes to scholarship limits.
"There are more good football teams today, I think, than there
has ever been," Parseghian said. "I think it's much more
significant today, and not to diminish past accomplishments, but
the very fact that it's a different ballgame today, it's much more
difficult to go undefeated and go on to win the national
In the last 25 years, Miami, Nebraska and Florida State have put
together long strings of dominance.
The Hurricanes from 1983-91 won four championship under three
coaches -- Howard Schnellenberger (1983), Jimmy Johnson (1987) and
Dennis Erickson (1989, '91) -- and changed the game by placing an
extra emphasis on speed and playing prostyle offenses.
Osborne's best teams came toward the end of his career. Taking a
cue from Miami, Osborne's team got faster and in 1995 he put
together his best squad.
Tommie Frazier, Lawrence Phillips and the Blackshirt defense
became the first repeat champions in 16 seasons by throttling
Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl.
"I always felt the '72 USC team was the best team I ever saw,"
longtime college football announcer Keith Jackson said. "Then
along came '95 Nebraska. Whoa! My word. But if these guys, if USC
wins, they've got to be right there, too. You can't deny them
It's hard to overestimate what Leinart's decision to return to
USC for his final season has meant to the Trojans. He goes into the
Rose Bowl 37-1 as a starter.
"Rarely do you have everything come together, a good supporting
class and that key quarterback there for three years," Osborne
said. "Anytime you break in a quarterback, no matter, how talented
it's hard to go out and win every game."
Bobby Bowden and Florida State finished in the top five of the
AP rankings every season from 1987-2000.
Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward brought the Seminoles a title
in 1993. Florida State played in the first three Bowl Championship
Series title games, winning only in '99.
"I think that would set (the Trojans) apart, when you start
talking about how great are they," Bowden said. "Do they belong
to be named among one the best ever? Yeah, if they win three in a
Miami rose again, and won 34 straight games from 2000-03, but
only one national title in 2001. An overtime loss to Ohio State the
next season kept the 'Canes from repeating.
"We know what we have in hand and it's hard to not think about
it," USC defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "Very hard."