In USC’s long, illustrious history, there have been many moments worthy of reliving time and time again. There are few programs that have had such a dramatic impact on the college football landscape as USC has had, ranging from the time USC traveled to the Deep South with Sam Cunningham and literally changed the face of the game, to the “Bush Push” at Notre Dame which was one of the craziest games of the 2005 season that technically never happened according to the NCAA. So every Thursday we at Reign of Troy are going to take you back to some of these moments once again so you can bask in USC’s glory one more time.
To kick off the first Throwback Thursday, we wind back the clock to 2003, during the heart of the Decade of Dominance. USC thought after a beat down of Oregon State, it was headed to the BCS championship, but the voters had other plans, creating a moment that will forever be known to Trojans as:
On Dec. 6, 2003, USC capped in season with a 52-28 victory over the Oregon State Beavers. This, after going 12-1 all season, the only loss coming to Aaron Rodgers and Cal in a triple overtime thriller. As expected, USC made this game memorable not just for the score, but for some big time plays that came with it. QB Matt Leinart had an exceptional day, throwing for five touchdown passes. That record would not be passed until the 2011 season, when Matt Barkley would throw for six TDs against Colorado.
But that wasn’t even the best part.
One of Leinart’s five touchdown passes was to WR Mike Williams, one of the best receivers to ever come out of USC. What makes it so special? Williams blew everyones mind and caused every single jaw in the Coliseum to drop when he had a one handed catch in the back of the endzone. He did not cradle it to his body. He did not bring in his other hand to stablize it. He straight up pulled that bad boy out of the air and brought it in with his fingertips like it ain’t no thang.
It was easily one of the most spectacular catches from the 2003 season.
At the end of the game, it seemed obvious that USC would launch itself to the top of the polls. In fact, USC fans were so confident that its team was going to the title game that—at the end of the game when the band played Conquest again and the fans shout out the name of USC’s next opponent—the student section erupted into a “BEAT THE TIGERS!” shout. Not only that, but even the marching band, The Spirit of Troy, thought it was in the bag, as they played Def Leppard’s glam rock anthem “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, a nod to the fact that the national title that year would be at the Sugar Bowl.
However, in spite of the season USC had, the BCS computers had other things in mind.
The next day, Dec. 7, the final rankings of the season—and thereby the ones that would determine who would play for the national championship—came out. To the chagrin of Trojan fans the world over, USC would not be playing in the title game. While the human polls at the time, AP and USA Today/ESPN had USC at No. 1, the computer poll docked the Trojans on the grounds of strength of schedule. Instead, LSU would be challenged by Oklahoma, a devastating blow to the Trojans, who held the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. This decision can never be explained to members of the Trojan Family, who can only rationalize something as egregious as this as a snub. Because, DUH!—nothing else even makes sense, says the Trojan community.
But alas, the football gods would not be too cruel to the Trojans. They would go on to be Rose Bowl Champions by beating the Michigan Wolverines 28-14. The AP Poll would give its national champion tag to USC, a title that some dispute but that Trojan faithful adamantly claim.
Today, news broke of a future four-team playoff that the BCS presidents will vote on in the coming weeks. If this type of playoff were in place back in 2003, there is no way USC would have been left out of the title race.
Even though USC would not get to lift that crystal football at the end of the season, it still put on a terrific show. Matt Leinart started to make a case for itself in 2003, and then from here the Trojans would enter an era of dominance unparalleled by any team in the Pac-12.
Those memories, however, will be saved for another day.
Check back next week for another glimpse into USC’s past with Throwback Thursday.