In honor of July 11, the day Lane Kiffin sent those who follow USC recruiting into a tizzy by landing three top linemen, this Throwback Thursday is dedicated to another time that USC shut the game down in terms of recruiting. So let’s travel back to 2003, when the Trojans landed one of the greatest, most athletic classes of all time.
2003: THE RECRUITING CLASS THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY
The early 2000s were great times to be a Trojan. USC was just beginning its Decade of Dominance, and it start when Pete Carroll began landing incredible rosters of recruits. Such was the case in 2003, when USC opened its doors to some names that will go down in USC history: Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Fili Moala, Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas, and LenDale White all joined the ranks of Troy at the same time, ready to do work.
Oh. And this guy, Reggie Bush. You may have heard of him?
With these guys and the leadership of QB Matt Leinart and head coach Carroll, USC was destined to do great things. And great things they did: At the end of the ’03 season No. 3 USC beat No. 4 Michigan 28-14, in what was a really exciting Rose Bowl. The Trojans closed the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, making them AP National Champions. LSU won the BCS National Championship by beating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, so the Tigers and the Trojans were co-champions.
In 2004, USC started the season ranked No. 1, went undefeated and were only the second team in history to go “wire-to-wire” (ranked first place from preseason to postseason since the AP began releasing preseason rankings). With the return of Leinart and the thunder-and-lightning attack of sophomores Bush and White, coupled with the defensive menaces of All-American defensive tackles Shawn Cody and Mike Patterson, and All-American linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Matt Grootegoed, it’s really no surprised that USC deftly defeated any and all foes that year. They took on Oklahoma in the national title, and may predicted that this game would be close because the two squads were evenly matched. The reality could not be farther from that prediction: the Trojans unloaded on the Sooners in a 55-19 blowout. Matt Leinart won the Heisman, and USC was riding all kinds of high.
The following season, USC was as at the peak of its game. They beat Notre Dame, who had gotten good again, in one of the most exciting games in the history of the rivalry. Of course the game could not go down without controversy; USC won at the last minute because of Bush pushing Leinart into the endzone, which we know as “The Bush Push”. USC also beat up on rivals UCLA that season, winning 66-19. Later, USC would return to the National Championship game to take on Texas, but the Trojans would be bested this time at the last minute by Vince Young and the Longhorns, 41-38. Even still, Bush would win the 2005 Heisman, and would be considered one of the greatest college athletes of all time.
Once that season ended, 11 Trojans declared for the NFL Draft: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dominique Byrd, Winston Justice, Frostee Rucker, Darnell Bing, David Kirtman, LaJuan Ramsey, Fred Matua, and Taitusi “Duece” Latui. USC had the most overall selections that year.
Aside from them, other Class of 2003 recruits ventured to the NFL as well. Steve Smith and Ryan Kalil went in 2007, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, and Terrell Thomas in 2008, and Fili Moala in 2009.
Of course, we know now that the 2004 BCS title would be vacated as well as Bush’s Heisman, and his legacy would be forever tarnished. On the good side though, that loss to Texas technically never happened, but it doesn’t mean any of you will be able to sleep better because of it. If it were not for the 2003 recruiting class, USC would likely not be the dominating powerhouse of the 2000s that we know it as today.
But let me say, the NCAA can take away the hardware but they can never take away the memories, the feelings, and the emotions associated with the pinnacle of USC football.