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Morgan Breslin led the Pac-12 in sacks last season, his first year in a USC uniform after transferring from Diablo Valley Junior College, where he was a JuCo-All-American.
Breslin’s stellar play has led to a slew of preseason honors heading into the 2013 season, which raises an interesting question: Who the best junior college transfers in USC football history?
We took the time to come up with a hotly contested top five, though the top two spots are complete no-brainers.
1. O.J. Simpson
There will probably never be another player, much less a junior college transfer, more dominant in his only two years of NCAA football as Simpson. Not only was Simpson considered to be the most athletic running back ever during his career, he was undoubtedly the best player in college football in both 1967 and 1968. Simpson came to USC after spending his first two collegiate years at the City College of San Francisco and finished a close second in the Heisman balloting to UCLA’s Gary Beban as a junior. That year, Simpson ran for a school-record 1,543 yards and 13 touchdowns, part of which came in scoring the most iconic touchdown in USC football history, a 64-yard scamper in which he reversed field against No. 1 UCLA. In 1968, Simpson improved on his record marks, rushing for 1,880 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns on his way to a landslide Heisman victory over Purdue’s Leroy Keyes. Had Simpson gone to USC directly out of high school, he would have likely won the starting tailback job after Mike Garrett’s departure in 1966, and very well could have won multiple Heisman Trophies.
2. Keyshawn Johnson
Johnson did in two years what seemingly no one else could do in a college career. As a senior in 1995, Johnson, who came to USC from West Los Angeles Community College, set school and Pac-12 records for receiving. His 102 catches would be the most by a Pac-12 receiver until 2011 and 2012, when Robert Woods and Marqise Lee beat and furthered the mark. Johnson was a unanimous All-American in 1995 and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting, just ahead of Michigan’s Tim Biakabutuka and Florida State’s Warrick Dunn. As for the most mind-boggling record that Johnson set at USC? Probably his astounding 17 100-yard performances during his two seasons. For comparison’s sake, Woods and Lee have 20 combined, in five seasons of play. As a quick and physical receiver, Johnson set the trend for big wideouts at USC, which Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett subsequently built upon during the following decade. Johnson is one of five Trojans to be selected as the first overall pick of the NFL Draft, along with Ron Yary, O.J Simpson, Ricky Bell and Carson Palmer.
3. Hal Bedsole
Long before Johnson, Woods and Lee, Hal Bedsole was busy becoming USC’s first outstanding receiver. The tight end led the team in receptions in two of his three years as a letterman, and had a sensational junior season on USC’s 1962 national championship team, earning honors as a unanimous All-American. Bedsole caught 33 passes and scored 11 touchdowns, both of which set school records. The best game of his career came at home to Cal in 1962, when Bedsole caught six passes for 201 yards and two scores. The day set a single-game receiving yards record at USC that stood for 31 years, the same amount of time it took for Bedsole’s single-single touchdown record to come down. To this day, the former Pierce College Brahma holds the career record for most yards per reception, as he averaged just under 21 yards per catch during his career.
4. Jim Sears
After attending El Camino Junior College in Torrance, Sears went to USC, where he was a unanimous All-American as two-way player in 1952. Sears was to USC what Matt Grootegoed was to Mater Dei, doing seemingly everything for the Trojans, starting as a halfback on offense and a linebacker on defense. He ran for 318 yards in ’52, in addition to throwing for another 712 through the air, and returning 30 punts for 478 yards. As a linebacker, he got on the stat sheet with the only interception of his career. Sears didn’t have an abundance of NFL success, bouncing from team to team before spending one year on the USC coaching staff in 1959. Had he played today, he’d like be perfectly suited for the two-way game of the Arena Football League.
5. Frank Gifford
Like Willie Wood who was left off the list, the bulk of Gifford’s contributions to the game of football came at the professional level. Gifford, an NFL Hall of Famer, was a six-time All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl eight times over the course of his 12-year career with the New York Giants. Though while at USC, he was the Trojans’ all-everything player in the same vain as Jim Sears. He wasn’t the unanimous All-American that Sears was, but he still earned the honor in 1951 and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975. Gifford was set to originally come to USC as a freshman in 1948, but due to struggles with academics, wound up playing his first year of college ball at Bakersfield Junior College. He finally got to USC in 1949 but it wasn’t until the 1951 season when was able to leave his mark. In his All-American senior season, Gifford led the Trojans with 841 rushing yards and accounted for nine touchdowns, while starting at both halfback and kicker, in addition to serving as the team’s quarterback.
Honorable Mentions: Willie Wood, Deuce Lutui, Will Poole, Morgan Breslin and Scott Ware. (Oh, and Sunny Bird.)