RoT Madness, First Round: Voting for USC Football Defensive Backs

Aug 8, 2015; Canton, OH, USA; Ronnie Lott during the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 8, 2015; Canton, OH, USA; Ronnie Lott during the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s finally here: the first round of RoT Madness. In the Downfield Region, USC football legends from Ronnie Lott to Troy Polamalu compete for the ultimate crown.

When you think of key positions in USC football history, the secondary always comes to mind. The Trojans seemingly always have a star safety. But who’s the best?

Here’s how the defensive backs’ RoT Madness bracket looks, as they’re slotted alongside the wide receivers in the Downfield Region.

The subregion doesn’t feature 2016 Thorpe Award winner Adoree’ Jackson –he’s the No. 2 seed in the special teams bracket– but it’s a strong list of Trojan defensive backs, mainly at safety.

Both Ronnie Lott and Troy Polamalu are in the discussion among the all-time great safeties in the history of football, while Taylor Mays was a three-time All-American and Mark Carrier won the Thorpe.

Without further ado, let’s get started downfield.

No. 1 Ronnie Lott vs. No. 8 Daylon McCutcheon

What’s there to say about Ronnie Lott? He’s a College Football Hall of Famer, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and was part of the Pac-12’s All-Century team.

Lott played both cornerback and safety at USC, tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight as a senior, and earned All-American honors. He ranks fourth on the Trojans’ all-time career interceptions list, and as a sophomore in 1978, led the team in both recovered fumbles and pass deflections.

He simply did everything and is one of the most known football players in the history of the game. Therefore it’s a tall task for Daylon McCutcheon, one of the great lost players of the lackluster 1990s.

In the discussion for the best pure corner in USC history, McCutcheon is 17th all-time with 10 interceptions and was twice an All-Pac-10 first-team selection. He had a 53-yard jaunt in the 1996 Rose Bowl win over Northwestern after scooping up a fumble.

1st Round Matchup: Ronnie Lott vs. Daylon McCutcheon?

No. 4 Dennis Smith vs. No. 5 Taylor Mays

Dennis Smith and Taylor Mays are a curious case of the opposite sides of the same coin. While Smith never earned All-American honors despite his sound play alongside Ronnie Lott, Mays was a three-time All-American next to Kevin Ellison, who never got the accolades. Nonetheless, the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup is an interesting one.

How much was Smith playing in a shadow perceived by national voters? Though Lott was a unanimous All-American selection in 1980, he wasn’t so far ahead to not share the team’s Defensive Player of the Year Award with Smith. After leading the team in interceptions as a sophomore and junior, the two-time All-Pac-10 selection snagged four as a senior to finish with 16 for his career. To date, Smith is third all-time on USC’s career interceptions list, trailing only Artimus Parker and Danny Reece, neither of whom made RoT Madness.

Mays on the other hand reaped the benefits of his surroundings to the tune of accolades galore. He was a unanimous All-American selection in 2008, the only year in which he didn’t record an interception. His AA honor as a senior made him just the third Trojan to ever be selected three times, joining Richard Wood and Sam Baker. He finished his career with 276 tackles and five interceptions.

1st Round Matchup: Dennis Smith vs. Taylor Mays?

No. 3 Mark Carrier vs. No. 6 Tim McDonald

Talk about dominant safeties, Mark Carrier and Tim McDonald were just that, each being two-time All-Americans. Carrier took an extra honor, however.

In 1989, he became the first USC Trojan to ever with the Thorpe Award, capping off a stellar senior season in which he tallied seven interceptions and 10 pass breakups, along with 107 tackles. He sits in a logjam at sixth on the school list for the most career interceptions, and his 336 tackles are second all-time among safeties.

Who’s the only safety with more tackles than Carrier? McDonald, of course, with 339. The Fresno native and father of T.J. earned All-American honors in 1985 and 1986. Twice he led USC in pass deflections, and his 11 career interceptions place him 13th. McDonald’s quirkiest achievement might’ve come as a senior against Baylor. He picked up a fumble and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown to set a school record for the longest fumble recovery.

1st Round Matchup: Mark Carrier vs. Tim McDonald?

No. 2 Troy Polamalu vs. No. 7 Dennis Thurman

How’s this for a tough first round matchup? A duel of two two-time All-Americans, Troy Polamalu and Dennis Thurman.

Polamalu, the No. 2 seed among defensive backs, earned the honors in 2001 and 2002 as a hard-hitting defensive maestro known for playing all over the field. After a strong sophomore season, he exploded as a junior, leading the Trojans with 118 tackles, blocking three punts and returning two interceptions for touchdowns. A high-ankle sprain dampened his senior season early, but Polamalu fought through it and was the heart and soul Pete Carroll’s first BCS bowl-winning team.

Thurman was a three-way player at USC, but blossomed as an upper classman, when he was a consensus and then unanimous All-American selection in 1976 and 1977. In his junior season, he snatched eight interceptions to lead the Pac-8, and currently sits tied for sixth on the Trojans’ all-time interceptions list with 13. Thurman coached USC’s defensive backs from 1993 to 2000, and was most recently on the 2016 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame.

1st Round Matchup: Troy Polamalu vs. Dennis Thurman?

Be sure to vote in the first round of RoT Madness for both running backs and defensive backs, then hop down below in the comments and make your case for how you voted.

Was there a player you think should’ve made the bracket that got snubbed? Did you go with your heart? How did stats play a role in your vote? Sound off.