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

January 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; Former Southern California Trojans player Marcus Allen in attendance watches game action against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
January 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; Former Southern California Trojans player Marcus Allen in attendance watches game action against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s finally here: the first round of RoT Madness. In the Backfield Region, a daunting group of running backs make for tough decisions between USC football legends.

USC football is undoubtedly Tailback U, a moniker earned during the peak of the John McKay era when the Trojans were known for their success with the I-formation. The result was a ton of high-quality running backs and one of college football’s most stacked units in history.

Here’s how the running backs’ RoT Madness bracket shakes out to start, as part of a four-week tournament to find the ultimate Trojan.

Though the subregion omits Anthony Davis –he’s the No. 1 seed in the special teams bracket– it’s a who’s who of Tailback U making the cut.

Can the No. 1 seed Marcus Allen withstand an onslaught including four other players who won the Heisman Trophy? Could there be a Cinderella run by LenDale White or Ricky Bell?

Without further ado, let’s get started in the backfield.

No. 1 Marcus Allen vs. No. 8 Sam Cunningham

The top seed among running backs goes to Marcus Allen as a testament to his incredible four-year career at USC which saw him not only win a Heisman Trophy, but serve as a fullback blocking for Charles White’s.

It’s Allen’s 1981 season that makes him No. 1 going into RoT Madness. He totaled a ridiculous 2,427 rushing yards to shatter USC’s single-season mark set by White just two years before, and was the first back in college to break the 2,000-yard mark in the regular season.

In his career, Allen had an NCAA record eight games of 200 yards or more, including five-straight in ’81. He sits second on the Trojans’ all-time rushing list with 4,810 yards and his 45 touchdowns are second only to LenDale White.

Cunningham, a fullback, earned All-American honors during USC’s 1972 national title run. He put together a touchdown-happy season, finding pay dirt 13 times including four scores against Ohio State in Rose Bowl. He’s perhaps best known for his 135-yard outing against Alabama in 1971, which is widely seen as the accelerator towards integration in the south, particularly in how it influenced head coach Bear Bryant.

All told, Cunningham’s numbers aren’t as enormous as other USC backs due to his play as a fullback. But he still ranks 35th on the Trojans’ all-time rushing list with 1,579 yards over three seasons.

1st Round Matchup: Marcus Allen vs. Sam Cunningham?

No. 4 O.J. Simpson vs. No. 5 Mike Garrett

They were the first two Trojans to ever win the Heisman Trophy, and they did it just three years apart during the heyday of the John McKay Era. Now, O.J. Simpson and Mike Garrett meet in perhaps the most difficult matchup of the first round running backs.

Though Simpson only played at USC for two seasons, he immediately became a college football legend with a dominant 1967 that saw him finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind UCLA’s Gary Beban. He wouldn’t be denied as a senior, rushing for 1,880 yards on his way to the bronze award. His 1,709 regular season yards set the NCAA’s single season record. Simpson currently sits fifth all-time on USC’s rushing list, though his 163 yards per game average is a school record.

After Jon Arnett failed to take home the hardware before him, Garrett became the first Trojan to win the Heisman in 1965. His 3,221 yards have him sixth in school history, but when he left USC, he sat as the NCAA’s all-time career leader in rushing. All told, he set 14 records as a Trojan, and led the nation with 1,440 yards as a senior. Garrett averaged a full half yard more per carry as a senior than Simpson, though he totaled 25 career touchdowns to O.J.’s 23 in 1968 alone.

1st Round Matchup: O.J. Simpson vs. Mike Garrett?

No. 3 Charles White vs. No. 6 LenDale White

The White vs. White matchup comes down to which career record you find the most impressive: career yardage or career touchdowns?

Charles White, a four-year starter at USC in the late 1970s, put together the most prolific career in school history. His 6,245 rushing yards give him a 1,400-yard lead on second-in-line Marcus Allen, and White became just the second player in college football history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a season, when you count bowl games. He did so in 1979 on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy, averaging an unheard-of 6.2 yards per carry in the process. The clip was far and away a school record before the other White got to USC.

That’s LenDale, who rushed for 6.6 yards per carry in 2005, the second-most by a Trojan tailback with at least 150 carries in a season. His career is an interesting one to assess, in part because he split carries with Reggie Bush, who won the Heisman Trophy.

Because of that, LenDale is neither an All-American nor a trophy winner himself, not to mention being shut out of first-team All-Conference honors. He didn’t rush for 2,000 yards, and was never undoubtedly the guy, despite his more traditional use as a bruising tailback.

Yet, he sits eighth on the all-time rushing list with 3,159 yards and his 52 career touchdowns broke the record previously held by Marcus Allen. Of those scores, 24 came as a junior, besting O.J. Simpson’s single-season record of 23.

1st Round Matchup: Charles White vs. LenDale White?

No. 2 Reggie Bush vs. No. 7 Ricky Bell

You could make the case Reggie Bush and Ricky Bell are the two best USC football players without a Heisman Trophy. That is, of course, on a technicality

Bush got to USC in 2003 and redefined what it meant to be electrifying in college football. With the elusiveness of R. Jay Soward, the speed of Sultan McCullough and the savvy of Marcus Allen, he was a special kind of special. He returned kicks, was a versatile receiver and an extremely prolific tailback.

It all came to a head in 2005, when he put together arguably the best season by a Trojan ever, all on his way to the Heisman. Bush totaled 1,740 rushing yards at an 8.7 yards per career average, which at the time was a mind-boggling 2.5 yards more yards that anyone else in school history with more than 150 carries in a season. Against Fresno State alone, he had an unthinkable 513 all-purpose yards, an NCAA record.

But alas, Bush’s legacy is a muddied one. His Heisman Trophy victory was stripped and his records were wiped out of the NCAA books following his role with sanctions levied on USC in 2010.

Ricky Bell’s road to being Heisman-free was a wee bit different. He simply was unlucky. The Trojans’ single-game rushing record holder –347 vs. Washington State in 1975– finished third and second for the award. It’s the ’75 trophy that stings. Bell led the country with 1,957 yards, but voters favored the previous year’s winner –Ohio State’s Archie Griffin– who only amassed 1,450 yards and four touchdowns.

Bell sits fourth on USC’s all-time rushing list with 3,857 yards and ranks third among single-season marks for his efforts in 1975.

1st Round Matchup: Reggie Bush vs. Ricky Bell?

Difficult decisions all around, eh? 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.

Did you go with best over greatest? Pick your favorite player? We want to know.