The USC football program has been mentioned in the Linebacker U discussion, making for a vaunted RoT Madness bracket.
Club 55 is a big deal in the USC football program, and three members made an All-American-laden RoT Madness field, including a pair as linebackers.
Here’s a look at the linebackers bracket, which sits on the top half of the Front Region:
Almost as deep as USC’s uber-talented crop of running backs, the linebackers in the Front Region make a tough group of eight. Snubs include Su’a Cravens, Brian Cushing and Damon Bame, but stars like Junior Seau and Rey Maualuga could make deep runs in the tournament.
Now, let’s vote…
No. 1 Junior Seau vs. No. 8 Chip Banks
Despite only playing two seasons at USC due to academic ineligibility and an early entry to the NFL Draft, Junior Seau is among the USC greats. It’s mostly because his 1989 season was one of the most dominant in school history.
He had 27 tackles for loss and 19 sacks –both highs for a USC linebacker– along with 12 pass deflections. His four sacks against Oregon tied a school record for sacks in a game, and he posted five tackles for loss against Arizona alone.
Chris Dufresne of the LA Times once put it perfectly. “[Seau] ransacked opposing backfields with a ferocity and flair that transcended football generations.”
Said impact has been seen by way of his number, as Seau was the originator of the Club 55 fraternity at USC.
It’s an uphill battle for first round foe Chip Banks, but he might just be a No. 8 seed worthy of a shout. An All-American in 1981, Banks had a pair of big years as an upperclassman at USC, both seeing him earn All-Conference honors.
He twice led the Trojans in tackles and tackles for loss –Seau never led in any stat category– and topped the stat sheet in both interceptions and fumble recoveries as a senior.
No. 4 Rey Maualuga vs. No. 5 Matt Grootegoed
It’s safe to say this is the matchup of the first round between the linebackers. While Rey Maualuga won the Bednarik Award as the top player on USC’s vaunted 2008 defense, Matt Grootegoed was a dynamic playmaker and All-American who brought versatility to two national title teams.
Maualuga got to USC in 2005 and was a mainstay in the Trojans’ defense all four years, as the Ying to the Yang that was Brian Cushing. Despite being a physical, hard-hitting middle linebacker rather than a stat monster, he still twice led the team with 79 tackles. He finished as a rare three-time All-Pac-10 first-teamer and took home unanimous All-American honors in 2008.
For the diminutive Grootegoed, the name of the game was getting the most out of his 5-foot-11, 215-pound frame. He did just that as an outside linebacker who both rushed off the edge and dropped back in coverage to help.
The versatility led to a whopping 16.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2002, along with a team-high five interceptions in his final season.
No. 3 Chris Claiborne vs. No. 6 Lofa Tatupu
For a school with so many historically relevant linebackers, it’s incredible USC has only had a single Butkus Award winner. That’s Chris Claiborne, who took home the hardware in 1998.
The No. 55 topped the Trojans’ stat sheet with 120 tackles, 16 pass deflections and six interceptions, including two he took to the end zone. And Claiborne did it with virtually no one around him, a claim you can’t make about Lofa Tatupu.
The emotional defensive leader on two national championship teams, Tatupu was your prototypical play-making middle linebacker for USC after transferring from FCS Maine. In just two years of action, he totaled 202 tackles (25 for loss), seven interceptions and 18 deflections.
No. 2 Richard Wood vs. No. 7 Jack Del Rio
Only three players throughout USC football history have three years of All-American honors to their name: Sam Baker, Taylor Mays and of course, Richard ‘Batman’ Wood.
Having signed with the Trojans in the last year in which freshmen weren’t permitted to play varsity football, who’s to say the linebacker couldn’t have gotten a fourth?
Wood led USC’s defense to a pair of national titles in 1972 and 1974, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007, the only Trojan linebacker there.
Jack Del Rio, the current head coach of the Oakland Raiders, might be under-seeded and primed for an upset. Since USC started tracking tackles for loss in 1975, no All-American honoree has amassed more career TFLs than Del Rio. He had 58 as a four-year starter, leading the team his final three seasons.
In 1984 –his All-American campaign– Del Rio took home the Pop Warner Award and finished as the runner-up for the Lombardi, despite not being a first-team All-Pac-10 selection like he was the two previous seasons.
Be sure to vote in the rest of the first round of RoT Madness, 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.