USC football “what ifs” that could have been national titles

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Jeff Gross/Getty Images /
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Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Jeff Gross/Getty Images /

How many more national titles could USC football have achieved this century? Quite a few had “what if” moments gone in the Trojans’ favor.

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Even though USC football has hit a rough patch in recent years, the Trojans are still one of the most successful programs of this century so far.

That’s almost all thanks to the successes of the Pete Carroll era, which were many.

Even so, Carroll’s teams only came away with two national titles. There could have been many more, if just a couple of “what ifs” had gone a different way.

For the purposes of this exercise, the “what if” moments are being restricted to plays with as clear outcomes as possible. That means something like “what if Vince Young’s knee-down lateral touchdown had been reversed” isn’t on the table, because that play happened in the first half and it’s impossible to track exactly how the rest of the game would have gone from there.

2003: The BCS title

USC was left out of the BCS title games in 2003 because of a triple overtime loss to Cal.

The Trojans came back from a 21-7 halftime deficit, scored a field goal with 16 seconds remaining to force overtime and survived a fumble at the goal line in the first period of overtime thanks to a blocked kick on the other end. Unfortunately, a missed 39-yard field goal in the third overtime sealed the deal as the Bears hit their kick to win it.

What if Hershel Dennis hadn’t fumbled at the goal line and USC had scored a touchdown in the first place? What if Ryan Killeen had made his kick and the Trojans ultimately prevailed?

Either way USC was crowned national champions, but the Trojans would have been placed in the official BCS National Championship Game had they been undefeated that year. That would have meant a matchup with Oklahoma, who were beaten by LSU.

Assuming USC wins that game, the split national title would not have happened.