51 days to USC football: The greatness of Chip Banks and the promise of Marlon Tuipulotu

RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy) /

Linebacker Chip Banks starred in the No. 51 back in the day. Now USC football is hoping to find a new star in defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu.

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USC football is 51 days away!

What can be done to make the countdown pass a little bit quicker? How about joining Reign of Troy as we examine each jersey number, from past greats to present prospects.

CHECK OUT: Freshman CB enters transfer portal after one month

Today, the No. 51 is on tap:

Who wore it best?

Before the 1978 season, injuries wrecked USC’s linebacker corps and the Trojans were forced to start two freshmen: Chip Banks and Riki Ellison.

“If you told me that I’d be starting two freshmen linebackers in the first game, I might not have showed up,” head coach John Robinson was quoted by the Arizona Republic. “But with these two kids starting, I will.”

THROWBACK: A win over Texas launched USC’s 1967 title team

Robinson had little to worry about because Ellison would go on to become an all-conference player while Banks would eventually garner All-American acclaim, becoming the best Trojan to wear No. 51.

Banks served as a regular member of the linebacker rotation and part-time starter for the early part of his Trojan career. As a freshman in 1978, he pitched in with 45 tackles as USC secured a national title. The next year he led the team with 12 tackles for loss as while contributing to a second-straight Rose Bowl victory.

It wasn’t long before he took on more of a starring role, leading the Trojans in tackles and tackles for loss in 1980. Voted captain ahead of the 1981 season, he delivered with 137 tackles while achieving All-American status.

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After Banks’ junior campaign, Robinson called him “one of the greatest players in college football.”

“If he were draftable now and not just as a junior, he’d be taken as one of the top four or five picks,” Robinson said in the San Francisco Examiner.

Indeed, Robinson was right. When he graduated from USC in 1982, Banks was selected third overall by the Cleveland Browns.

Who wears it now?

Two Trojans will carry on the legacy of the No. 51 in 2019, neither of them linebackers.

DEPTH CHART: Projecting USC’s 2019 lineup after Spring Camp

Defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu started 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and he will be looking to build on that debut this year.

Tuipulotu was a highly-touted recruit coming out of Central High in Independence, Oregon in 2017. A back injury prevented him from making a splash as a true freshman, but he was certainly set up to do so. He impressed so much in Spring and Fall Camp that he won a starting role by Week 2 against Stanford.

Last year, Tuipulotu quietly compiled a solid season with 33 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks. The Trojans lacked a consistent pass rush in 2018, so it will be important for the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder to use that first year of playing experience as a spring board.

An accomplished wrestler, Tuipulotu arrived at USC with clear strength, technical polish and supreme coachability. His next job will be raising his ceiling well beyond “solid” and up towards “standout.”

RELATED: Tuipulotu showing explosiveness in camp

On the other side of the line, the Trojans have a new No. 51 in Bernard Schirmer, an offensive tackle who transferred to USC last season from junior college.

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Schirmer’s arrival drew plenty of headlines because he had been embroiled in a controversy at the JUCO level after punching a referee during a game in 2016. USC offered him a chance to put that incidence behind him, but his participation was limited during his first season. He played in just two games on special teams.

Though there would have been an opportunity for Schirmer to battle for a starting job during spring camp, he missed a large chunk of practice while dealing with a “personal” matter.

When Fall Camp rolls around he will once again enter the fray for the open right tackle job, but the arrival of Tennessee transfer Drew Richmond and the establishment of Jalen McKenzie during the spring could hinder a run at playing time.

Stats to know: 51

  • Defensive back Mike Battle was USC’s 51st All-American of all-time in 1968.
  • Running back Ricky Bell set USC game records with 347 yards on 51 carries against Washington State in 1976.
  • Running back C.J. Gable stands ninth on USC’s career kickoff return list with 51 returns for 1,196 yards and one touchdown.
  • Kicker Chase McGrath’s career-long is 51 yards, which he hit against Arizona State in 2017.
  • The highest losing score for USC ever was 51 points in a loss to Oregon in 2012. The Ducks scored 62.
  • The largest margin of victory for an opponent over the Trojans was achieved by Notre Dame in 1966 with a 51-0 win.
  • Wide receiver Steve Smith, whose season long reception in 2004 was 51 yards, was selected 51st overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
  • Athletic director Lynn Swann had 51 career touchdowns in the NFL.

Next. 52 Days to Kickoff