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College Football: The 10 Greatest Running Backs in USC History

Archie Griffin, Marcus Allen, Maxell

The University of Southern California (USC) is sometimes referred to as “Tailback U,” a name that adequately reflects the number of top flight running backs that have worn the school’s cardinal and gold jersey. Five of the school’s runners have gone on to win the Heisman Trophy, while another four have been finalists. Here then is a list of the top USC tailbacks of all-time.

1) O.J. Simpson
Despite his infamous notoriety for conduct outside the gridiron, few runners could match Simpson’s exploits on the field. This gifted runner played two remarkable seasons for the Trojans, gaining 1,451 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns in 1967, and 1,709 yards and 22 touchdowns in 1968. The latter season earned him the Heisman Trophy, along with the Maxwell Award. On the tail of his fantastic college career, the Buffalo Bills made Simpson the 1st pick overall in the 1969 NFL Draft. Simpson lived up to his billing, setting multiple NFL records in a Hall of Fame career.

2) Marcus Allen
Successful at both the college and pro level, Marcus Allen had a fantastic ending to his career at USC, picking up the 1981 Heisman and Maxell awards after a fantastic senior season in which he became the first NCAA player to go over the 2,000 yard mark, when he rushed for 2,342 yards. Marcus, who was drafted by the Raiders in the first round of the 1982 draft, went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL rushing for 12,243 yards and 123 touchdowns.

3) Charles White
Small by NFL standards, White nevertheless had a brilliant college career that cultivated in the winning of the Heisman Trophy in 1979. In his stellar college career White ran for 5,598 yards. Drafted late in the 1st round (27th overall) by the Cleveland Browns, White was almost written off as a bust, until he led the NFL in rushing in 1987, when he gained 1,387 yards for the Rams. He was elected to the College Hall of Fame in 1996.

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4) Reggie Bush
As electrifying a player as there has been in the USC backfield, Bush captured the 2005 Heisman Trophy and the Doak Walker Award with a spectacular season that saw him gain 1,740 yards on only 200 carries. Reggie also showed his all around skills by leading the nation in all purpose yards with 222.3 yards per game. Drafted second overall in the 2006 draft by the New Orleans Saints, his career in the NFL is just starting.

5) Anthony Davis
The Reggie Bush of the 1970’s, Davis was an all around offensive weapon that could score running, receiving or kick returning the ball. Best remembered for the role he played in USC’s come from behind blow out of Notre Dame in 1974, Davis finished second to Archie Griffin in the voting for the Heisman that year. After his college career, Davis had the dubious distinction of playing in four pro leagues, the WFL (1975), CFL (1976), NFL (1977-1978), and the USFL (1983). Though he had some success early on as a pro, he never reached the heights of his famed college career.

6) Ricky Bell
Like Davis before him, Bell’s run at the Heisman fell short, finishing second to Tony Dorsett in 1976, and 3rd as a junior in 1975 when he led the nation in rushing with 1,957 yards. A strong, powerful runner, Bell was taken first overall in the 1977 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bell enjoyed short-lived success with Tampa Bay, gaining over 1,200 yards in 1979, before his career tragically ended from conditions brought about by heart disease.

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7) Mike Garrett
The first USC’s Heisman Trophy (1965) winning tailback, Garrett enjoyed an All-American career for the Trojans, in which he collected over 3,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns for the team. He went on to enjoy a great career in pro football, gaining over 8,000 total yards and a Super Bowl ring while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 60’s-70’s.

8) LenDale White
If not for Reggie Bush, LenDale White would rate higher on this list. A powerful back who unfortunately came along in the era of Reggie Bush, White still managed to rush for over 3,000 yards and more than 50 touchdowns in his USC career. He was at his best during the big games, and was taken in the second round of 2006 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

9) Frank Gifford
Best known for an amazing NFL career as a, safety, halfback and receiver, Gifford nevertheless was an All-American tailback at USC in 1951, when after making a switch from defense, he rushed for 841 yards and seven touchdowns for the Trojans. Amazingly enough, Frank also managed to pass for over 300 yards and two more scores. He was drafted in the first round by the Giants and enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

10) Jon Arnett
Arnett could have been the first USC tailback to win a Heisman, had he not been suspended for half of his senior season. The All-American tailback enjoyed a stellar career at USC, and is a member of college football’s Hall of Fame. He followed his success at USC by being selected to the Pro-Bowl five times during his NFL career.