USC football has historic success in winning games and for producing great running backs. The nickname “Tailback U” was coined as far back as the late 1960s and early ’70s and carried all the way through the early 2000s with little downfall between. While there hasn’t been a standout in the past decade or so, the Trojans unquestionably have the most consistent timeline of churning out guys from the backfield. Narrowing it down to a handful, ranked are the top five to play in Los Angeles.
5. Charles White (1976-79)
Born: Los Angeles, California
Weight: 190 lbs
White’s pinnacle at USC would come in his junior and senior seasons with a National Championship ring in 1978 and a Heisman Trophy in 1979. In both of those seasons, he was Pac-10 Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American. He is one of just four individuals to be named Rose Bowl Player of the Game on two occasions.
In 1980, he declared for the NFL Draft where he was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the 27th overall pick. He would play eight seasons in the NFL and during this time he was a Pro Bowler and rushing yards leader in 1987. In total, he rushed for 3,075 yards and 24 touchdowns.
4. Mike Garrett (1962-65)
Born: Los Angeles, California
Weight: 190 lbs
Garrett, like most on this list (spoiler: all), is a former Heisman Trophy winner, taking the honors back in 1965. The LA native brought prototypical size with a low center of gravity and the build of a fire hydrant. This helped him rush for a career 3,221 yards and 30 touchdowns, numbers unheard of during the era. During the Heisman season, he cracked 1,440 yards on 267 carries while also catching 36 balls and returned 43 punts and 30 kickoffs. For good measure, he threw six passes behind the line of scrimmage for two touchdowns.
Several years after his playing career, which included eight seasons in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers and a Super Bowl IV victory, Garrett was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
3. Marcus Allen (1978-81)
Born: San Diego, California
Weight: 210 lbs
Allen is well known for his time with the NFL’s Raiders, helping the organization win Super Bowl XVIII during the team’s time in Los Angeles from 1982-1992. Allen would receive the game’s MVP award by rushing for 191 yards and scoring two touchdowns in a win over the Redskins in 1984. He also won Rookie of the Year in 1982 and league MVP in 1985. His bust resides in Canton, Ohio as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in an illustrious 15-year career.
However, greatness didn’t start in the NFL, as Allen moved north from San Diego to attend USC in 1978. Recruited as a defensive back, he was immediately switched to the offensive backfield and there he helped the Trojans win a National Championship in his first season, albeit as a backup. After a one-year stint as fullback in 1979, he was given full duties of the tailback position and ranked third in the nation for rushing yards with 1,563. He lost out in Heisman consideration due to the monster season of South Carolina’s George Rogers. He made up for it in 1982, receiving the award due to a 2,342 rushing total and leading the nation in scoring.
To this day, he is one of just three players to rush for more than 200 yards in a game 12 separate times. His career totals include 4,664 rushing yards, 46 touchdowns and a 5.2 average per carry. Allen’s number 33 jersey is retired at USC and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
2. Reggie Bush (2003-05)
Bush is the only man on this list to win two National Championships (2003, 2004) over the course of his college career. He was a Heisman finalist in 2004 but ended up finishing fifth in the voting. He would win the honor in 2005 but later was asked to give back the trophy after the controversy that swarmed the USC campus. Wasting no time prior to that, Bush was one of the more dynamic freshman players college football has ever seen. He was lethal in the running, receiving, and returning games where he amassed 1,331 all-purpose yards and was an All-American.
Taken with the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Bush helped the New Orleans Saints win Super Bowl XLIV over the Indianapolis Colts. While he has had a successful NFL career, the pre-draft hype that surrounded Bush never fully materialized in the NFL.
For Bush, the legacy was built mostly in California. In all, Bush rushed for 3,169 yards and 25 touchdowns, received for 1,301 yards and 13 touchdowns, returned 1,522 yards for one score on kick returns, and gained 559 yards and scored three times on punt returns as a Trojan.
Despite the NFL disappointment, there was no question Bush was the most indispensable player on a USC roster that appeared in three straight national title games from 2003-05.
1. O.J. Simpson (1967-68)
Born: San Francisco, California
Weight: 210 lbs
Eliminating everything outside of the gridiron, O.J. Simpson is one of the best players to ever run the football. Despite only playing for two seasons at USC, he was highly productive from the beginning and beyond.
In 1967, he gained 1,543 yards on the ground and scored 13 touchdowns but fell just short of winning the Heisman. He would win it the next season after going for a career-high 1,880 yards and 22 touchdowns on a whopping 383 carries. Simpson still holds the largest margin of victory for a Heisman winner, creating a 1,750 point gap.
He would do more severe damage in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him with the first overall pick in the 1969 NFL Draft. He would win league MVP in 1973 and be a five-time first team All-Pro. He led the league in rushing four times including back-to-back years twice. Simpson would earn five straight Pro Bowl nods and play in the NFL for ten years, the last two coming with the San Francisco 49ers.
In his career, he totaled 11,236 yards for a 4.7 average per carry and scored 61 touchdowns in the NFL. He was inducted into the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame.
While some of his totals don’t exceed everyone else on this list, “The Juice” was the most dominant player when in his prime both in college and the NFL and it wasn’t particularly close. This is especially true when considering the age of time.
By and large, Southern California has been the standard for generating running backs in the game of football.