With a victory over the New York Giants in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the New England Patriots would complete a 19-0 season, making them the NFL’s new gold standard. This is the second in a series of stories looking at legendary teams in other sports.
There was no argument about college football’s greatest team in the year 1972 BBBCS (Back Before The Bowl Championship Series).
USC began that season with some doubters, ranked No. 8 as it ventured to Little Rock for its opener against No. 4 Arkansas, but that condition was very temporary. The Trojans thrashed the Razorbacks, 31-10, proving themselves vastly underrated.
Pollsters quickly noticed and corrected the situation. USC reigned No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings throughout the rest of an eventual 12-0 season, which culminated in a 42-17 Rose Bowl rout of Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes.
College football historians also refer to that year as 1972 AD (Anthony Davis, who scored six touchdowns in a 45-23 triumph over No. 10 Notre Dame) and BC (Sam “Bam” Cunningham, who had four second-half touchdowns against Ohio State to break a 7-7 halftime tie in the Rose Bowl).
All told, USC defeated six top-20 teams -- including No. 14 UCLA, No. 15 Stanford and No. 18 Washington -- by an average of more than 20 points a game.
The Trojans’ roster featured 33 players who would eventually be drafted by NFL teams, including five first-round selections: tight end Charlie Young (1973 draft), Cunningham (1973), offensive tackle Pete Adams (1973), wide receiver Lynn Swann (1974) and offensive tackle Steve Riley (1974).
Davis, a sophomore, did not start until the season’s eighth game, yet rushed for 1,191 yards. He also was a devastating kick returner, two of his touchdowns against Notre Dame coming on returns of 96 and 97 yards. His career average of 35.1 yards per kickoff return is an NCAA Division I-A record.
Quarterbacks Mike Rae and Pat Haden oversaw an offense that scored 467 points in 12 games, an average of 38.9 points. After the Arkansas game, USC tore through September with consecutive 50-point outbursts against Oregon State (51-6), Illinois (55-20) and Michigan State (51-6).
How good were the 1972 Trojans?
By season’s end, they were unanimous national champions in the writers and media polls, a first in college football history.
“I never saw any team that could beat them,” USC Coach John McKay said.
Washington State Coach Jim Sweeney disagreed.
“USC’s not the No. 1 team in the country,” said Sweeney, whose Cougars endured a 44-3 loss against the Trojans. “The Miami Dolphins are better.”
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