The Sports Report: Why the 1972 USC Trojans were the best college football team ever

The front page of the Times sports section from Dec. 3, 1972, highlighting USC running back Anthony Davis.
The front page of the Los Angeles Times sports section from Dec. 3, 1972, highlighting USC running back Anthony Davis’ six touchdowns against Notre Dame.
(Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

From Ryan Kartje: Fifty years after the game that changed his life, Anthony Davis sits in an office surrounded by a museum of his USC memorabilia, wondering what might’ve been if his biggest moment never materialized.

The six touchdowns Davis scored on Notre Dame that day in December 1972 would go down as one of the greatest single-game performances in college football history, the piece de resistance of a storybook ‘72 season for USC that still ranks among the best the sport has ever seen. On that particular subject, there’s no debating with Davis, whose infamous swagger as a star Trojan running back remains very much intact at 70 years old.

“We set the standard. No one has lived to that standard yet,” Davis declared.

Not even the 2004 Trojans with Reggie Bush? Davis shakes his head. He wonders if the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who finished 17-0 that NFL season, could keep up.

“Pound for pound, we were the best team ever,” he says.

The case is a pretty convincing one, if you’re willing to adjust for generation: The 1972 Trojans finished 12-0, riding that resounding win over rival Notre Dame to the Rose Bowl, where they steamrolled Ohio State to secure an unbeaten season and undisputed national title. Along the way, USC left little room for doubt about who reigned supreme in ‘72. The Trojans never once trailed in the fourth quarter, opting instead to demolish opponents by an average of nearly four touchdowns per game.


That season — and that Notre Dame win especially — have followed Davis ever since, through his winding pro career and its subsequent ups and downs, through airports and restaurants and real estate transactions. After a half century, some USC fans are still eager to ask about those six touchdowns. And he’s often happy to oblige.


College football: The six best games to watch and stream Saturday

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.


From Ben Bolch: Two consecutive losses, including a tearjerker of a setback against USC, have left UCLA contemplating far less enticing possibilities than the College Football Playoff. Having dropped to No. 18 in the CFP rankings, the Bruins (8-3 overall, 5-3 Pac-12) will enter their final regular-season game against California (4-7, 2-6) on Friday afternoon at Memorial Stadium trying to avoid falling into contention for the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl.

The heavy white bandage on Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s throwing hand in practice this week provided the perfect metaphor for a battered team seeking to send itself a get-well card.

“Super difficult, obviously,” Thompson-Robinson said of moving on from the 48-45 loss to USC in which he absorbed several vicious hits and had four turnovers. “We’re just trying to go into Cal and have one last hurrah together.”


From Helene Elliott: More than a dozen goaltenders have challenged Jonathan Quick’s hold on the Kings’ net. Not one has succeeded.

Erik Ersberg couldn’t beat him out for the No. 1 job. Nor could Jason LaBarbera, Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens, Peter Budaj, Ben Bishop, Jeff Zatkoff, Martin Jones, Jhonas Enroth, Jack Campbell, Darcy Kuemper or, most recently, Cal Petersen.

When Petersen was designated the opening night starter last season, it felt like the torch was being passed from the Stanley Cup-era leaders to the next generation. But Quick wasn’t ready for nostalgia or backup duty. He pulled off his best season in a while, compiling a 2.59 goals-against average and .910 save percentage to lead the Kings back to the playoffs. He also earned a shutout in their seven-game postseason loss to Edmonton.


“Every day you come in and try to get a little better. When you get the opportunity to play you try and make the most of it. It’s nothing more than that,” Quick said of outlasting so many challengers.

He still holds the torch — but the question is how much longer he’ll grip it.


From Dan Woike: The NBA deemed that Patrick Beverley’s “history of unsportsmanlike acts” played a major role in the Lakers point guard being suspended for three games without pay for “forcefully shoving” Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton from behind and knocking him to the Footprint Center court during a loss Tuesday, the league announced Thursday.

While Beverley will begin serving his suspension Friday night when the Lakers take on the San Antonio Spurs in the first of back-to-back games here, Los Angeles is awaiting the return of LeBron James, who has missed the last five games because of a left adductor strain.


From Andrew Greif: Both Clippers have spent a decade-plus in the NBA, and in earlier stops both have played bigger roles.

Yet forward Robert Covington and point guard John Wall on Wednesday night said they understand the Clippers’ bigger picture for their usage, even as it has limited their minutes on the court.

Wall, the backup point guard who signed to fanfare as a free agent in July after securing a buyout in Houston, has been at his best while using his speed to transform the Clippers, one of last season’s worst transition teams, into a deadly fast-break attack. Clippers transitions that begin off of a rebound when Wall is on the floor score 28 points more per 100 possessions than when he sits, per Cleaning The Glass, a rate that more than doubles the impact of his next-closest teammate.


Wall said his usage is “part of a plan they got for us and like I said, whatever those guys come up with, I’m with — I’m full bore with it.”


From Gary Klein: It qualifies as more than a dry spell, goes well beyond a drought.

The Rams have not intercepted a pass or recovered a fumble in their last four games — all losses. They have forced one turnover in their last eight games.

Safety Nick Scott intercepted a tipped pass in a victory over the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 16.

Since then, zilch for the Rams defense.

“It seems like forever,” Scott said Thursday. “Seems like a season ago.”


From Jeff Miller: The first pass went to Keenan Allen for 17 yards and the first third down was converted by Mike Williams with a 15-yard catch.

The Chargers welcomed back their top two wide receivers last weekend against Kansas City and — even if only briefly — the offense looked potent again as they scored on four of their five first-half possessions.


“Keenan and Mike make what they make for a reason, right?” center Corey Linsley said. “They make $20 million or whatever [per season] because they’re unbelievable. They’re difference-makers. Then, them being difference-makers, opens up the whole offense.”


NFL readers Q&A: How did Rams blow it on line? Is Chargers’ Brandon Staley on thin ice?

NFL Week 12 picks: Eagles beat Packers; Cowboys take down Giants; Chargers win

Those closest to John Madden remember favorite moments on Thanksgiving Day


Julian Phillips scored a season-high 25 points to help No. 22 Tennessee hold off USC 73-66 in overtime in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The first-year forward made seven of 13 shots and 10 of 12 free throws to go with eight rebounds for the Volunteers (4-1), with four of those free throws coming in overtime.


Boogie Ellis scored 21 points in his second big output in as many days to lead the Trojans (4-2). He made seven of 14 shots from the field, including three of six from three-point range.


From Kevin Baxter in Qatar: No one expects the U.S. to beat England.

The oddsmakers say the World Cup matchup Friday in Al Khor on the edge of the Qatari desert is a huge mismatch, like leading lambs to slaughter. England is ranked fifth in the world. It made the semifinals of the last World Cup and the final of the last European Championship.

And the U.S.? Well, it has done nothing comparable.

“We haven’t achieved anything as a group on the world stage,” coach Gregg Berhalter conceded.

Before you go out and bet the farm on the Three Lions, though, here’s a fact to consider: The Americans have never lost to England in a World Cup, winning in 1950 and playing to a draw 12 years ago in South Africa. And they’re not conceding anything going into this game.


Thursday’s results


Group G
Switzerland 1, Cameroon 0
Brazil 2, Serbia 0

Group H
Uruguay 0, South Korea 0
Portugal 3, Ghana 2

Today’s schedule
All times Pacific

Group A
Qatar vs. Senegal, 5 a.m., FS1, Telemundo, Peacock
Ecuador vs. Netherlands, 8 a.m., Fox, Telemundo, Peacock

Group B
Wales vs. England, 2 a.m., FS1, Peacock
United States vs. Iran, 11 a.m., Fox, Universo, Peacock


Complete World Cup coverage

Qatar World Cup: Start times for every match and how to watch

Chef Giulio Caccamo helps make the U.S. men’s soccer team feel at home in Qatar


1925 — Red Grange, playing his first game as a pro with the Chicago Bears, is held to 36 yards in a 0-0 tie with the Chicago Cardinals.

1934 — The Detroit Lions suffer the first defeat in franchise history, 3-0 to the Green Bay Packers. The Lions had won the first 10 games of the season.


1948 — Howie Dallmar of the Philadelphia Warriors matches his NBA record for futility by missing all 15 shots against the Washington Capitols.

1976 — Buffalo’s O.J. Simpson rushes for 273 yards and scores two touchdowns in a 27-14 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

1980 — “No Mas, No Mas.” Roberto Duran quits with 16 seconds to go in the eighth round at New Orleans, allowing Sugar Ray Leonard to regain the WBC welterweight title.

1983 — Larry Holmes knocks out Marvis Frazier at 2:57 of the first round to retain the world heavyweight title in Las Vegas.

1985 — Clemson’s Grayson Marshall sets an NCAA record with 20 assists in an 83-57 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore.

1995 — Tim Biakabutuka rushes for a career-high 313 yards as Michigan upsets Ohio State 31-23.


2002 — Ozzie Newsome becomes the first black general manager in NFL history, signing a new five-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens that includes an upgrade in his title.

2007 — San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson becomes the 23rd player in NFL history rush for 10,000 yards, reaching the milestone on a 36-yard run in the Chargers’ 32-14 win over Baltimore.

2007 — Minnesota returns three interceptions by Eli Manning for touchdowns in a 41-17 win over the New York Giants. Darren Sharper scores on a 20-yard return, Dwight Smith rumbles 93 yards and Chad Greenway follows from 37 yards just a few plays later.

2012 — The Toronto Argonauts beats the Calgary Stampeders 35-22 in the 100th Grey Cup. Toronto earns its 16th Grey Cup title and first since 2004.

2014 — Lionel Messi becomes the UEFA Champions League all-time scorer.

2018 — Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers sets an NFL single-game record completing 25-straight passes in a 45-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Compiled by the Associated Press


And finally

The Leonard-Duran “No mas” fight. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.