Leinart and Co. join elite class

Originally Published: January 5, 2005
By Beano Cook | ESPN Insider

Southern California's surprising 55-19 domination of Oklahoma is raising questions about the best two-year run in college football history. USC definitely belongs in the conversation.

There was Oklahoma, led by Bud Wilkinson, in 1954-56. Each of those great Sooners' teams finished with a perfect record, but the '54 team wound up No. 3 in the country. Alabama, coached by Bear Bryant and quarterbacked by Joe Namath in 1964, won the national title in 1964 and '65. But neither of those Crimson Tide teams went unbeaten.

The Sooners came back with consecutive titles in '74-75, and Alabama shared it with USC in '78 and won it in '79. Nebraska, in 1970-71, was very good, especially in 1971, but the Cornhuskers lacked a strong passing attack.

Keith Jackson feels the 1972 USC team is the best since the end of World War II.

The Nebraska teams, led by Tom Osborne, of 1994-95 were powerful ground forces, but could not throw the ball very well.

Ohio State came close to being No. 1 three years in a row. The Buckeyes were 28-2, but after winning the national title in 1968, they lost to Michigan in '69 and to Stanford in the Rose Bowl in '70.

Texas won the old United Press International poll in '68-69, thanks to then-president Richard Nixon, whose support for the Longhorns prompted Penn State coach Joe Paterno, snubbed by consecutive No. 2 finishes, to ask during his 1973 commencement address how Nixon could know so much about college football and so little about Watergate.

None of those teams, however, threw the ball as well as this year's Trojans. That's the main difference in comparing eras and why I put USC of 2003-04 near the top – second to be exact.

Beano Cook

College Football
Carroll H. "Beano" Cook joined ESPN in March 1986 and served as a college football studio commentator and occasional sideline reporter, in addition to offering college football commentary on ESPN Radio. He died in October 2012.