Top 10 Best USC College Football Players of All Time

Top 10 Best USC College Football Players of All Time

The University of Southern California has one of the most successful and illustrious football programs in the country. USC has 11 National Championships, making them one of the winningest programs in the country. Established in 1888, the school has produced eight Heisman Trophy winners and 80 Consensus All-Americans as of 2023.

Who Are the Best University of Southern California Football Players of All Time?

  1. Marcus Allen
  2. OJ Simpson
  3. Reggie Bush
  4. Ronnie Lott
  5. Mike Garrett
  6. Lynn Swann
  7. Charles White
  8. Matt Leinart
  9. Anthony Muñoz
  10. Troy Polamalu

1. Marcus Allen

  • 1981 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award winner
  • 1981 Heisman Trophy winner
  • 1981 Consensus All-American

Marcus Allen grew up in San Diego, California, attending Lincoln High School. Allen immediately stood out as one of the best football players in the country. After receiving multiple scholarships from schools across the country, Allen decided to attend USC as a safety. His coach quickly moved Allen to tailback, citing his amazing ball carrier speed and tackle-breaking ability. In his first two seasons at USC, Allen was used mostly as a backup running back, scoring nine touchdowns and amassing over 800 yards.

In his junior season at USC, Allen stood out as the main running back, rushing for 1,500 yards with 14 touchdowns. His senior season was even better. He rushed for 2,400 yards with 23 touchdowns. Allen’s 1981 season is known as one of the best single-season rushing performances of all time. Allen cleaned up the awards that year, not only winning the Heisman trophy but also taking home the Walter Camp and Pac-10 Players of the Year Awards.

Allen went on to be drafted with the 10th pick in the 1982 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Raiders. He captured a Rookie of the Year, MVP Award, and a Super Bowl Trophy in his 16-year Hall-of-Fame career. Allen ended his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

2. OJ Simpson

  • 1968 Heisman Trophy winner
  • 1968 Maxwell Award winner
  • 1967 and 1968 Walter Camp Player of the Year

OJ Simpson grew up in San Francisco, California. Although Simpson was a standout football player in high school, his grades prevented larger schools from pursuing him. Simpson ended up signing with a junior college in 1965. He played defensive back and running back and, after leading his team to the championship, garnered a lot of attention from other schools as a transfer target.

Simpson would end up choosing USC, where he possessed just two years of eligibility, thanks to the transfer rules at the time. Simpson’s two seasons at USC are about as good as any running back’s two years stretch in college football history.

In 1967, his first year at USC, Simpson rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He finished second in Heisman voting, took home the Walter Camp Player of the Year award, and was a Consensus All-American.

In 1968, Simpson was even better. Rushing for nearly 1,900 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns. He won the Heisman trophy, won the Maxwell Award, took home the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, and was a Consensus All-American. It was truly one of the best seasons in college football history.

Simpson went on to be the number one selection in the 1969 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. In the NFL, Simpson didn’t skip a beat. In 11 seasons in the NFL, Simpson was a five-time All-Pro, an MVP, and a six-time Pro Bowler. Simpson would finish his career with the 49ers and eventually be elected into the Hall of Fame.

3. Reggie Bush

  • 2005 Heisman Trophy winner (vacated)
  • 2005 AP Player of the Year
  • 2005 Walter Camp Player of the Year

Reggie Bush grew up in San Diego, California. Pete Carroll recruited Bush to USC, where he joined a long list of talented running backs to play for the program. Bush stood out as a sophomore, rushing for 900 yards and scoring 13 total touchdowns while splitting carries. He also helped USC win the National Championship in 2003 and 2004.

The promise was there, and many coaches were excited to see what  Bush could do as the primary back. In 2005 Bush finally got his chance and broke out in a huge way. Bush rushed for 1800 yards on just 200 carries. He scored 18 total touchdowns and even caught 37 passes for 478 yards. He truly did it all.

For his 2005 campaign, Bush took home the Heisman trophy, the AP Player of the Year, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award. It is worth noting that Bush’s Heisman trophy is vacated because of various NCAA violations. 

The New Orleans Saints drafted Bush second overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. Bush helped the Saints win the Super Bowl in 2009 but never lived up to his college promise in the NFL. Bush joined the Dolphins in 2011, Detroit in 2013, and then spent his last two seasons with the 49ers and Bills.

4. Ronnie Lott

  • 1980 Consensus All-American
  • 1980 NCAA interceptions leader (8)
  • 1980 NCAA interception return yards leader (166)
  • 1978 National Champion

Ronnie Lott grew up in New Mexico and attended USC from 1976 to 1980. Lott would sit out his freshman season but made an immediate impact during his second season, intercepting three passes and becoming a key contributor to one of the top defenses in the country. The following season Lott was even better. He established himself as one of the best defensive backs in the country and was a large reason for USC’s National Championship in 1978. In his senior season, Lott led the nation in interceptions with eight.

With Lott’s perception as one of the best defenders in all of college football, it is no surprise that he was drafted with the eighth pick of the 1981 NFL Draft by the 49ers. In the NFL, Lott is known as one of the best safeties of all time. Lott captured four Super Bowl victories, was a six-time all-pro, and a 10-time Pro Bowler.  Lott played ten years for the 49ers, two years for the Raiders, and two years for the Jets.

5. Mike Garrett

  • 1965 Heisman Trophy winner
  • 1965 Consensus All-American
  • 1965 NCAA rushing yards leader (1,440)

Mike Garrett grew up in Los Angeles and attended USC. Garrett had an immediate impact as a running back for USC in his first and second years. He rushed for 800 and 900 yards, respectively. In 1965 his junior season, Garrett had his best season by far. Garrett won the  Heisman Trophy, rushing for 1,400 yards and scoring 14 total touchdowns.

Following his collegiate career, Garrett signed with the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. He would win two AFL Championships and one Super Bowl with the Chiefs. Garrett was also drafted three separate times by MLB teams but never pursued a baseball career. Following his playing career, Garrett served as USC’s Athletic Director from 1993-2010.

6. Lynn Swann

  • 1973 Consensus All-American
  • 1973 PAC-8 receptions leader (42)
  • 1973 PAC-8 receiving Yards leader (714)

Lynn Swann grew up in San Mateo, California, and attended USC. Swann was a main contributor to the 1972 undefeated Championship team as a wide receiver and a kick returner. In 1973 Swann had his best season at USC, leading the PAC-8 in both receptions and receiving yards. For his efforts, he was a consensus All-American. He would eventually be elected to the college football Hall of Fame.

Swann was drafted 21st overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he would spend his entire career. Swann won four Super Bowls with the Black and Yellow, including winning a Super Bowl MVP in 1976. Swann made three pro bowls and was an All-Pro once. For all of his success, Swann was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Following his playing career, he spent some time as a politician running for the Governor of Pennsylvania and as a House of Representatives member. Swann also served as USC Athletic Director from 2016-2019.

7. Charles White

  • 1979 Heisman Trophy winner
  • 1979 Maxwell Award winner
  • 1979 Walter Camp, Player of the Year Award winner

Charles White grew up in San Fernando, California, and attended USC from 1976 to 1979. White hit the ground running as soon as he got to USC, rattling off an 800-yard season as a freshman. He followed that up with a 1,400-yard season his sophomore year with nine total touchdowns. In 1978, White’s junior season, his 1800 rushing yards led USC to win the National Championship. White returned for his senior and topped his junior season, rushing for 2000 yards and scoring 19 total touchdowns. For his efforts, White took home the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award. White truly had one of the best careers in college football history.

White was drafted 27th in the 1980 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Injuries derailed White’s promising career. Unfortunately, he could never get it going in Cleveland. In 1987 at age 29, White improbably led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns with the Rams. For his efforts, White was named to his only Pro Bowl and All-Pro team.

8. Matt Leinart

  • 2004 Heisman Trophy winner
  • 2005 Johnny Unitas Golden Award winner
  • Two-time PAC-10 Player of the Year Award winner

Matt Leinart grew up in Santa Ana, California, and played QB for USC from 2003-2005. In his first year as a starter, Leinart impressed many, passing for 3500 yards with 38 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He finished in sixth place in the Heisman Trophy voting. In Leinnart’s junior year, he had one of the best seasons as a QB of all time.

Leinart led the Trojans to the BCS National Championship, winning the game, as well as winning the Heisman Trophy. He threw for 3,300 yards with 33 touchdowns and six interceptions. Leinart had another successful season in his senior season, leading USC back to the National Championship game, where they would lose. His number 11 was retired by the Trojans.

Unfortunately, Leinart could never replicate his college success in the NFL. He was drafted 10th overall by the Cardinals in the 2006 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, which was his only one as a starter, he threw just 11 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He served as a backup for a few seasons and then joined the Texans and Raiders for similar roles.

9. Anthony Muñoz

  • 1978 National Champion
  • 2012 California Sports Hall of Fame inductee

Anthony Muñoz grew up in Ontario, California, and attended USC from 1976-1979. The moment Muñoz stepped on the field at USC, he was their best offensive lineman. Muñoz played left tackle protecting the quarterback's blind side. Many believe left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line.

Muñoz won a National Championship for both USC football as a left tackle and USC baseball as a pitcher in the year 1978. Muñoz established himself as the best offensive lineman in college football and was drafted third overall in the 1980 NFL draft. Muñoz hit the ground running in the NFL with the Bengals. He was quickly perceived as the best left tackle in football. He was a nine-time All-Pro and an 11-time Pro Bowler. He was also elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

10. Troy Polamalu

  • 2002 Consensus All-American
  • 2001 PAC-10 interception return yards leader (116)
  • 2001, 2002  First-Team All-PAC-10

Troy Polamalu is from Garden Grove, California, and attended USC from 1999 to 2002. Polamalu spent his first season at USC as mostly a backup safety and linebacker, as well as a contributor to special teams. In his sophomore season, he became the full-time starting strong safety and distinguished himself as a true playmaker. For his efforts, he earned 2001 First-Team All-PAC 10 honors. During his junior season, Polamalu was named team captain and had his best season in college by far. He established himself as one of the best ball-hawking and hard-hitting safeties in college football.

Polamalu was drafted 16th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2003 NFL Draft. Polamalu spent his entire 12-year Hall of Fame career with the Steelers. In 2010 he won Defensive Player of the Year. He also won two Super Bowls.

Honorable Mentions

  • Anthony Davis
  • Bruce Matthews
  • Carson Palmer
  • Dennis Thurman
  • Frank Gifford
  • Jon Arnett
  • Junior Seau
  • Keyshawn Johnson
  • Morley Drury
  • Pat Haden
  • Richard Wood
  • Ricky Bell
  • Ron Mix
  • Ron Yary
  • Sam Cunningham
  • Willie McGinest


Who is the best USC quarterback of all time?

Matt Leinart is the best USC quarterback of all time. Leinart led USC to back-to-back national championship games, winning one of them. He also captured a Heisman trophy in 2004.

Who is the best USC running back of all time?

Marcus Allen is the best USC running back of all time. In his junior season at USC, Allen stood out as the main running back, rushing for 1,500 yards with 14 touchdowns. Allen’s 1981 season is known as one of the best single-season rushing performances of all time. Allen cleaned up the awards that year, not only winning the Heisman trophy but also taking home the Walter Camp and Pac-10 Players of the Year Awards.

Who is the best USC wide receiver of all time?

Lynn Swann is the best USC wide receiver of all time. He helped the Trojans to a championship following an undefeated season in 1972. The following year was his strongest, when Swann led the PAC-8 in receptions and receiving yards, being voted a consensus All-American. Swann went on to an impactful NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.