CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 4 Reggie Bush RB USC
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 4 Reggie Bush, RB USC
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Reggie Bush, RB USC (2003-2005)
Now his name is synonymous with a college football cautionary tale, as part of the last truly big punishment by the NCAA for violations that will someday be considered the norm. But there’s no way for anyone to takeaway or vacate what Reggie Bush did on the field for USC, or how big a superstar he was doing the high points of the Pete Carroll era.
He was the star among stars. On the campus before the 2003 season and getting a chance to hang around Ed Orgeron, Norm Chow, and the main men on a special defensive front, everyone from the top on down went out of their way to point out their new recruit.
When discussing all the talent on the team, there was always a, “Yeah, but just wait … that’s the guy …” when it came to the potential of Bush.
The top running back recruit in the country, Bush blew up just as Internet highlight videos started to become popular, and just as the recruiting services and coverage was exploding.
From the high school reels of Bush doing otherworldly things compared to everyone else, to the speed that made him a California state sprint champion, he became a cult hero among the recruiting wonks.
And then he did the same things at USC.
The Quickness & Speed
Too good to keep off the field as a freshman, he found a niche as a devastating kickoff returner and all-around part of the offensive puzzle. He ran for 521 yards and three touchdowns and caught 15 passes for 314 yards and four scores as part of the Rose Bowl-winning squad that earned the AP national championship.
But again, the team knew what it had. As good as he was in games, in practice after practice he was lighting up the fastest, most talented team in college football.
Other than a big receiving day against Washington, though – with 132 yards and two scores on five catches – and with a big kickoff return for a score against UCLA, he hadn’t busted out on a national scale quite yet.
That would quickly change to open up the 2004 season.
With a national audience paying close attention to the season-opening showdown against Virginia Tech, Bush ended up coming away as the star in the 24-13 win, catching five passes for 127 yards and three scores.
Continued to be used as an all-around playmaking toy for the attack, he ran for 124 yards and a score – with a receiving touchdown – against BYU, threw a 52-yard touchdown pass against Arizona State, and came up with punt returns for touchdowns in back-to-back road wins over Washington State and Oregon State.
But even with all the big games and nice plays, he hadn’t done much as a runner. He was fine, but the most electrifying player in college football was held to around four yards per carry, being bottled up throughout Pac-10 play and by Notre Dame.
15 carries for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the 29-24 win over UCLA win later, and he had more than arrived.
It was USC QB Matt Leinart’s Heisman-winning season, and Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson – who finished second in the Heisman race – was the nation’s top running back, but Bush finished fifth in the voting.
Not needed to do too much in the blowout Orange Bowl national title win over Oklahoma, he ran for 75 yards on just six carries and caught two passes for 31 yards.
The coaching staff made sure to give the star the ball early and often in the 2005 season, and the rushing production kicked in.
No longer just a jack-of-all-trades specialist, Bush was a featured back in five straight 100-yard games after running for 86 yards and two scores in the season-opener against Hawaii.
He ripped through Notre Dame for 160 yards and three touchdowns, and hammered Arizona State for 158 yards and two scores – with each run seemingly more amazing than the last.
The 82-yard rushing day against Cal was his low point of the season, but he made up for it with 554 yards and four scores – averaging over 11 yards per carry – in the final two games of the regular season vs. Fresno State and UCLA to cement his Heisman win.
And yes, while there might be a * next to spot, Reggie Bush actually won the 2005 Heisman Trophy, beating Vince Young, Leinart, and Brady Quinn with ease taking 784 first place votes to Young’s 79.
That accomplishment can’t be taken away from him just because he happened to deal with a marketing company and agent before his college career were up. And USC’s 12-0 regular season happened, too.
Of course, the Hollywood ending came true for Young and Texas in the epic 2006 Rose Bowl, with Bush being remembered in the loss mostly for losing the ball on an ill-advised lateral attempt, and for not being on the field – coach’s decision – on the fourth-and-short play that could’ve put the game away.
What’s forgotten is how great he was against the Longhorns, averaging over six yards per carry with 82 yards and a score, 95 receiving yards on six catches, and with several solid kickoff returns.
November 19, 2005: USC vs. Fresno State
Really? USC’s dream 2005 season and run to a possible third straight national title was going to end at home in a brain-cramp performance against Fresno State?!
The Bulldogs were unstoppable, giving the Trojan defense fits going up 21-10 early, but all appeared to be right with the world as USC got up 41-28 after a 50-yard Bush touchdown run.
But Fresno State wasn’t going to go away, taking the lead with 14 points in the fourth quarter to keep the pressure on. LenDale White ended up running for his second score of the day, and Mario Danelo added a field goal to give USC the win, but it was Bush who would keep the Trojans from suffering one of the most embarrassing losses in college football history.
Like he was playing in a video game, Bush came up with a career’s worth of highlight plays, running 23 times for 294 yards and two scores and catching three passes for 68 more.
You want special? You want speed, quickness, and magic? Here’s the definition of a Heisman-winning performance (watch from 3:15 to 4:00 for what jaw-dropping college football talent looks like) …
The Accolades (again, these really did happen)
2005 Heisman Trophy Winner
2004 Heisman Trophy finalist – finished fifth
National Championships: 2003 AP, 2004
All-American: 2004, 2005
Doak Walker Winner: 2005
Walter Camp Winner: 2005
Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year: 2004, 2005
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: USC Athletic Department