What Went Wrong: 1963 USC

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Welcome to the first edition of What Went Wrong, where we take a look at football teams that came into the season with a lot of hype, only to fall short by season’s end. Consider this like The Worst but in a different way. These seasons might open old wounds.

Between now and the start of the college football season, there’s going to be a lot of talk about the effectiveness of preseason polls. Why do we even need them? It’s not like they can accurately predict how the season goes. This new column probably won’t help the cause of the preseason poll.

That said, the preseason poll will never go away. There’s always going to be a debate of some kind. With that said, let’s dive in and take a look at the first team that didn’t quite live up to that hype.

Our first team is the 1963 USC Trojans.

The 1962 season went so well for the USC Trojans. They won the Rose Bowl, went 11-0 and won a consensus national championship.

USC had quarterback Pete Beathard and running back Willie Brown back for 1963. There was no reason not to be optimistic about the team’s chances in ’63.

Because of that, the AP Poll preseason poll listed USC as No. 1. The Trojans received 34 first place votes. The other first place votes went to Ole Miss, who had nine and claimed second in the poll, and Alabama grabbing five and taking third.

The rest of the top 10 featured:

4. Oklahoma

5. Texas

6. Northwestern

7. Wisconsin

8. Arkansas

9. Navy

10. Ohio State and Washington

The season started well for USC when the Trojans went to Boulder and shutout Colorado 14-0. They remained No. 1 after their first win. However, the Trojans received fewer first place votes as Alabama received additional votes.

USC returned home to the Coliseum for its second game and a showdown with third-ranked Oklahoma. It was the first time the two programs faced in their illustrious history. And what a coaching match-up it was: John McKay vs. Bud Wilkinson.

The Sooners marched in and took over LA, most notably the Coliseum. With temperatures over 100 degrees, Oklahoma ran over the Trojans defense. The Sooners ran a total of 100 plays. With Joe Don Looney and Jim Grisham in the backfield, OU rushed for 307 yards.

At one point during the first half, Oklahoma compiled seven first downs before USC even got its first. In the end, Oklahoma had 27 first downs, while USC finished with 16, though the final score of 17-12 was not as lopsided.

Still, the loss knocked USC off of its No. 1 perch, while Oklahoma jumped Alabama to become the new No. 1 ranked team in the country. USC dropped to eighth, just ahead of Pitt and Ole Miss.

USC rebounded with a win the next week over Michigan State. What came next was a trip to South Bend to take on rival Notre Dame, resulting in the Trojans’ second single-digit loss to a fellow powerhouse program. 

The loss effectively knocked USC out of the top 10, and kept them outside of that spot despite wins over Ohio State and Cal in the subsequent weeks. 

Their national title hopes might have been dashed, but USC still had a chance to win the Athletic Association of Western Universities.

Both entered the season ranked in the Top 10, and true to that form, the Nov. 2 game between USC and Washington decided the conference championship. 

The opening quarter at Husky Stadium led to a significant moment when on 4th down deep in USC’s own territory, Koll Hagen broke through the line and blocked the Trojans punt, leading to Mike Briggs recovering for the touchdown.

The Trojans tied the game in the second quarter. However, Washington scored nine points, including a 21-yard touchdown reception to Ralph Winters, to give the Huskies a 16-7 lead at halftime they never relinquished in a 22-7 decision

USC’s loss gave Washington the head-to-head advantage. Even though Washington lost to UCLA a couple weeks later, that would be their only conference loss. USC needed a second loss to have any hopes of a Rose Bowl berth.

The Trojans won out after their Washington loss, defeating Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA. The Huskies held onto their conference advantage, however, with a win over Washington State in the Apple Cup clinching the conference championship.

After kicking off the ’63 season with high expectations, USC finished a disappointing 7-3 — the same record it notched again in ’64, followed by a 7-2-1 finish in ’65.

The Trojans did not win the conference or appear in the Rose Bowl until the ’66 season.