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Phil Taylor
December 12, 2005
Bush's League
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December 12, 2005

College Football

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Bush's League

With another dazzling performance, this time against UCLA, Reggie Bush sealed his place among USC's alltime greatest

Reggie Bush was on the sideline in the fourth quarter last Saturday, having contributed mightily to USC's 66--19 dismantling of UCLA, when the screen on the Los Angeles Coliseum scoreboard showed a highlight reel of former Trojans tailback Anthony Davis's greatest runs. Bush, USC's current star at the position, looked up at the screen for a second before coach Pete Carroll slapped him on the shoulder pads and sent him back into the game. It was a typical moment for Bush, who is too busy making history to study it.

The junior continued to carve out a prominent place for himself in Trojans lore with 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Bruins, which makes him a near certainty to become the fifth USC tailback to win the Heisman Trophy--joining Mike Garrett (1965), O.J. Simpson ('68), Charles White ('79) and Marcus Allen ('81)--when the prize is awarded on Saturday. Bush was already the clear favorite for the award, and after making UCLA defenders look jelly-legged with his fakes and feints all afternoon, he should have about as much trouble finishing first in the Heisman balloting as his matinee-idol teammate Matt Leinart has getting a date.

Although he refuses to discuss the chances that he will give up his last year of eligibility, Bush is also considered a virtual lock to enter the NFL draft, which means he most likely has only one college game remaining, the Rose Bowl against second-ranked Texas for the national championship. One of the few remaining questions about Bush as a collegian is where he ranks among the luminaries who preceded him as Trojans tailbacks--in addition to the four Heisman winners, Davis ('74) and Ricky Bell ('76) finished second in the voting. Not surprisingly, Bush has little to offer on the subject. "I'm probably the worst person to ask," he says. "I don't really study other running backs. All I know is that if people want to mention me in the same breath as guys like Marcus Allen, Charles White and Anthony Davis and the other guys who have come through here, then I'm honored to be in that company."

USC's former star backs are just as honored to have him. "It doesn't take a Heisman to prove that Reggie is one of the greatest Trojans ever," says Davis. "He's the biggest game-breaking running back I've seen in the last 30 years. There are dangerous backs, there are very dangerous backs, and then there's Reggie Bush."

Bush ranks at or near the top of the list in versatility-- Davis was the only one of the USC greats who equaled Bush's kick-returning ability--and in speed, where Simpson, who was also a member of the Trojans' track team, is probably the only one of USC's magnificent seven who in his prime could have run step for step with Bush. A former high school sprinter who has been timed at 4.25 seconds for 40 yards, Bush displayed his astonishing acceleration on several runs against the Bruins, including a 10-yard touchdown dash in which he simply outran a pair of unblocked UCLA defenders to the corner of the end zone.

Although his speed has never been questioned, Bush's power has. He is listed at 6 feet, which might be stretching it by an inch or two, and 200 pounds, putting him in the middle of the Trojans' great backs in terms of size. ( Davis, Garrett and White were smaller.) Bell was the runner most likely to steamroller tacklers, and Allen, who was a fine blocker as a fullback before he became the featured runner, could punish tacklers as well. USC doesn't need Bush to pack that kind of punch because he splits time with power back LenDale White, but Bush is nevertheless determined not to be known as a lightweight. In high school he once scaled the side of a building to climb through the window of the weight room and start pumping iron at 6 a.m., and he's among the Trojans' more devoted lifters. He realizes that one of the questions about his NFL future is whether he is sturdy enough to be an every-down back who can run regularly between the tackles. "I don't see myself as just a little, situational back," he says. "I can carry the ball as many times as you want to give it to me."

At USC that hasn't been nearly as often as Bush's illustrious predecessors carried the ball, which is why his career statistics won't be an accurate measure of how he stacks up against them. His performance against UCLA left him in seventh place on the Trojans' career rushing list with 3,087 yards, fewer than half of Charles White's school record of 6,245. "He ranks a lot higher than that in terms of his place in USC history," says White. "I don't think you would get any of us to rank who's first, second, third and so on, but in terms of making cuts at full speed and making people miss, Reggie doesn't have to take a backseat to anybody."

Despite Bush's emergence as one of the greatest Trojans, the runners he is most often compared with aren't USC backs. Some NFL scouts see him as an updated version of Marshall Faulk because of his size, elusiveness and pass-catching skill, while his ability to change direction at full speed, as if operated by a joystick, reminds others of Barry Sanders. Carroll's mind went further back in history when Bush first arrived on campus in 2003. "I gave him a tape of Gale Sayers," Carroll says. "Sayers is the greatest back I ever saw, and even early on it was clear that Reggie had some of those same moves, that special ability that can't be taught."

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