By Joe Davidson -- Bee Staff Writer
Every week, Wayne Fontes eases onto the recliner in his Tampa Bay, Fla.,-area home and becomes a football coach again. He plots, he schemes, he studies top-ranked USC, winner of 42 of its past 43 and 31 consecutive games.
Fontes is the one-time USC defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions coach who talks of peering outside his ocean-view windows to spot a dolphin and "perfection" - and then watching a pretty good version of it on his flat screen when the Trojans play. Yet Fontes wonders freely if the current Trojans edition is even the greatest lineup in school history, much less all of college football, as some might suggest. Fontes was a coach on the 1972 Trojans national championship team that devoured all comers with a balanced offense and a defense that battered and bruised foes. That 12-0 group is still regarded by some, including longtime broadcaster Keith Jackson, as the best college team ever. And USC '72 comes up all roses (BCS roses, that is) by computer wizards who crunch data from different decades, feed it into the hard drive and come up with an all-time champion.
Not that Fontes feels a bit for every coordinator stuck with the task of slowing down the 2005 USC team, which perhaps might be the greatest offensive powerhouse of them all. "I watch those guys now, and it's, My God!" Fontes said this week. "How do you stop that? What do you do with Reggie Bush? Who do you double-team? Can you get to Matt Leinart? It's like playing chess against all those pieces. To beat them, you need more queens on the board." Or, Fontes suggests, the '72 Trojans, with the help of some sort of cosmic time warp. Yes, he concedes linebackers today are as big as the linemen of previous eras. But skill players of USC '72 would fit in any era, he said. And his defenders would stand up to any task, any era, any team. "It's hard to compare, but our defense in '72 would handle anyone," Fontes said. "We'd match USC now. That's the difference between the teams, our defense was better. But it's hard not to love this USC team."
One argument against USC now for all-time status is how it surrenders yards and points when other great outfits refused to. USC has yielded 20 or more points five times and 30 once this season. Notre Dame managed 28 first downs, unheard of numbers for USC '72. But USC defeated Notre Dame with a furious, classic final drive to polish that legacy. So the argument sways. "I've always considered that 1972 USC team the best team I've ever seen,"
The Trojans are averaging nearly 600 yards of offense.
Best of all time
USC this season is considered one of the greatest single-season teams of all time. Here's a look at five others:
1. USC 1972 (12-0): Old Trojans and old-timers such as Keith Jackson of ABC rate this group as the all-time No. 1 team, with Sam "Bam" Cunningham, Anthony Davis, Lynn Swann, Artimus Parker and a 42-17 rout of No. 3 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl to become the first team to finish unanimously No. 1 in both the AP and UPI polls.
3. Notre Dame 1947 (9-0): ESPN's Beano Cook calls this squad the greatest of them all, one that produced 41 pro football players and ran teams into mush with three of the top 100 players ever, according to College Football News: linemen Leon Hart and George Connor and quarterback Johnny Lujack, the Heisman Trophy winner.
4. Nebraska 1971 (13-0): With tailback great Johnny Rodgers leading the charge, the Cornhuskers scored nearly 40 a game and allowed 8.2, and they downed No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 in the "Game of the Century."
5. Oklahoma 1956 (10-0): Bud Wilkinson's team, in the midst of a 47-game winning streak, averaged 47 points and had six shutouts. Running back Tommy McDonald was third in the Heisman voting, and lineman Jerry Tubbs was fourth.