USC and Syracuse may not be familiar foes on the gridiron, but each school… (Associated Press; Con Keyes…)
When USC plays Syracuse on Saturday at the Coliseum, it will be more than a matchup between unbeaten teams from opposite ends of the country.
USC has produced five running backs who won the Heisman Trophy, two Heisman runners-up and other outstanding runners.
Syracuse boasts a running back tradition that includes Jim Brown and two more Pro Football Hall of Famers.
So which program has the historic edge in the backfield?
The Post-Standard, which covers Syracuse, this week posed a question to readers: "Which group of five running backs is best?"
USC's lineup included a quintet of Heisman winners — Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush.
Syracuse's lineup included Brown, Heisman winner Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka and Joe Morris.
As of early Thursday night, 81% of nearly 900 respondents had tabbed the Orange men.
Geography undoubtedly influenced the polling.
But the Orange tradition should not be sold short, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said Thursday.
"A lot of people out here don't know really how good Syracuse has been at that position," Haden said. "But I like USC's history at tailback. I'll leave it that."
Haden noted that USC's tailback legacy included not only the Heisman winners but also Jon Arnett, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell and Clarence Davis, among others.
Syracuse Athletic Director Daryl Gross, a former senior associate athletic director at USC, acknowledged the Trojans quantity but said both schools could stake a claim to top quality.
Brown, considered by many to be the greatest running back in NFL history, played four sports at Syracuse and was the NFL's rushing leader eight times in nine years between 1957 and 1965. Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman.
Csonka, a star for the Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Little, who works as a special assistant to Gross, starred for the Denver Broncos and was elected to the Pro Football Hall in 2010.
"I would probably agree with the notion that Jim Brown was arguably the greatest player at any position and leave it at that," Gross said.
Longtime NFL draft guru Gil Brandt gave USC the edge.
"USC wins hands down," he said. "When you think about USC and the tailback position, running back position or whatever you want to call it, they are the only one with a pair and lots of spares.
"USC has had more good players at that position."