December 7, 2003, 20 years ago today: The day after a 52-28 win over Oregon State, USC begins a record streak of 33 consecutive weeks atop the AP Poll. The Trojans were ranked No. 1 for the conclusion of the 2003 season, the entire 2004 season and the entire 2005 regular season until falling to No. 2 Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, 41-38. At that point coach Pete Carroll’s USC program was at a peak. The 33-week run holds the record by a wide margin, but it now includes an asterisk due to the scandal that forced Reggie Bush to vacate his Heisman Trophy and USC to vacate its final two wins of 2004—including the national championship—and all of its victories in 2005.
It was alleged that, among other things, Bush’s parents were given rent-free living arrangements in a house that was owned by an agent who wanted Bush to sign with him once he was eligible for the NFL Draft. The accusations were first made in 2006, and the sanctions against Bush and USC were handed down in 2010. (Coincidentally, the same day the NCAA completed its investigation, Carroll left the Trojans to take the Seattle Seahawks job that he still holds today.)
The NCAA retroactively determined that in 2004, Bush had forfeited his eligibility due to impermissible benefits. Fourteen victories and accompanying statistical records while Bush played for USC in 2004 and 2005 were vacated. And Bush, who followed teammate Matt Linehart as college football’s Heisman Trophy winner, became the first recipient ever to have to give back the coveted trophy.
Bush’s transgressions are especially interesting now in college football’s NIL landscape. As soon as the NIL era dawned on July 1, 2021, Bush insisted that his Heisman Trophy be returned and his records reinstated, saying, “I never cheated this game. (But) that’s what they wanted you to believe about me.” The NCAA still refused to return his Heisman, and this August, Bush sued the NCAA for “defamation and false light.”
Boise State star Ashton Jeanty, the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, reportedly is getting “a place to live” included in the NIL deal that helped keep him in Boise for the next year. It’s all above board and perfectly legal now. “A place to live” is the least of the benefits now available to the sport’s premiere players. And less than 20 years ago it cost Bush his Heisman Trophy and USC a bunch of forfeited victories and a decade of embarrassment.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)