OJ Simpson’s College Career: A Look Back at the Star RB’s Time at USC

    Before OJ Simpson took the NFL by storm with the Buffalo Bills, he dominated the collegiate landscape. Just how good was he at USC?

    Orenthal James Simpson is well-known as one of the best running backs in NFL history. “The Juice” ran for 11,236 yards and 76 touchdowns in his pro career, earning five Pro Bowl nods and four rushing titles. But before the Buffalo Bills selected him with the first overall pick in the 1969 NFL Draft, OJ Simpson decimated defenses on the collegiate stage.

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    Recapping OJ Simpson’s College Career and Stats

    Simpson endured a troubled upbringing, from divorced parents to living in housing projects to joining a street gang, but after three arrests and a chance meeting with baseball star Willie Mays, he found a path forward on the gridiron at Galileo High School in San Francisco.

    Despite being an All-City athlete, Simpson’s grades deterred programs from recruiting him, forcing him to begin his collegiate career at City College of San Francisco. He played both ways as running back and defensive back, but his ability with the ball in his hands was apparent. In two seasons, he placed himself on the all-time JUCO rushing leaderboard with 2,552 yards and 54 touchdowns.

    With obvious talent and improved grades, Simpson was able to earn multiple scholarship offers, opting to attend USC, a team he had been a fan of growing up. As a junior, the California native took 266 carries for 1,543 yards and 13 TDs, winning the Walter Camp Award as the nation’s best RB and finishing as the Heisman runner-up to UCLA QB Gary Beban.

    Simpson’s on-field success paralleled the team’s, as USC ended the season 10-1, outscored opponents 258 to 87, and was the consensus national champion.

    Yet, the 1968 campaign proved even more fruitful. Simpson set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a single season (1,709) and scored 22 times, winning the Walter Camp and Maxwell Awards.

    The accolades didn’t end there, as Simpson also won the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in the award’s history, a record that lasted 51 years.

    However, the Trojans failed to repeat as national champions, even with their All-World back powering the offense. They rattled off nine straight wins before tying Notre Dame and losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, where Simpson ran for 171 yards, including an 80-yard TD.

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    Simpson left Southern California a two-time unanimous All-American who tied or broke 19 NCAA, conference, and USC football records. He was an elite talent worthy of the top selection in the NFL Draft, but Simpson didn’t enter the league without controversy.

    After the Bills turned their card in, he demanded a five-year, $650,000 deal — the largest contract in professional sports history. Owner Ralph Wilson balked at the idea, but when Simpson threatened to become an actor and leave football behind, Wilson caved and agreed to pay the RB. And, as they say, the rest is history.

    On April 10, 2024, Simpson’s family announced he passed away after a battle with cancer at 76 years old. He will forever be remembered for his brilliance in Buffalo, but he made his name as a JUCO star and USC Trojan before tearing up the NFL.

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