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Top 10 players from USC-Texas title game based on NFL careers


There will be plenty of NFL prospects on the field Saturday night when USC hosts Texas, including Longhorns LT Connor Williams and LB Malik Jefferson. There are few stars bigger, of course, than USC QB Sam Darnold.

The last time these teams hooked up (pun intended) was the 2006 Rose Bowl, an instant classic that has been dubbed by some as the greatest college football game of all-time. Then-Texas QB Vince Young was the star of the show, running for 200 yards and 3 scores, including the game-winner with 19 seconds remaining.

Young didn't make my ranking of the top 10 NFL players from that game, even though his teams won 60 percent of his 50 starts and he was voted to two Pro Bowls, as his career was too short-lived. The other QB from that game, Heisman winner Matt Leinart, didn't make my top 10, either. Of the more than 50 other future NFL players that were on the rosters of Texas and USC on Jan. 4, 2006, here's how I rank them based on their pro careers.

10. Justin Blalock

Atlanta Falcons, 2007-2014
Position: OG
School: Texas
Drafted: 2007, Round 2 (39th overall), Falcons

I readily admit that I have a soft spot for offensive linemen, who do a lot of the hard work up front so the "skill-position" players can do their jobs. So although Blalock never made a Pro Bowl during his eight years as the starting left guard for the Falcons, he was a powerful blocker, and more importantly, a reliable one. Blalock missed just three starts from 2007 to 2014 (two as a rookie, one in his final year), racking up 130 career starts, including the postseason, before retiring.

9. Frostee Rucker

Cincinnati Bengals, 2006-2011; Cleveland Browns, 2012; Arizona Cardinals, 2013-present
Position: DE
School: USC
Drafted: 2006, Round 3 (91st overall), Bengals
» 155 career tackles (20 sacks), 8 forced fumbles

A solid contributor for Cincinnati and Arizona over the past 11 seasons, Rucker has carved out a nice career. He's started 58 of 127 contests played, including this year's season opener, accumulating 20 sacks and more than 200 tackles during that time. Rucker had a tackle for loss and forced fumble the last time the Trojans and Longhorns tussled.

8. Brian Cushing

Houston Texans, 2009-present
Position: LB
School: USC
Drafted: 2009, Round 1 (15th overall), Texans
» 1-time Pro Bowl selectee, 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year
» 417 career tackles (12 sacks), 8 INTs, 9 forced fumbles

Cushing made a large and immediate impact as a rookie for the Texans in 2009. He had more than 100 tackles, four interceptions, four sacks, and two forced fumbles that season, and was a second-team All-Pro a couple years later. Cushing started his 100th career game last weekend for Houston. However, injuries and suspensions have marred his career. He was suspended Wednesday for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances for the second time in his career.

7. Brian Robison

Minnesota Vikings, 2007-present
Position: DE
School: Texas
Drafted: 2007, Round 4 (102nd overall), Vikings
» 191 career tackles (56 sacks), 13 forced fumbles

Robison did not have high expectations as a fourth-round pick in 2007, and only started seven games in his first four seasons with the Vikings. He became a stalwart on the line, however, over the next six seasons starting all but one game, holding the edge against the run and posting 42.5 sacks.

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6. Michael Griffin

Tennessee Titans, 2007-2015; Carolina Panthers, 2016
Position: S
School: Texas
Drafted: 2007, Round 1 (19th overall), Titans
» 2-time Pro Bowl selectee
» 597 career tackles (7 sacks), 25 INTs, 11 forced fumbles

Griffin had eight tackles and an interception of Matt Leinart in the 2006 Rose Bowl. He started for nine straight seasons with the Titans. The former Longhorn intercepted 25 passes (seven in 2008, scoring once) and broke up 59 others to garner two Pro Bowl invitations.

5. Reggie Bush

New Orleans Saints, 2006-2010; Miami Dolphins, 2011-2012; Detroit Lions, 2013-2014; San Francisco 49ers, 2015; Buffalo Bills, 2016
Position: RB
School: USC
Drafted: 2006, Round 1 (2nd overall), Saints
» 1-time Super Bowl champion
» 5,490 career rushing yards, 36 TDs; 3,598 yards receiving, 18 TDs
» 102 career punt returns for 794 yards, 4 TDs

Great expectations accompanied Bush into the NFL as the second overall pick in the 2006 draft due to his electric play at USC, including his 177 rushing/receiving yards (and 102 kick return yards) in the Rose Bowl. His career might be called disappointing by some, but he managed 9,000 yards of total offense and scored 54 touchdowns in 11 years with five teams. Bush also scored on four punt returns during his NFL career.

4. Brian Orakpo

Washington Redskins, 2009-2014; Tennessee Titans, 2015-present
Position: Edge defender
School: Texas
Drafted: 2009, Round 1 (13th overall), Redskins
» 4-time Pro Bowl selectee
» 246 career tackles (57.5 sacks), 9 forced fumbles

Orakpo came hot out of the gate as a rookie in 2009, starting all 16 games, getting to the quarterback 11 times, and securing a Pro Bowl berth. He had ups and downs in Washington before moving on for the 2015 season, and has started every game for the Tennessee Titans since arriving in town that year. He has 57.5 career sacks.

3. Ryan Kalil

Carolina Panthers, 2007-present
Position: C
School: USC
Drafted: 2007, Round 2 (59th overall), Panthers
» 2-time first-team All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowl selectee

Even though Kalil missed half of the 2016 season, he has been as smart, athletic, sturdy and reliable as they come. Since becoming a starter for the Panthers during his rookie year, he's earned five Pro Bowl nominations and has been a team leader for a decade.

2. Clay Matthews

Green Bay Packers, 2009-present
Position: LB
School: USC
Drafted: 2009, Round 1 (26th overall), Packers
» 1-time first-team All-Pro, 6-time Pro Bowl selectee
» 1-time Super Bowl champion
» 302 career tackles (72.5 sacks), 6 INTs, 13 forced fumbles

Matthews was a bit player for the Trojans as a freshman in 2005 despite his athleticism and pedigree as part of the Matthews family. He finally got a chance to shine for the Trojans late in his career, and proved to be a smart pickup late in the first round of the 2009 draft (the Packers traded up to get him). He has 72.5 career sacks and six Pro Bowl appearances in eight seasons.

1. Jamaal Charles

Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2016; Denver Broncos, 2017-present
Position: RB
School: Texas
Drafted: 2008, Round 3 (73rd overall)
» 2-time first-team All-Pro, 4-time Pro Bowl selectee
» 7,300 career rushing yards, 43 TDs; 2,457 yards receiving, 20 TDs

Everyone knew how fast Charles, a track star, was when he was at Texas. He only carried the ball five times for 34 yards in the Rose Bowl, but he ran for more than 1,600 yards two years later with UT. Charles has nearly 10,000 total yards of offense and 63 touchdowns in 104 NFL games, scoring four Pro Bowl nods with the Chiefs during his nine years in Kansas City before joining the Broncos in the offseason.



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