The Trojans ended the 2006 season with a victory in the 2007 Rose Bowl Game and a No. 4 ranking in both AP and Coaches polls, their fifth straight year winning the Pac-10 Championship and finishing in the top 4. During that 5-year period, the team won two national championships (2003, 2004). Prior to the 2007 season, the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in all national pre-season polls and were expected to challenge for the National Championship. The team received a boost in the offseason when many draft-eligible juniors decided to return to school for their senior seasons; the holdover of talented veterans was a major factor in the Trojans being considered preeminent favorites for a national championship. As expected, USC was at the top of the first Coaches Poll of the season, released on August 3, 2007, with 45 of a possible 60 first-place votes; other teams receiving first-place votes were No. 2 Louisiana State University (LSU) with 4 votes, No. 3 Florida with 6 votes, and No. 5 Michigan with 2 votes. USC was also at the top of the first AP Poll, released on August 18, with 62 of 65 first-place votes, with No. 2 LSU receiving 2 votes and No. 3 West Virginia receiving one. In mid-August, all twelve experts polled by ESPN picked USC to win the season's BCS Championship Game. On August 29, 2007, the day before the season began, three of four experts at SI.com predicted USC would win the BCS Championship Game, attributing the decision to the Trojans defense.
In terms of overall talent, Carroll stated that the 2007 squad is the "most competitive team we've had" during his six-year tenure as coach. Senior starting quarterback John David Booty entered the season as a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Booty, along with returning senior tackle Sam Baker, were ranked as two of the "Top 20 Players Heading Into 2007" by Sports Illustrated.
The Trojans entered pre-season fall camp well stocked at the running back position, with 10 former high school Super Prep All-Americans, nine of whom were Prep Star all-Americans and seven were Parade all-Americans. The exceptional running back situation at USC was a major factor in Sports Illustrated forecasting the 2007 season as "The Year of the Running Back." In judging USC as a pre-season favorite, particular emphasis was made on the defense. Considered to be one of the best defenses during the 2006 season, the Trojans entered 2007 with 10 returning starters and key backups. After a one-season experiment with the 3–4 defense formation, the defense returned to using the 4–3. The highlight of the defense was the linebacking corp, led by Brian Cushing, Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga.
At the Pacific-10 Conference media day, the Trojans were the unanimous pre-season pick to win the conference; this was USC's fifth year in a row as the favorite to win the conference title, and only the third time in conference history that a team had been picked unanimously (the other two were USC in 2004 and 2005).
USC's stellar recruiting class was highlighted by the three highest ranked players from the "ESPN 150": No. 1 Joe McKnight (RB); No. 2 Chris Galippo (LB); and No. 3 Marc Tyler (RB). The Trojans also landed Scout.com's National Player of the Year and top overall prospect for 2007, Everson Griffen. Other notable signees included Rivals.com's No. 1 WR Ronald Johnson and 5-star OL Kristofer O'Dowd. Despite recruiting substantially fewer players than other programs, USC signed the No. 1 or No. 2 recruiting class in various rankings, along with the Florida Gators, the winners of the 2006 National Championship. In the pre-season, McKnight and Johnson were named two of the top-10 impact freshman for 2007.
The football program received 18 letters of intent on National Signing Day, February 7, 2007, listed below:
In May, the Trojans were joined by former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain, who had an 8–0 win/loss record as a starter during his freshman (and only) year with the team. Mustain joined fellow Arkansas teammate and wide receiver Damian Williams, who transferred from Arkansas before the 2006 bowl season. Due to NCAA transfer rules all would be unable to compete until 2008, although they would be allowed on the scout team.
In early summer, Jordan Cameron, a former freshman basketball player from Brigham Young University, also transferred to USC to play football as a wide receiver. However, when USC refused to accept some of Cameron's credits from Brigham Young, he was forced to withdraw and attend Ventura College. He missed the football season but was given the option to try to rejoin the team in 2008. Even if he had stayed at USC, due to NCAA transfer rules he would have been ineligible to play in 2007. Cameron ended up enrolling at USC a year later.
With the late 2006 dismissal of Troy Van Blarcom (academics) and the death of Mario Danelo, USC was left with only one experienced kicker: David Buehler, a 2006 junior college transfer from Santa Ana College who competed mainly at fullback and safety, but was used for one successful field goal attempt the previous season. In July 2007, Joe Houston, a junior college kicker from El Camino College, joined the team as a "preferred walk-on", guaranteed a non-scholarship spot on the team. As a junior college transfer, Houston would be able to play for the Trojans immediately. USC also recruited former University of Nebraska kicker, Jordan Congdon, who was not eligible for the 2007 season; and Brad Smith, formerly of Davidson College. Smith was able to play immediately under an NCAA rule that permits non-scholarship players who have already received a degree to transfer once with immediate eligibility.
Following the 2006 season, several players graduated, including starting senior All-Americans Steve Smith (wide receiver) and Ryan Kalil (center), as well as all-conference linebackers Dallas Sartz and Oscar Lua. Junior All-American Dwayne Jarrett, who was their leading receiver in 2005 and 2006, renounced his eligibility and joined the NFL.
The Trojans entered fall training camp with a high number of scholarship running backs (10), all of whom were highly touted recruits. In August, midway through camp, running back Emmanuel Moody announced he was leaving USC. Moody, who was the second-leading rusher in the 2006 season, had gained 458 yards on 79 carries in a rotating platoon of running backs in 2006 and had recently been one of three USC running backs appearing on the regional cover of Sports Illustrated's college football preview edition. Injuries had limited his playing and practice time: he suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the team's last four games of the 2006 season, then missed almost all of spring practice due to a hamstring injury. Halfway through the summer training camp, Moody bruised his knee and was forced to stop practicing. He wished to be a featured player and stated he had "felt forgotten" coming into training camp due to his recent lack of playing and practice time. After looking at several schools, including Oklahoma State and North Carolina, Moody transferred to the University of Florida.
At about the same time, backup receiver and redshirt freshman Jamere Holland was dismissed from the team, although not for any violation of team rules. He was allowed to stay on scholarship for the year. Holland redshirted the previous season after breaking his collarbone, reinjured it during spring practice and had clashed with coaches during his return to fall camp. He would later transfer to the University of Oregon.
On January 6, 2007, Shortly after the Trojans ended their 2006 season with a win at the 2007 Rose Bowl, two-year starting placekicker Mario Danelo was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in San Pedro, California. Danelo had been expected to start during the 2007 season. For the 2007 season, USC players wore a #19 sticker on their helmets in honor of Danelo; in addition the Kennedy-Jones practice field had the number "19" sprayed onto its end zones and the Coliseum hung a banner above the player's tunnel with Danelo's name and also paid tribute to him on the goal-post pads.
The Trojans lost their offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, on January 23, 2007, when he was hired to be the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders; the 31-year-old Kiffin became the youngest head coach in Raiders history, and the youngest head coach since the formation of the modern NFL. The following week, Pete Carroll named Steve Sarkisian as his team's new offensive coordinator. Sarkisian had interviewed with the Raiders for their vacant head coach position but withdrew from the process to stay at USC, where he had been the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach.
Intra-conference controversy arose in March 2007, when Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was quoted as saying "[Pete Carroll]'s only got one more year, though. He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff." Upon further questions, Harbaugh claimed he had heard it from staff at USC. At the Pac-10 Conference media day (July 26, 2007), Harbaugh praised the Trojans, stating "There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and may be the best team in the history of college football"; the declaration, especially in light of his earlier comment, garnered more media attention.
In early July, LSU coach Les Miles stirred inter-conference controversy when he publicly criticized USC's 2007 schedule in front of LSU boosters; though the two schools had not played each other since 1984, the LSU Tiger faithful maintained a strong grudge against the Trojans after they shared the national title in the controversial 2003 season. LSU and Michigan were ranked as the pre-season No. 2 team in various polls.
The 2007 Trojans schedule was ranked the 8th hardest in the country. Before the season, the road schedule was ranked as the 6th toughest. Within the Pac-10, the schedule ranked as the 2nd toughest.
The 2007 USC Trojans entered the season picked as the unanimous No. 1 team, with expectations of playing in the BCS National Title Game. After the loss to 41-point underdog Stanford the team's opportunities for national success came into serious question, and following the loss to Oregon there were questions as to whether USC would even win the Pacific-10 Conference. The Trojans regrouped and salvaged their season, winning a share of the conference and the Rose Bowl, and by the end of the season were said to be playing the best football of anyone in the country. Injuries to key players, particularly quarterback John David Booty's broken finger during the Stanford game, had a significant impact over the season, leading to questions of how USC would have fared if injuries had not taken their toll.
USC finished the season ranked No. 2 in the Coaches Poll and No. 3 in the AP Poll, trading the respective No. 3 and No. 2 spots with Georgia, another team that finished with a strong 11–2 record and a dominating performance in its BCS Bowl game. The teams finished close to each other in the final polls: In the Coaches Poll, USC received 1380 votes to Georgia's 1370; and in the AP Poll Georgia received 1515 to USC's 1500. USC received one first-place vote in the final AP Poll. With LSU's dominating win over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game, college football had its first two-loss national champion, and with teams like USC and Georgia locked out of playing LSU or Ohio State, the season served as another example for those advocating for some form of Football Bowl Subdivision playoff.
The Trojans accomplished two feats: USC became the first team to win six straight Pac-10 titles and became the first team in major college football to achieve six straight 11-win seasons. In addition, USC also remained tied for the most BCS Bowl appearances at six, all consecutive.
Immediately after the 2007–08 bowl season, in early looks at the 2008 season, USC was ranked as the pre-season No. 4 (Sports Illustrated) and No. 5 (ESPN.com) due to key player departures mitigated by the overall talent level. Sports Illustrated soon revised its ranking to No. 3 after nearly all draft-eligible juniors decided to remain with the program instead of entering the NFL Draft.
Of all the Trojans' draft-eligible juniors, only offensive guard Chilo Rachal declared himself available for the 2008 NFL Draft. Twelve USC players, eleven seniors and a junior, were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, the most of any school in 2008: the seniors were offensive tackle Sam Baker, quarterback John David Booty, tight end Fred Davis, nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, defensive end Lawrence Jackson, offensive tackle Drew Radovich, linebacker Keith Rivers, center Matt Spanos, cornerback Terrell Thomas, running back Chauncey Washington, linebacker Thomas Williams, and the junior was offensive guard Rachal.
USC did well in the 2007 draft; ten players were taken overall, the most of any school, and a school-record seven players were selected in the first two rounds, beating the previous record of five (1968 and 2006) and the most in the first round. The first round selections were Ellis (seventh, New Orleans Saints), Rivers (ninth, Cincinnati Bengals), Baker (21st, Atlanta Falcons) and Jackson (28th, Seattle Seahawks); the second round picks were Rachal (39th, San Francisco 49ers), Davis (48th, Washington Redskins) and Thomas (63rd, New York Giants); the fifth round selections were Booty (137th, Minnesota Vikings) and Williams (155th, Jacksonville Jaguars); in the seventh round Washington was selected 213th by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Radovich signed as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings; Spanos signed with the Miami Dolphins.
One year later, eleven more players were selected in the 2009 NFL Draft, again leading all universities in the number of players drafted into the NFL that season. The first round selections were Mark Sanchez (fifth, New York Jets), Brian Cushing (15th, Houston Texans) and Clay Matthews (26th, Green Bay Packers); the second round picks were Rey Maualuga (38th, Cincinnati Bengals) and Fili Moala (56th, Indianapolis Colts); in the third round was Patrick Turner (87th, Miami Dolphins); in the fourth round were Kaluka Maiava (104th, Cleveland Browns) and Kyle Moore (117th, Tampa Bay Buccaneers); in the fifth round was David Buehler (172nd, Dallas Cowboys); and in the sixth round Cary Harris (183rd, Buffalo Bills) and Kevin Ellison (189th, San Diego Chargers).
During the 2010 NFL Draft, USC had seven more players from the 2007 team drafted into the NFL, though none in the first round. The second round picks were Taylor Mays (49th, San Francisco 49ers) and Charles Brown (64th, New Orleans Saints); in the third round were Damien Williams (77th, Tennessee Titans) and Kevin Thomas (97th, Indianapolis Colts); in the fourth round were Everson Griffen (100th, Minnesota Vikings) and Joe McKnight (112th, New York Jets); and in the sixth round Anthony McCoy (185th, Seattle Seahawks).
At the 2011 NFL Draft, USC tied for the most players drafted from any university into the NFL that year with nine. Of those, six were on the 2007 team, though none of those particular players were in the first round. Shareece Wright was selected in the third round (89th, San Diego Chargers); in the sixth round were Ronald Johnson (182nd, San Francisco 49ers) and Allen Bradford (187th, Tampa Bay Buccaneers); and in three consecutive picks in the seventh round were Stanley Havili (240th, Philadelphia Eagles), David Ausberry (241st, Oakland Raiders) and Malcolm Smith (242nd, Seattle Seahawks). Jordan Cameron, who had tried to transfer onto the team but forced to wait a year at a junior college before enrolling, was also drafted in the third round (102nd, Cleveland Browns).
Finally, at the 2012 NFL Draft, Rhett Ellison was taken in the fourth round (128th, Minnesota Vikings).
As of 2012, 39 players from the 2007 USC Trojans football team were drafted into the NFL.
Senior Fred Davis became the first Trojan to win the John Mackey Award, awarded to the nation's top tight end. Five Trojans were selected to the various 2007 College Football All-America Teams. In addition to Fred Davis, tackle Sam Baker earned his third-straight spot on an All-American team. On the defense, tackle Sedrick Ellis, linebacker Keith Rivers, and safety Taylor Mays all earned All-American honors. Ellis was named the Pacific-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year by league coaches, and selected to the All-Conference first team defense along with defensive end Lawrence Jackson, linebackers Rivers and Rey Maualuga, and cornerback Kevin Ellison. The All-Conference first team offense included Davis, Baker, and offensive lineman Chilo Rachal.
The Trojans had nine players invited to participate in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama: Baker, quarterback John David Booty, Davis, Ellis, Jackson, offensive linemen Drew Radovich, Rivers, cornerback Terrell Thomas and running back Chauncey Washington. All nine players were placed on the North team, which was coached by Lane Kiffin, who had coached for the Trojans between 2001 and 2006 before becoming the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. The nine players sent by USC were the second-most ever invited from one team in a single season, one less than the 10 players by Alabama in 1987 and tied with the nine players sent by Auburn in 1988, though the earlier selection rules favored the two locally based schools.