In the mean time, I’ll be previewing each of the Trojans’ position groups heading into fall practice. This week, I’ll start with the backfield, which was left with numerous question marks due to the early departures of Ronald Jones II and Sam Darnold. Let’s get started.
As mentioned seconds ago, Darnold and Jones are gone. But it bears repeating — the pair combined for 87% of USC’s total offensive yards in 2017.
Ensuring a smooth transition will be harder said than done, especially with negligible returning experience at quarterback. Redshirt junior Matt Fink is USC’s sole signal caller with a career pass attempt. Last year, he completed 6 of 9 throws for 43 yards in garbage time.
The situation is much less dire at running back. Losing Jones hurts, but his backup Stephen Carr proved to be more than capable as a true freshman (363 yards, 5.6 yards per carry). Stablemates Vavae Malepeai (5.3 yards per carry) and Aca’Cedric Ware (247 yards) join him to make up a formidable trio.
Last season, Carr struggled with injuries after a white hot start to his college career. If his durability continues to be an issue, the bruising Malepeai and experienced Ware will help carry the load.
Sears and Fink failed to stake strong claims to the job in spring practice, potentially leaving the door open for Daniels, who left high school a year early to join USC in the fall. He holds the highest upside of the three after a downright ridiculous high school career.
At running back, the most prominent new face is Markese Stepp — a four-star power back stolen away from Notre Dame in their own backyard. The Indianapolis native won’t start from day one, like Daniels could. That being said, he’s talented enough to see situational snaps as a true freshman.
Grade — C+
The Trojans’ backfield is undergoing a massive facelift, but new doesn’t always mean bad. It’s worth noting that, for all of his spectacular plays, Darnold turned the ball over 22 times in 14 games last season. Even if Daniels, Sears, or Fink fail to replicate his production next year, USC could use a game manager who takes care of the football for a change.
At running back, there’s more obvious talent coming back. However, USC needs Carr to be their next dynamic, feature back. Time will tell if he can grow into that role. Last year, he toted the rock over 15 times on just one occasion and he’s still nursing a lingering back injury entering fall camp.
Overall, USC’s backfield is flush with new faces and inexperience. But it wasn’t too long ago when Darnold led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl as a redshirt freshman. Head coach Clay Helton needs similar breakout seasons at quarterback and running back in 2018.