The USC Trojans have become a very popular pick to open the season as the No. 1 team in college football. Even more people are picking the Trojans to be No. 1 at the end of the year as National Champions. The biggest reason is the powerful offensive attack the Men of Troy bring to the table. Matt Barkley is likely the top quarterback to be taken in next year’s NFL Draft and an early Heisman favorite. Robert Woods leads a Trojan receiving corps that ranks among the best in the country. But the aspect that may be the key for the Trojans this season is their running game. So how good is the Trojan running game?
Their success in the run game starts up front with their offensive line. Despite losing their top lineman, Matt Kalil, to the NFL Draft last season, the Trojans bring back four starters. They’re led by center Khaled Holmes who is widely projected to be the top center in the nation and made the Outland Trophy watch list this summer. This group was quietly very good in 2011, trailing only Oregon and Stanford in the conference in terms of ground efficiency, and the Trojans will return more to the line than either of those other teams.
The passing game will also play a big role in the success of the Trojans’ running game. Barkley has proven he can carve up a defense through the air, and Woods is one of the best wide receivers in the nation. This will help keep the box less crowded as opposing safeties will need to stay deep to help protect against the big play through the air. On top of that, Woods may be one of the best downfield blockers in the conference, showing no fear in dropping his head into a a defender to clear the way for a running back. In a game last year against Stanford, Woods was in the middle of a perfect block on the corner covering him when he came off and laid into a safety coming down to make a play, springing USC to a 61-yard touchdown run. While the run will help to set up the pass, the passing game is doing its fair share for the run.
In the backfield, USC brings back 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal, who finished second in the Pac-12 in yards per carry last season at 6.9. He was one of seven Pac-12 rushers to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, and did so in the fewest number of carries. He’ll be the featured back to start the season, looking to improve on his career best 2011 for his senior year. He has breakaway speed (which at this point is a requirement for admissions to USC, I think) and shows an intelligent patience when he runs, setting up his blocks before blowing through a hole to paydirt. Few rushers have the ability to make decisions on the fly or the physical tools to execute them as quickly as McNeal can.
Then there’s the new guy, Silas Redd. The former Penn State running back made his transfer to Los Angeles official this week and solidified one of the Trojans’ few weaknesses in the process. Head coach Lane Kiffin admitted that the depth of the running back position was the biggest concern heading into this season. Not so much, anymore. When combined with the lightning-quick McNeal, the tough running Redd will add some much needed muscle to the Trojan running game.
So how good is the Trojan running game? As with everything else coming out of the Coliseum these days, it’s one of the best in the country.
You can follow me on Twitter @Teeblerone and Rant Sports @RantSports