A week into fall camp last month, true freshman running back Amir Carlisle was the surprise star.
Teammates were already saying he was the best freshman in camp. Coach Lane Kiffin was saying he wouldn't be opposed to starting Carlisle in the season opener against Minnesota.
Then he got hurt, missed a couple weeks and fell behind in the race to start at running back -- then fell even further back when Marc Tyler returned after Week 1. But Carlisle, the 5-10, 180-pounder from Santa Clara, is healthy now, and he's back to impressing coaches and teammates during practice. He has been the most dynamic Trojan back through two days of practice in preparation for Arizona State.
The assumption, of course, is that he'll redshirt, simply because USC already has four capable backs available and because the Trojans have already completed a quarter of their season. But the word from USC is that he won't redshirt, that can he play right away and make his presence known.
"We think that he can help us," Kiffin said Wednesday. "He adds another dimension. He's got some juice. It's good to see him as a change of pace.
"We might see him this Saturday."
Of course, that statement from Kiffin can't be taken without the proper consideration. The head coach has been almost paranoid about what is coming out of the program during game weeks in terms of players being featured in game plans and whatnot.
So, in other words, it might be a gigantic smokescreen. Kiffin may fully intend to redshirt Carlisle and may be simply trying to confuse the Sun Devils leading up to Saturday's game. If he really wanted to give Carlisle serious carries, he probably wouldn't make a point of saying it.
On another note, true freshman guard Aundrey Walker has had a similar up-and-down trajectory with his stock since camp started, but it's been for other reasons.
Walker just flat-out faded for a couple weeks, once he lost the competition to start at right guard to John Martinez and was overlooked for the left guard spot. But, in limited snaps late in Saturday's win over Syracuse, Walker was dominant. Kiffin spoke in awe of his performance Wednesday, mentioning Walker's first play in the game, when he came in and cut-block an Orange linebacker "50 yards downfield" on a Curtis McNeal run.
"If Aundrey would practice like he played in that game, he'd be one of our best players," Kiffin said. "He played really, really well. He went in there and looked like the guy he did early in camp.
"Our challenge is to get him to practice that way because he played really well."
Then there's Kyle Prater, the redshirt freshman receiver who's still yet to come out of his shell as a Trojan. He had the play of the day Wednesday with a one-handed, falling-over grab that attracted Kiffin's attention afterward.
It wasn't all positive attention, though. Kiffin noted that Prater is struggling with the same bouts of inconsistency -- and injury -- that forced him to redshirt the 2010 season despite coming in as a touted prospect.
"Every time he starts to make a stride, something happens," Kiffin said. "He's going to eventually be a really good player.
"Hopefully it's soon."
Prater played against Syracuse on Saturday but did not record a catch. It was his first playing time of the 2011 season.