We're doing position-by-position previews in the two weeks leading up to spring practice, breaking down the depth chart for one position group each day, paying special attention to potential things that can change in the spring.
Tuesday, we looked at the quarterbacks. Here's a take on the running backs.
Few realize just how good USC's Curtis McNeal was in 2011. The fourth-year junior averaged almost seven yards per carry last season, totaling just over 1,000 rushing yards on just 145 carries for a 6.9 yards per carry average.
How good was that? Put it this way: Only one other player in the NCAA (Missouri's Henry Josey) reached even 900 yards with that few carries. McNeal tied for 11th in the country in yards per carry among running backs, and a number of the players in front of him were backups, like Alabama's Eddie Lacy and Oklahoma State's Jeremy Smith.
If he can come close to replicating that efficiency while taking on true starter's carries in 2012, McNeal should surpass 1,500 yards with ease.
Look at this way: USC ran roughly 375 designed run plays in 12 games last season, not counting sacks. That equates to just over 31 rushes per game. If coach Lane Kiffin gives McNeal a reasonable majority of 20 of those 31 in each of the Trojans' 13 games next season, counting a bowl, he'll get 260 carries.
Multiply that by 6.9 and you get 1,794, obviously a lofty goal but not by means out of reach as long as he stays healthy.
That's where D.J. Morgan comes in. Last year, Lacy got 95 carries while backing up Trent Richardson. To help spell McNeal, USC could give Morgan the same amount and still have another 50 rushes left over to spread between quarterbacks, fullbacks and alternate sources.
And that's what this spring is about, really -- finding who those 50 will go to, or, in other words, who the No. 3 option is. McNeal's No. 1 and Morgan's No. 2, but is Buck Allen, the only other running back on the roster, the third? Or is it fullback Soma Vainuku?
And, if neither of those two emerge as capable ballcarriers, will it be incoming freshmen Jahleel Pinner and Nelson Agholor getting cracks at it once they get to USC in the fall?
Check back Thursday for the receivers.