Déjà vu all over again: USC's loaded backfield a hot topic

June, 30, 2009
6/30/09
10:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It's not just the preview magazines that signal the approach of another glorious -- cue up Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" -- college football season. It's also something dreadful.

It's another bushel of stories about USC's embarrassment of riches at tailback and the counterintuitive but entirely defensible idea that too much of a good thing might become a bad thing.

 
  AP Photo/Chris Carlson
  Once again, Pete Carroll's backfield is full of potential stars.

Or at least a less good thing than it could be if there were, say, merely three future NFL draft choices in the backfield instead of six.

Look. Here's one already! (A good one, in fact).

To let you in on a little secret: Sportswriters don't like doing the same story over and over again. And I've hit this one a few times over the years.

I've got a hunch, too, my boss is going to call me up at some point soon and say ... USC running backs ... think ... we ... need to... hit that one ... again.

And I'll waddle off like Igor and write another one.

So instead of: Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford, Broderick Green and Marc Tyler from 2008, it's McKnight, Johnson, Gable, Bradford, Curtis McNeal and Tyler (Green transferred to Arkansas).

And when Pete Carroll rolls his eyes at me when I ask him again about it, he'll again say something like, "It's never been a problem for us. It's a problem for everyone else that they can't figure out why we do it that way."

But let me throw out one point that should matter most to the young men who opt to compete for carries at USC, though not as much to Trojan fans.

See, the redundant line of questioning here is: "Why join the crowd at USC when if you went to Another Team U then you'd be, 'The Man'?" (Reporters throw out terms like "The Man" to showcase their hipster roots, an effect that is often ruined by the cookie crumbs constellating the wrinkled golf shirt we got for free after covering some event).

Yet consider: Running backs have a very limited shelf life. They take a lot of hits. And each hit knocks a bit out of them. That's why so few do well in the NFL past 30.

Let's use Johnson as an example. He's going to be a first-day draft choice next spring, even though he's only gotten 238 career carries thus far.

Heck, Johnson, a three-year contributor, may not end up with as many carries in his career as the Michigan State's Javon Ringer got last season (390).

Donald Brown was a first-round draft choice out of Connecticut in April. The 210-pounder with a physical running style had nearly 700 career carries.

Ouch.

You realize it's the second contract when guys make all their money, right?

We figure to get a good idea in next spring's NFL draft of whether USC's "Huge Party in the Backfield" system works to a player's advantage -- or at least is neutral in terms of their professional prospects.

If Johnson, the lone senior in the Trojans' backfield, though others may and probably will join him in the draft, ends up grinning on draft day, then all is well.

Here's a guess: If Johnson finishes his USC tenure this fall with 2,200-plus career rushing yards and maintains his nearly 6 yards per carry average and goes to the combine and hangs up some impressive numbers, just as many NFL GMs are going to be thrilled with his relative freshness as those who wonder why he never won the job outright.

That would be an early vindication of Carroll's backfield by battalion approach, at least in terms of recruiting other prep All-Americans, which is good for the Trojans because things don't look to be any less crowded in 2010.

And, of course, with what might be the best offensive line in the nation, there might end up being enough carries to go around this fall.

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