It is widely perceived that one of the challenges USC will face in 2014 is a dearth of scholarship players available for the upcoming football season.
Indeed, the primary challenge for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff will be a lack of depth along the vast majority of the roster due to the sanctions leveled on the Trojans by the NCAA, which has removed 30 scholarships over the last three years.
Planning to employ an up-tempo offense in 2014, USC will need to find rotations to accommodate a game plan that will require players to be shuffled in and out of the game on a routine basis.
But while most units will be scrambling to find capable players in an effort to keep those units fresh, this will not be the case with the running backs unit.
Instead, the task for Sarkisian and his running backs coach, Johnny Nansen, will be figuring out who gets the ball when the Trojans run.
Blessed with the deepest unit on the roster, the first order of business when the season starts is to determine exactly how the running back rotation will play out this season.
Historically, Sarkisian hasn't had to figure out rotations when it came to running the ball at his former job at Washington.
That is because Sark had Bishop Sankey at his disposal, and when a coach has a talent such as Sankey available, his decision is made easy.
In 2013, Washington ran the ball 610 times, and 327 of those found Sankey with the ball in his hands. For his trouble, Sankey rushed for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns, rendering whatever notions Sark might have had about sharing the ball null and void.
This is not the case at USC where the Trojans have no less than five capable backs at their disposal, four of whom saw extensive playing time in 2013 and performed well when given the opportunity.
In fact, Javorius (Buck) Allen, Justin Davis, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac all have the talent to be a featured back in Sark's system.
And that doesn't even take into consideration the return of D.J. Morgan, who is probably the fastest of all of the Trojan tailbacks.
In 2013, Allen and Madden pretty much split 173 carries for 1,488 yards and 17 touchdowns (14 by Allen) as USC rushed for over 2,400 yards overall. Meanwhile, the two true freshmen in 2013—Davis and Isaac—averaged over six yards a carry as a duo with eight touchdowns to their credit.
So when Sark and Nansen peer out into the practice field this year, they won't see Sankey, but they will find a bevy of runners who may wind up being just as good.
It is a problem that any coach would love to have, but also one that will demand a decision at some point.
Will USC feature a single running back, or will it wind up being an effort by committee?
Compounding the problem is that all of the backs are somewhat similar in the talent they bring to the field of play.
Allen is a strong north-south runner who has proved he can gain the tough yards inside the opponent's 10-yard line and can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Madden is almost the same kind of back, utilizing the same size and capable of the same kind of tough running that Allen offers.
Isaac? He is even bigger, and he also possesses a fine pair of hands.
Only Davis weighs less than 215 pounds, and he is listed at 200 pounds. At 6'1", he will likely weigh more when USC begins play in 2014.
Of the four, Davis is the most likely to "take it to the house" on any given play, but really, any of the four are capable in that area.
So when all is said and done, Sark and Co. will have to make a decision at some point as to how to prosecute the running game.
Will it be a featured back or running back by committee?
Fortunately for all concerned, this Trojan team has the horses to make the decision difficult.
And that is a problem all coaches would love to have.
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