Allen Bradford (34 carries, 209 yards, 2 TD)
C.J. Gable (24 carries, 75 yards; 4 receptions, 13 yards, 1 TD)
Curtis McNeal OR (32 carries, 129 yards; 2 receptions, 15 yards)
Dillon Baxter OR (33 carries, 238 yards, 2 TD)
Marc Tyler (26 carries, 99 yards; 2 receptions, 16 yards)
Three questions answered in the spring
What if? What if Bradford wasn't shuffled to fullback and back as a freshman? What if a hip injury hadn't cost him part of 2007 and all of 2008? What if he had received more carries last season, especially after his dominant game against Oregon State when the offense was scuffling?
Now, the answer could be coming. Bradford looked the part of an elite tailback during the spring, gaining the tough yards against a dominant defensive line. The redshirt senior was impressive in short yardage and goal line drills, but showed the breakaway speed to produce plenty of big plays. Given Lane Kiffin's commitment to the run, Bradford could breakout for more than 1,300 yards if he stays healthy.
Factor in his perseverance and leadership, he will be the face of the Trojans.
2. Dillon Baxter is special.
As if the 79 touchdowns as a high school senior didn't prove it, as if the late recruiting push by Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly during USC's coaching uncertainty didn't prove it, it took all of one scrimmage to justify the immense hype regarding Baxter.
One run showing the agility and balance and ability to set up defenders was all it took, but it was the maturity and work ethic he has demonstrated since that Saturday afternoon that are more impressive. Baxter will do whatever he can to be great. The Trojans will reap the benefits.
3. Stanley Havili will be a bigger factor in the passing game.
With uncertainty at tight end and no proven receivers beyond Ronald Johnson, Havili can and must be utilized more as a receiver. He showed it in the Emerald Bowl with two touchdown catches, including a 53-yard catch-and-run, then added three scores in the spring game.
The USC offense was at its best when teams had to account for every player on the field. Havili's unparalleled versatility – remember when he split out wide at Cal or caught a crucial touchdown at Arizona in 2008 working as a de facto tight end – will create mismatches for himself and his teammates in the fall.
Three questions for the fall
1. How are carries split among the running backs?
The days of running back by committee are dead and buried. Coach Lane Kiffin has made it clear, he wants a No. 1 running back to tote the rock. Projecting that forward based on last season at Tennessee, the lead back will have 20+ touches per game, with the backup receiving about 5 to 7 carries.
2. Where does C.J. Gable fit into that distribution?
What isn't entirely clear is who will be that second rusher. Gable, the senior who was stuck in Pete Carroll's doghouse for the last few seasons, looks like the most complete option as a runner, receiver and pass blocker.
However, Dillon Baxter looks so explosive, he will demand touches as one of the few big-play threats for the USC offense. And that role could expand as the season goes along, possibly leaving Gable as the Hershel Dennis to Allen Bradford and Baxter's Thunder and Lightning.
3. Are the fullbacks physical enough for the running game?
The addition of Soma Vainuku on signing day was compelling simply because he's so different from the kind of fullbacks Pete Carroll recruited. Whereas Stanley Havili and D.J. Shoemate were converted from running back and receiver to provide versatility from that spot, Vainuku is a hammer at nearly 260 pounds.
If he qualifies academically, Vainuku could provide a different dimension to the offense this season.
Freshman Dillon Baxter could emerge as a big-play threat for the Trojans.
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