USC is going to throw the ball a bunch this season, but in another reminder that there are some talented tailbacks on this roster, two Trojans were named to the Doak Walker Award watch list on Wednesday, an honor given to the top running back in the country.
Keaontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai are the two USC players on the list and the veterans will head into fall camp as the presumptive Nos. 1 and 2 options at running back for the Trojans. But there is still some depth chart intrigue, even with the departure of Stephen Carr for Indiana. That move appeared to give the two veterans a clear path to the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, but USC brought in Darwin Barlow from TCU and also have Kenan Christon in his third season, and saw a standout performance from true freshman Brandon Campbell as a spring enrollee.
Ingram turned heads this spring as a 6-foot, 220-pound bruising back with outstanding balance and agility. He comes to USC with 1,811 yards and 17 touchdowns in three years at Texas. He will absolutely factor into the Trojan offense this season and it’s tough to bet against him as the eventual starter at this point. But Malepeai is still here and his consistent production over a four-year USC career is tough to ignore. He’s run for 1,503 yards and scored 18 touchdowns, averaging five years per carry in his career.
Barlow and Christon are 2019 recruits, so they have additional years remaining compared to Ingram and Malepeai, but both have been productive when given opportunities. Barlow averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 73 attempts last season, while Kenan Christon performed well when given the ball as a true freshman two years ago, but saw his role reduced last season in a shortened year with veteran backs ahead of him.
No matter how the depth chart shakes out, the only concern when it comes to the running back position is that the Trojans get more out of it in 2021 than they did in 2020. USC finished last in the conference in rushing at fewer than 100 yards per game. Head coach Clay Helton has talked about wanting to be around 165 yards on the ground per game and the Trojans fell well short of that almost every time out last season.
The talent in the backfield is there. The questions that need to be answered are how well the offensive system can utilize them and how well the offensive line can perform if called upon to get it done via the running game.
USC has one Doak Walker Award in its history, with Reggie Bush winning in 2005. Wisconsin has won the award four times since 2012 and both Oregon and Stanford (twice) have won since 2009.
Iowa State’s Breece Hall returns after being named a finalist in 2020. Four other semifinalists return, in Mohammed Ibrahim of Minnesota, Sincere McCormick of UTSA, Isaiah Spiller of Texas A&M and Kyren Williams of Notre Dame.