For USC football fans, the 2012 season couldn't have ended quicker. It's over—time to move on.
No more whining, no more finger pointing—unless more distractions come up, and then it's back to kvetching—and no more wondering how the season would have turned out had the Trojans been at full strength with 85 scholarships.
Time for some positive stuff. Time to wonder about the newest Trojans and how their contributions will impact the team. Time to start wondering if USC can retake that "Tailback U" nickname that Alabama has rightfully snatched away from USC.
5-star running back Justin Davis could be the guy who finally gives head coach Lane Kiffin a clearer picture of a running back situation that has gone sideways since Reggie Bush left for the NFL in 2006. While most fans have been focused on USC fixing its defensive struggles, there should be some focus on the offense as well.
USC has been a passing-attack team—not that there's anything wrong with that—instead of a rushing-attack team, and that hasn't sat well with Trojan fans. The team's personality has lately been a little bit of power, a lot of finesse and too much instability, especially at what used to be its strength—running back. Remember this Sports Illustrated cover back in 2007?
That cover seems like such a long time ago, but this year could see the resurgence of Tailback U, and it starts with a hidden gem who hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the defensive players USC won and lost in this year's recruiting battles.
Davis has the build of a prototype running back: he's 6'1", 195 pounds and has decent speed (4.71-second 40-yard dash). He also runs straight up and is difficult to bring down. Davis was recruited by running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, who was dismissed Sunday—there has to be a little fire in Davis' belly right now.
It appears fans may not have to wait long to see Davis on the field—he's enrolled and ready to start competing for the starting spot this spring. He'll have some heavy competition with Silas Redd, Tre Madden (who has rehabbed from an ACL injury) and D.J. Morgan. Ty Isaac, another 5-star running back and incoming freshman, may also vie for the starting spot. Isaac, however, is not an early enrollee, so Davis has a head start.
Davis told FOXSportsNEXT that he's looking forward to playing with Isaac and that they're “going to have that one-two tandem.” More:
"We’re the class that’s going to get in there and hopefully change a lot of stuff,” Davis told FOX Sports NEXT in January. “(We will) get USC back to those glory days.”
So what is it about Davis that should get USC fans excited? According to FOXSportsNEXT's Greg Biggins, Davis is a "decisive runner who doesn’t try and dance around too much." More:
Davis has everything you’re looking for in back with the ability to run between the tackles with power and the speed to bounce it outside and go the distance.
A power back who runs north-south is exactly what USC needs, and Davis looks like he will get USC's running game back up to speed. More intriguing is that Davis recognizes the Trojans' tradition of great running backs and basically promises to get USC back up to snuff. Davis gets it. And he's saying all the right stuff.
One of Davis' best assets is that he has great field awareness—he doesn't wait for the holes to open up, but he anticipates potential holes and attacks at them before they close too quickly (see video below).
USC's top rusher last year, Penn State transfer Silas Redd, finished eighth in the league in average yards per game. Redd was a definite bonus for USC because the Trojans had no depth at running back—Redd transferred to USC after Penn State was hit with heavy sanctions and the NCAA waived the mandatory one-year penalty of sitting out a season. Redd had some solid production against Cal (158 rushing yards) and Washington (155 rushing yards), but from mid-October on, he never reached that 100-yard milestone again.
Clearly, Redd is the front-runner to start at running back, but don't think for a minute that Kiffin won't take a long look at Davis (or Isaac) if he wows in spring practice. Kiffin's job may be officially safe (via athletic director Pat Haden) but the fact that Kiffin's staff has had four changes since the Hyundai Sun Bowl debacle could signify that all is not hunky-dory in La-La Land.
USC needs that spark to get its fans back to the Coliseum. A tough-to-impress sports crowd Los Angeles is, but Kiffin has to reel those spoiled fans back in, and it starts with a spring camp full of promise and vigor.
USC has some incredible talent coming in this year, and while the talent lacks quantity, it is superior in quality.
It'll be fun to watch how that talent works its way into the game-day rotations—USC may just have Thunder and Lightning 2.0 waiting to bust out.