USC all-purpose back Joe McKnight was the top-rated recruit in the nation when he signed with USC in 2007. He had a breathless high school highlight reel showcasing his elusiveness and top-notch second gear. He even featured prominently in two books (Hurricane Season and Meat Market) that showed up on Borders' shelves before his first game.
Heading into his junior year with the Trojans, though, it's fair to ask if McKnight is living up to the hype; this is a guy who drew comparisons to Reggie Bush. And it's also fair to answer that he hasn't come close.
To this point, McKnight's CV makes him look like the Mickey Rourke of college football: an auteur whose bursts of brilliance when practicing his craft have taken a backseat to physical maladies and away-from-the-spotlight issues. McKnight tantalized Troy with 206 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in a runaway win over Illinois in the 2008 Rose Bowl. That same year, he led USC's crowded backfield in rushing in the regular season finale against UCLA, averaging seven yards per carry and scoring a touchdown.
Major media outlets touted McKnight as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but 'SC fans expecting big things from the New Orleans native in 2008 were sorely disappointed. On paper, McKnight's numbers
improved. Yet, overall, McKnight's impact on the Trojan offense barely registered. His season culminated in a disappointing return to the Rose Bowl, where he ran for just 13 yards on all of five carries and suffered an early foot injury.
Exactly what role USC coach Pete Carroll plans on McKnight playing in the USC offense this season remains to be seen. For the second year in a row, McKnight will miss spring ball
. However, while his last absence was the result of problems in the classroom, he's rehabbing his Rose Bowl injury this time around. I guess that's something to build on.
Bottom line: without a proven starter under center, USC may rely more on its ground game than it has in the past. If McKnight finally makes the leap, he could give Carroll and Co. the kind of do-it-all weapon who can take some of the pressure off a green signal caller. We'll have a pretty good idea early on just how prominently McKnight will figure into Carroll's plans early in the season, because his backfield is stacked, as usual. McKnight has been a Trojan long enough to know that it's time to put up or get out of the way.