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2015 USC Football Position Preview: Running Backs

Buck Allen jumped to the NFL despite having another year of eligibility. Can the “thunder/lightning” combo of Justin Davis and Tre Madden fill his spot?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, Buck Allen had the best single season for a Trojan running back since Reggie Bush's heisman-winning campaign in 2005. He was an integral part of Sark's offense, running for 1,489 yards and 11 touchdowns while also hauling in 41 receptions for 458 yards. His decision to forgo his senior season and declare for the 2015 NFL Draft was disappointing, but understandable.

However, the running back cupboard is nowhere near bare heading into 2015. The Trojans have a very talented group thanks to two upperclassmen and a trio of incoming freshmen. In fact, if they can live up to their potential, the unit could be one of the best in the Pac-12.


Justin Davis and Tre Madden have both shown flashes of greatness in limited playing time, but they've also both been slowed by injuries. They've collectively missed 36 games throughout their careers thanks to various injuries (29 for Madden, 7 for Davis).

Davis had a great sophomore season as Buck Allen's backup, tallying 595 yards on 129 carries (4.6 ypc) and 4 touchdowns in 2014. He was even better his freshman year when he rushed for 361 yards on 53 carries (6.7 ypc) and 6 touchdowns before an ankle injury cut his season short. The junior from Stockton is an obvious candidate for a breakout season after averaging over 5 yards per carry in his first two years.

Tre Madden missed all of 2012 and 2014 thanks to knee and foot injuries, but when he has seen the field, he's been really good. He started the first 6 games of the 2013 season and got off to a red-hot start. In those games, he put up 611 rushing yards (5.3 ypc) and 6 total touchdowns before injuring his hamstring and losing his starting spot to Buck Allen. The potential is definitely there (career: 5.1 ypc), but doubts about the fifth-year senior's ability to stay healthy are legitimate.

If Davis and Madden can both avoid injury, they could be one of the most formidable rushing duos in college football. Both average over 5 yards per carry for their careers and their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield can't be understated, especially given how much Sark loves to utilize that weapon. Look for the duo to share the majority of first team workload evenly during fall camp and probably throughout the entire season.

James Toland IV and Stefan Smith also return to provide some experience and depth to the group. They probably won't see many meaningful minutes.


Three highly touted incoming freshman will join the running backs this fall, Ronald Jones II (McKinney North, TX), Aca'cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, TX), and Dominic Davis (Alemany, CA).

Both Jones and Ware put up video game numbers in high school: Jones ran for 4,415 yards and 67 touchdowns as a junior and senior (9.1 ypc), while Ware put up 2,440 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior (8.4 ypc). Davis played both ways for Serra League powerhouse Alemany and is considered one of the fastest high school athletes in California after posting a 10.47 in the 100-yard dash.

All three are four-star recruits and have the potential to be impact players, but it's unclear how much any of them will actually contribute in 2015. It's likely that one of the freshman tailbacks will see limited playing time as a backup while the other two redshirt. Davis' speed also makes him a potential candidate to see time at slot receiver.


Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner both return at the fullback position, but neither saw significant playing time last season. Vaniuku, a redshirt senior, and Pinner, a senior, only combined for 9 carries for 46 yards and 1 reception for 3 yards in 2014.

Sark's scheme rarely utilizes the fullback in any capacity, including blocking, more often opting to put athletic tight ends and receivers in the backfield with a tailback instead. Vaniuku is one of the best special teams players on the roster however, so look for him to make a big contribution in that phase.