It is no secret the Trojans have their work cut out for them. Playing the Alabama Crimson Tide opening week, who also happen to be the defending National Champions makes that adage ring true. After finishing No. 25 in the country and winning the Pac-12 South Division with an 8-6 record, which included a trip to the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, Helton's bunch looks to make that next leap and become Pac-12 champions.
Looking to take that extra step as well is their running attack which ranked No. 49 in the country with 2,355 yards on the ground. Coming into the 2016 campaign one running back in particular will have to step up and prove that he was not a "flash in the pan" in 2015.
Ronald Jones II has to be that guy. A freshman last season, he ran the ball 153 times for 987 yards and eight touchdowns, all team-highs. Jones struggled to find a niche in the offense at the beginning of the season. He was not utilized much, tallying under 10 carries in each of his first three contests.
With that in mind, he made the most out of his opportunities, beginning the season by rushing the ball six times for 96 yards (an average of 14.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown as the Trojans rolled over Arkansas State 55-6 in the season-opener.
Jones kept the production going the following week when he rushed the rock six times for 83 yards (10.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown as USC rolled over Idaho State by a score of 59-9. He would not hit the 80-yard mark for another seven weeks, with 73 being his highest amount during that time span.
A contest on Halloween against the Golden Bears apparently was just what the doctor ordered. With 11 carries for 80 yards (7.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown, he was not only efficient, but gave college football a little preview for the following week as he had his best game of the season.
In what was a coming-out-party for Jones, he racked up 177 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries including a 77-yard scamper that was his longest of the day and his season. It was here that he put his explosiveness on display and made his case to be the feature back for 2016. He is certainly in the mix and will have ample help behind a stacked offensive line as the two work in tandem to protect a new quarterback.
The offensive line will return plenty of new starters from 2015 as well as several at the position who gained valuable playing time and experience last year. Three names to watch in particular are right tackle Zach Banner, center Toa Lobendahn and LG Damien Mama. They will be tasked with helping Jones muscle his way through the trenches. The size at the position should help Jones get to the open field and make plays.
A new quarterback will also be present for USC. This is perhaps where Jones needs to step up the most. Especially during the first couple of games when the signal-caller is getting his feet wet, Jones needs to be ready for anything. Short screen passes to get timing down, acting as a blocker when the defense puts extra men in the box, and establishing a rhythm to the offense are just some of the things he needs to be ready for.
There is no doubt that Jones is a talented running back, but in Year Two he will need to show that he is a versatile running back, who can not only be explosive in the running game but one that has the ability to protect the quarterback and maintain consistency offensively in a year that will be full of adjustments.