All the Heisman buzz around USC has to do with Sam Darnold, and rightfully so. The Trojan’s lead pivot man has brought USC from the brink of another trip to the Sun Bowl, all the way to a memorable Rose Bowl comeback.
However, the Trojans are immensely talented this season and has a roster full of dynamic playmakers all on offense. Is it possible one of them could find themselves in New York come December instead of Darnold? Or in a dream world, sitting next to him?
If there is one such Trojan, it is undoubtedly the Leader of the Mach 3, Ronald Jones II. In order to get into the Heisman discussion, a player needs to have three major components in their season: statistics, highlights and a defining moment.
Now the one thing “RoJo” won’t have trouble with is the highlights. Jones had three 60 plus yard touchdown runs in 2016, with his explosive ability, and Darnold keeping PAC-12 defenses honest, Jones will have a lot of opportunities to make big plays.
Now the tricky for part Jones is going to be accumulating enough of the statistics to break into the Heisman race. To be perfectly clear, it is not that Jones is not capable of putting up the statistics, it's more the fact that USC has three dynamic playmakers in the backfield and will look to get all of them touches. Which will ultimately take away from the touches Jones gets, making it harder to rack up the counting statistics needed to break into the discussion late in the year.
For example, in 2016 Jones carried the ball 177 times for 1087 yards with 12 touchdowns. While adding on 11 catches for 76 yards and one touchdown. Respectable numbers, especially for a sophomore, who was carrying the load while Justin Davis was battling injury.
Although, by comparison, in 2015 Derrick Henry, the most recent running back to win the Heisman, carried the ball 395 for 2219 yards with 28 touchdowns. Henry also added 11 catches for 91 yards, which is a lot more touches than Jones.
Another finalist that year was Stanford running back Christian McCaffery, who carried the ball 337 times for 2019 yards with 8 touch downs, while also adding 45 catches for 645 yards and 5 touchdowns, not to mention his punt and kickoff yardage. Basically, history suggests that if you want to be in contention for the Heisman as a running back you need a lot of touches.
There is no way Ronald Jones II gets anywhere near 400 carries like 2015 winner Derrick Henry. It would be a major surprise if Jones even visited the same neighborhood of the 337 carries that McCaffery got. However, there may be a formula using the 3 major components of a Heisman campaign, for RoJo to get his name out there.
First, USC must win—let's start with that right off the snap. If USC is not in the College Football Playoff picture I doubt anyone will be in the discussion, including Darnold. After winning, the next step is Jones has to get the stats. 330-400 carries is unrealistic, but 225-250 is reasonable for Jones as the starter in an up tempo spread attack, if you compare it to the 271 carries Buck Allen had in 2014 when he was the featured back.
If Jones can improve on his 6.1 yards per carry average from 2016 and get to around 6.5-7 YPC and finish the year with 1500-1700 rushing yards and 20+ touchdowns. Then add around 25-30 catches for 300-350 yards and six touchdowns. He would have the actual stats to back his claims to the Heisman.
As for the highlights and moment? Well USC faces Texas on September 16th. All the talk will be about the rematch of the 2006 National Title game, but, one of the major sub stories will be Jones vs his home state university.
If RoJo breaks a long run for a touchdown or has a highlight play in a decisive moment, that will be replayed all year, he’ll have his moment. A few big runs against Washington State during the annual Friday night road trap game.
Slice open Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and finish with a strong showing against UCLA and the PAC-12 title game Rojo would have a strong case to make the trip to New York, and could even come home with hardware.