December 24, 2009 |

How Much Did McKnight Really Help?

Now that there’s controversy about USC tailback Joe McKnight’s use of an automobile possibly in violation of NCAA rules, it’s proper to wonder what the Trojans’ record would have been without him.

About the same, with four losses in Pac-10 conference games? Quite likely.

The point here is not to downgrade the efforts of a young man. However, it is a fact universities recruit high school superstars to do special things and lead teams to high profile bowl games. And McKnight was brought to USC from Louisiana billed as the next Reggie Bush.

But USC must settle for the Emerald Bowl on Saturday.

I’m just saying that if Allen Bradford. C.J. Gable and Curtis McNeal had been given more carries they would have approached McKnight’s 1,000 yards. And USC would have won about as often.

There were plenty of times this season in the Coliseum press box when media members cringed as McKnight struggled. A third down back who might break off a long run previously, McKnight became an every down back, seemingly force fed by Trojan coaches. Running between the tackles didn’t appear to be his strength but he was asked to do that.

Pete Carroll had said that a mission of spring practice was to get McKnight ready for increased duty.

I don’t know if it’s true, but there’s a perception that promises are made to the highest profile recruits – the ones who are being sought by a lot of schools. In Carroll’s case, he’s known to merely tell players they’ll be given the opportunity to earn playing time. Nothing more.

But you can’t help thinking a running back of McKnight’s reputation would be given every opportunity to succeed.

I’m told by Trojan followers who study game tapes closely that McKnight faltered as a blocker, a development that led to some of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley’s problems.

Combining what I observed and what reliable colleagues have told me, I conclude that McKnight’s season was far from a rousing success.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Will McKnight be held out of the bowl game? Will he try to play in the NFL next season? Will the NCAA be able to prove allegations, something it hasn’t been able to do in the cases of Bush and O.J. Mayo?

Stay tuned. This story doesn’t have an ending yet, but the beginning suggests USC has a problem.

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