What would it take for Ronald Jones II to secure a place on USC’s career rushing leader board ahead of Charles White and Marcus Allen?
Of all the untouchable USC football records, Charles White’s career rushing total is the most untouchable.
Actually, White’s 6,245 yards is a Pac-12 record and has only been seriously challenged once in the conference since he set it back in 1979.
So what would it take for the most exciting running back prospect in a decade, Ronald Jones II, to top USC’s career rushing charts?
Though Jones broke White’s freshman rushing record of 858 yards with 987 yards of his own in 2015, the prospect of him surpassing White on the career rushing list is low.
White set the record in four years as a Trojan — setting a Pac-12 record for number of carries in the process. In the modern era of early departures and sensitivity to wear-and-tear on running backs in particular, expecting Jones to stick around for his senior season would be folly.
Operating under that assumption, Jones would have to average around 2,600 yards in each of his two remaining seasons to catch White. For context, Marcus Allen’s single-season rushing record at USC is 2,427 yards.
Jones’ more likely goal is to overcome Allen as USC’s No. 2 all-time rusher. But even that would require a pair of special seasons.
Allen’s career total is 4,810 yards. To catch him, Jones would need to average more than 1,900 yards in each of his two remaining seasons. Logging one season at that level would better the best rushing seasons of O.J. Simpson and Reggie Bush.
Jones has as much pure ability as any running back at USC since Reggie Bush. If anyone can match Marcus Allen’s numbers, it’s the Texas Tesla.
Still, Allen himself set a Pac-12 record for the most yards gained in two successive seasons with 3,990 yards from 1980 through 1981. That’s 1,995 yards per season over two seasons.
Jones has as much pure ability as any running back at USC since Bush, so if anyone could match those numbers it’s the Texas Tesla.
Even still, there are some key factors standing in the way of him pulling off such a feat.
For starters, Jones is not expected to be USC’s lone weapon at running back in 2016. Jones split carries with the more experienced and overall more reliable Justin Davis last year, and will likely continue to do so.
Both Jones and Davis could have exceedingly successful seasons alongside each other, as Bush and Lendale White proved in 2005 when the two combined for more than 3,000 yards. However, every touch for Davis shortens the leeway Jones has on his climb up the record books.
When Allen dominated at the start of the 1980s, he did so as the unquestioned No. 1 running back. Jones won’t have that luxury as a sophomore, barring some sort of injury to Davis.
There’s also the question of the passing game.
Even though USC will be starting a first-year quarterback in 2016, that passer won’t be a bystander in the offense.
Trojan quarterbacks over the last decade have averaged well over 300 attempts each season. Allen, White and the running backs of their eras rarely had a quarterback slinging the ball more than 200 times.
Head coach Clay Helton has repeatedly indicated that he wants his offense defined by balance. When USC has one of the deepest and most talented wide receiving corps the school has ever had, that’s an easy desire to hold.
Finally, there’s the pass blocking concern. It was the No. 1 reason for limitations on Jones’ touches as a freshman, leaving him with a limited grasp on his role in the offense.
A balanced offense must include running backs who can be relied upon as blockers when the quarterback drops back.
Jones has now had an entire offseason to improve his understanding of the scheme and his technique as a blocker. If he doesn’t make strides, he will continue to lag behind Davis on the running back pecking order.
So realistically, assuming he sorts out his all-around game, secures a significant enough number of carries and continues his exceptional rushing form, could Jones really break into the Top 5, passing the likes of Simpson, Ricky Bell, Anthony Davis and Marcus Allen on the all-time charts?
A factor working in Jones’ favor is the prospect of extra games.
USC could play 14 games in each of the next two seasons, if the Trojans win the Pac-12 South and go to the conference title game.
When Allen set his two year record at 3,990 he did so in 23 contests. Jones could have 28 games to match it. He would need only to average 136 yards per game to amass the necessary yardage to move into second place all-time.
It won’t be easy, but it’s absolutely possible.
In fact, it’s White’s example which provides the road map.
After his record freshman season, White enjoyed an increased share of the carries and emerged as a sophomore with 1,478 yards.
Jones likely won’t see a windfall of 129 extra carries as White did, but there are an extra 85 carries from last year’s total on the table following Tre Madden’s departure. Allot that total to Jones at his 2015 average and he would exceed 1,500 yards on the season.
That would even allow for Justin Davis to maintain his total of 169 carries from 2015 in 2016.
Then as a junior, with Davis gone for the NFL, Jones would have to opportunity, as the unquestioned featured back, to make a run at surpassing Allen.
To do so, Jones would need to become only the third Trojan ever to top 2,000 yards in a season. And he’d need a couple hundred more yards than that to seal the deal.
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry had 2,219 yards this past season. That is to say, Jones would need to put up Heisman numbers to make his pursuit of Allen’s own Heisman-level numbers possible.
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The good news for Jones, is that he should have a talented offensive line blocking for him over the next two seasons.
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All-Americans Bruce Matthews, Tony Slaton, Roy Foster, Keith Van Horne and Don Mosebar all blocked for Allen at varying points.
It would serve Jones well if the likes of Zach Banner, Chad Wheeler, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao, Damien Mama and Chuma Edoga rose to All-American status along the way as well.
But the most important thing for Jones going forward is his own ability.
As a freshman, Jones exhibited every trait you’d like to see from a running back. His acceleration resulted in highlight-reel touchdown runs.
His strength and vision resulted in laudable efficiency. He ran with purpose. He hit the hole quickly. He shrugged through contact. He demonstrated exceptional balance.
The sky is the limit for a player of Jones’ caliber.
If nothing else, the steep mountain Jones must climb to get there should at least make you appreciate the special careers of White and Allen.