For Week 1, I'm picking USC running back Curtis McNeal. I'm not predicting him to necessarily put up monster numbers in his first game of the season. But I think he's going to be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
Full disclosure, I don't know McNeal well. We've talked, and I can tell you I was impressed with the young man. Some of you may recall a story I did on him this summer when he talked about being academically ineligible and then working his way back on to the team. Hard work always wins you snaps in my book. Something earned is always more significant than something given.
And you have to figure he's a bit salty after hearing about how running back was a weakness for the Trojans this whole offseason and how Silas Redd's transfer is such a saving grace for USC. The last piece of the puzzle for the Trojans, I believe I heard one analyst say.
Let's not forget that McNeal was a 1,000-yard rusher last year and he did it with almost 100 fewer carries than the other six backs who achieved the 1K mark in 2011. His 6.9 yards per carry were second in the conference only to LaMichael James. Why are people down on him? When did 6.9 per become a weakness?
I think Redd is a nice addition to the USC backfield. And yes, he does take some of the pressure off of McNeal, who might see 10-15 carries a game instead of 15-20. But whether it's McNeal or Redd carrying the ball, you have to figure USC's running game is going to be outstanding this season. The offensive line is solid, the quarterback can read defenses as well -- if not better -- than every other quarterback in the country and I'll be blown away if either of these guys consistently face an eight-man front. USC's passing game is so scary that safeties are going to spend more time on their heels than creeping forward.
McNeal's role in USC's offense shouldn't be understated. And just because Redd has traded blue and white for cardinal and gold shouldn't take away from what McNeal has accomplished in his career and what he can accomplish in 2012.