USC’s backfield was bound to be more crowded next season before the top available rusher in the transfer portal announced Friday that he would be a Trojan.
The arrival of South Carolina running back MarShawn Lloyd, who led the Gamecocks in rushing last season with 573 yards, seemed to suggest USC had found its new lead back for 2023. Less than three hours later, Austin Jones announced he would return for a second go-round at USC, ensuring serious competition for carries next season.
Jones, also a former transfer, played a secondary role to Travis Dye in 2022, tallying 705 yards and five touchdowns to go with 267 yards receiving and another touchdown. He took over the reins when Dye suffered a season-ending injury in November and averaged 92.5 yards per game over the season’s final month.
In the run-up to the Cotton Bowl loss to Tulane, Jones said he wasn’t sure whether he’d return to USC for a fifth season.
That decision had crystallized by Friday, leaving USC with a litany of backs to choose from in what could be a wide-open competition come spring.
Perhaps the most intriguing among that group is electric former five-star recruit Raleek Brown, who showed flashes of stardom throughout his first season at USC. Brown saved his best performance for last in the bowl game, as he totaled 61 yards in six carries and added a touchdown.
It seemed only a matter of time before Brown took on a more prominent offensive role at USC. The addition of Lloyd and the return of Jones could complicate that picture.
USC also added two four-star running backs out of Texas in its recruiting class, Quinten Joyner and A’Marion Peterson, both of whom are enrolling early. USC also has Darwin Barlow, who averaged six yards per carry in limited action last season.
USC adds a proven commodity between the tackles in Lloyd to pair with Brown, who’s more of an all-purpose perimeter threat. Lloyd averaged better than four yards per carry after contact last season at South Carolina, a mark that ranked him among the best bruising backs in the nation, just behind Texas’ Bijan Robinson and UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet.
Lloyd was slowed last season by top defenses. He mustered just 2.4 yards per carry against Georgia and 1.5 yards per carry against Clemson.
He’ll get every chance to take the reins at USC in the spring in a suddenly crowded backfield.