Now that USC’s two-year stint in the NCAA’s jail house is behind them, the Trojans have overtaken the Oregon Ducks as the sexy team in the Pac 12.
The crux of the story is that although Chip Kelly’s team lost LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, arguably the team’s two most prolific players, Oregon has two potent playmakers that make it as much of a player in the national championship conversation as ever.
A pair of potential Heisman candidates in De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner will inherit the stage in Kelly’s spread offense. Thomas dashed onto the scene at wide receiver where he caught 46 passes for 605 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman. He also added 595 yards on 55 carries — a 10.8-yard average — with seven touchdowns on the ground.
“I think De’Anthony’s role will increase and so will Kenjon’s, and knowing that we have Kenjon and Anthony lets you sleep at night,” said Kelly, “We have to see who will develop as third and fourth options because you need depth in this league.
The electrifying Thomas probably had more impact than any other freshman in the college game, but Kelly thinks he still hasn’t reached his ceiling, although he was pleasantly surprised by Thomas’ football savvy.
“There were some things that he’s done in practice that you kinda just go ‘wow’ and he was like that from the start last year,” noted Kelly, “We were conscious in using them, that we didn’t want to overload him, and we had him for a true freshman to come in and play receiver and running back. To be able to handle both of those roles, speaks a lot to his football acumen.”
Barner was the workhorse behind James last season. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored 11 times on the ground. He also caught 17 passes. Barner is feeling no pressure. He realizes Kelly’s offense draws upon lots of different intricacies and that everyone shares the wealth in the fast-paced scheme.
“I’ve been in this position before quite a few times throughout my career,” said Barner. “In Oregon when my name is called upon, yeah, it will be called upon more often now but it’s nothing new. So there’s not too much pressure at all.”
Kelly sees no problem with Barner being his feature back and then spreading Anthony around throughout the offense. With Oregon’s type of depth inside Kelly’s spread offense, it is safe to say no one will get a multitude of touches.
“I believe Kenjon can handle the load, but we don’t want anybody carrying the ball 30 times a game and that’s happened in LaMichael’s career just because maybe Kenjon wasn’t available in that game. Usually, we have two guys and we split the carries between those two, so depending on the depth behind those guys will determine how we use them.”