Perspective on former USC RB Markese Stepp's transfer to Nebraska
Markese Stepp's time at USC will go down as a major what-if for many Trojans fans, as the bruising 230-pound back had one potential breakout campaign derailed by a season-ending ankle injury and another never really get off the ground.
After seeing his role actually diminish as the 2020 season unfolded, Stepp not surprisingly entered the NCAA transfer portal, and on Tuesday he announced that he's committed to Nebraska.
Stepp, who was a redshirt sophomore in 2020 but will get the year back with the NCAA not counting this season toward any player's eligibility, has three years available to him now with the Cornhuskers.
The Indianapolis, Ind., native also reportedly considered Auburn, Purdue and Ball State.
“I went to Lincoln just to get a vibe for the campus,” Stepp told HuskerOnline's Sean Callahan. “I just wanted to go to the campus, even though I couldn’t see the facilities or anything. I just went out there to get a vibe for the campus just to see what it was like. Once that happened, it was a done deal.
Stepp only rushed for 165 yards and 3 touchdowns on 45 carries this season for an average of 3.7 yards per carry, but a significant percentage of those were short-yardage situations that seemed doomed from the start. He averaged a team-best 6.4 yards per carry last season, going for 307 yards and 3 TDs on 48 carries before tearing ligaments in his ankle just as he was emerging as USC's lead back (through a confluence of his own productivity and injuries to veterans Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai).
With all the RBs healthy this year for the most part, Stepp was back in a timeshare. He received 14 and 12 carries the first two games, then missed the third game with a pectoral strain and returned to a diminished role with just 6 carries over the next two games. With Malepeai out for the Pac-12 championship game, Stepp returned to a prominent role with 13 carries, but it remained clear where he stood in the backfield order.
Malepeai and Carr both have the option to return again next season, along with sophomore Kenan Christon, meaning Stepp would have been facing a similar shared role.
It's not just playing time either -- USC collectively struggled to run the ball behind its offensive line this past season, ranking 120th out of 127 FBS teams with just 97.33 rushing yards per game. Nebraska, meanwhile, ranked 28th with 201.4 rushing yards per contest.
That said, the Huskers didn't have a dominant running back. Quarterbacks Adrian Martinez (521 rushing yards) and Luke McCaffrey (364 rushing yards) accounted for much of the production on the ground, while senior Dedrick Mills rushed for 396 yards and 3 TDs and wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson had 240 yards and a score on the ground but is now in the transfer portal.
As for USC, there's been no indication to suggest that Malepeai and Carr won't both return for one more year, along with Christon and incoming 4-star running back Brandon Campbell.
So the Trojans aren't hurting for depth -- they may just end up watching Stepp finally reach his full potential somewhere else.
“SC did a lot for me,” Stepp told HuskerOnline. “I’m going to miss those players and some of the coaches. I built great relationships there. I feel like they helped me both on and off the field. I grew as a person and I learned a lot about myself.
"As far as a football player, I really learned about protections and catching the ball. We ran the air raid, so that’s really all I was doing was catching the balls in practice and running routes. That really helped me with my route running. They just helped me become a better overall player, and hopefully, I can bring some of that to Nebraska.”