LOS ANGELES -- Ronald Jones II is joining the ranks of the all-time great Southern California running backs.
Jones is now ninth in career rushing yards by a Trojan and will pass childhood favorite Reggie Bush with 19 yards against Colorado on Saturday.
While the historical implications are important to him, Jones is more concerned with what a win over the Buffaloes would do for No. 15 USC in securing a place in the Pac-12 championship game.
"I can't even think of the words to describe it, but ultimately it doesn't really matter unless we bring back that championship tradition," Jones said. "That's what we are trying to do this year."
A win in one of its final two games would give USC (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12, No. 11 CFP) the Pac-12 South crown and a chance to claim its first conference title since 2008. Jones' continued development has been critical in that pursuit.
Jones carried the ball a career-high 27 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-35 win over Arizona, showing his evolution into a complete running back during his three seasons at USC. While his freshman season was characterized by bursts of speed and explosiveness reminiscent of Bush, Jones looked more like the bruising Charles White against the Wildcats with 101 yards coming after contact.
A newfound willingness to absorb and deliver hits while using the 10 pounds of muscle he added in the offseason have made Jones a well-rounded runner.
"I got that mindset, you know, like that I am 205 (pounds), that I can take it in the teeth of the defense. And then actually just being physical, I'm running full-speed hitting the hole and guys are bouncing off of me, so it just makes that difference psychologically and physically on the field," Jones said.
Jones has also become a contributor in the passing game, adding three receptions for 39 yards against Arizona.
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin had to take Jones out of the game last season whenever he wanted to call a pass play intended for a running back. Now Martin has full confidence in Jones as a receiver.
Blitz pickup and catching the ball were foreign concepts when Jones arrived at USC, but his steady progress in both areas has been accelerated by first-year running backs coach Deland McCullough.
"Everybody sees it," McCullough said. "And it wasn't by osmosis. It wasn't like he just decided to do it and it happened on its own. He wanted some guidance to do that and a definite plan for doing that, and we put one in place and he's starting to see some of the benefits of it."
Jones has rushed for 1,082 yards this season, becoming the seventh player in school history with at least two 1,000-yard seasons and joining a fraternity at "Tailback U" that includes Heisman Trophy winners O.J. Simpson, White and Marcus Allen. A strong finish to his junior season could see Jones move into third place among USC career rushers, vaulting ahead of Mike Garrett, Simpson, Ricky Bell and Anthony Davis and trailing only Allen and White.
With Jones serving as the offensive catalyst over the last two seasons, rushing for more than 100 yards in 10 of his last 15 games and 23 touchdowns as USC won all but one game in that span, it seems reasonable to expect him to climb that list while trying to take the Trojans to a Pac-12 title.
"Obviously, that's a great honor at RB U, and, yeah, we'll just try to keep it going," Jones said.
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