USC’s Joe McKnight appears poised to return for senior season

A final decision is not required until mid-January, when the NFL draft deadline looms, but USC tailback Joe McKnight said Thursday that he was leaning toward returning for his senior season.

“I feel like right now is not the right time to drop everything and leave,” said McKnight, a junior. “I feel like I’m not ready for it.

“So I just need one more year to get everything straight and get in line.”

With rumblings that 2011 rookie signing bonuses could be affected by NFL labor negotiations, an increased number of juniors and third-year sophomores throughout college football are expected to consider making themselves available for the 2010 draft.

McKnight said, “I want that Heisman Trophy, that’s one of the reasons I’m coming back.” But as the father of a young son, he will no doubt be among several Trojans, including junior receiver Damian Williams and junior defensive end Everson Griffen, who will look at turning pro at season’s end.

McKnight has started all but one game this season and has become the Trojans’ main ballcarrier. His 143 carries are nearly twice as many as junior Allen Bradford‘s 73.

McKnight needs only 68 yards rushing to become the Trojans’ first 1,000-yard back since Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and LenDale White in 2005.

“We just wish we could have got him the football more during the course of the season,” Coach Pete Carroll said.

McKnight will start at tailback and return punts Saturday when the Trojans play UCLA at the Coliseum. The Louisiana native is looking forward to his third opportunity in the Los Angeles rivalry.

Last season, McKnight had 99 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries in the Trojans’ 28-7 victory.

“I didn’t really find out about [the rivalry] till the first time I played UCLA,” he said. “Ever since then, I’ve just seen everybody take it very serious, so I just learned how to take it serious.”

Preparations complete

The Trojans went through a short morning workout and then took the rest of the day off for Thanksgiving.

USC, which had an open date last week, has practiced eight times since its 55-21 defeat by Stanford on Nov. 14 at the Coliseum.

The Trojans have a walk-through on campus today.

“We’re in a good practice mode,” Carroll said. “We’ll find out about the game. . . . You don’t know till you play.”

Quick hits

Alex Parsons worked behind Nick Howell for the first two practices this week, but Parsons remains the starter at right guard, Carroll said. . . . Freshman Devon Kennard will start at strong-side linebacker for the second consecutive game. Malcolm Smith returns as the starting weak-side linebacker. . . . Rivalry week: USC’s managers defeated UCLA, 27-6, Wednesday night at USC.