Allen Bradford started the season as the Trojans' No. 3 tailback but… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Allen Bradford would have preferred a more traditional ascent to the No. 1 spot on USC's tailback depth chart.
Bradford went from No. 3 to No. 2 after senior Stafon Johnson suffered a season-ending throat injury in a freak weightlifting accident in September.
On Tuesday, with Joe McKnight's status for the Emerald Bowl undetermined, Bradford rose to No. 1.
After a windy midday practice at City College of San Francisco, Coach Pete Carroll said Bradford was on track to start Saturday against Boston College. "Allen would be the first guy going," Carroll said.
That could change if McKnight is cleared by USC's compliance office, which is investigating the junior's use of a 2006 Land Rover.
McKnight's use of the vehicle, owned by a Santa Monica businessman, may constitute a violation of NCAA rules that prohibit student-athletes from accepting benefits from marketing representatives or agents, or "extra benefits" from anyone based on athletic ability.
McKnight, who has started all but one game this season, did not accompany the Trojans to the Bay Area. Carroll said McKnight met Monday with USC officials and was asked to remain in Los Angeles to possibly help provide documents that would aid in their examination of the situation.
Carroll said he also spoke to McKnight before the Trojans departed. "I asked him, sincerely, 'Is this exactly all I need to know? . . . Is this the story?' I tried to make sure," Carroll said. "I gave him a few chances to tell me everything he could tell me."
Todd Dickey, USC's senior vice president for administration, has said that school officials planned to speak with Scott Schenter, the owner of the SUV. Schenter owns and has worked for several companies with marketing interests, but he has said that he "has nothing to do with agents, marketing players or representing athletes."
Schenter said he registered the Land Rover because McKnight's girlfriend, Johanna Michelle Beltran, was a longtime family friend who could not qualify for a loan. Beltran makes payments on the loan and is responsible for insurance, he said. McKnight has said that Beltran is Schenter's secretary.
McKnight told The Times he had never driven the vehicle, which a Department of Motor Vehicles official said carried a purchase price of about $27,000, but he was observed driving it.
"My understanding is that everything was very clear about where the responsibility lies in who owned the car," Carroll said. "The guy thought the girl owned the car and he drove her car. And that's it."
Carroll said he was not aware of whom, if anyone, officials had met with Tuesday.
"We're talking about getting information from other people that will justify the setting down there," Carroll said. "And I don't know where those other people are or who they are. I don't know anything about those guys."
Dickey did not return phone calls.
Meanwhile, Bradford continued to prepare for what would be the first start of his college career. The former Colton High star has rushed for 596 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards a carry this season. Bradford said he felt bad for Johnson and McKnight, but he was prepared to take advantage of the opportunity against Boston College.
"I'm going to go out there, just run hard and punish them in the beginning," he said.
Redshirt freshman Matt Kalil continues on track to start at right tackle in place of Tyron Smith, who along with tight end Anthony McCoy and defensive tackle Averell Spicer was declared academically ineligible.
Klein reported from San Francisco, Pugmire from Los Angeles.