Two years ago, Ty Isaac and Derrick Green were all the talk of the recruiting land.
Both were five-star running back prospects in the 2013 class; Green was the top-ranked running back and eighth overall prospect, while Isaac checked in as the fourth-ranked back and 27th overall.
Isaac committed to USC over runner-up Michigan late in his junior year while Green waited until the final two weeks before signing day to cast his pledge to the Wolverines.
Even before they played a down of collegiate football, the buzz surrounding Isaac and Green was high.
Who would be better? Who could provide an immediate impact? Who would become a team's offensive centerpiece for years to come?
Isaac and Green will continue to battle to be the answer to those questions in 2015. But for the first time, Michigan will be the only beneficiary of the results.
Isaac is entering his first year of eligibility at Michigan after transferring on June 5, 2014. And not only does he factor to play on a regular basis, but Isaac also will compete with Green for the feature role in Jim Harbaugh's backfield, which I previewed yesterday in my rundown of Michigan's running backs this spring.
At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Isaac is a tad bit large for your prototypical running back — he's four inches shy of being the tallest player on Michigan's spring roster — but don't let his size turn you away. There's a reason he was a highly touted recruit.
Isaac's unique blend of speed and explosiveness is hard to come by in the days of specialty backs.
But his vision and ability to shift directions separate him from the rest.
As a true freshman, Isaac totaled 236 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 40 attempts. His best performance came in USC's 62-28 drubbing of Cal on Nov. 9, 2013, when he rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
One thing that stuck with me after watching film from Isaac's USC days was his 37-yard touchdown against Cal. The play, which takes place with just over 10 minutes left in the game, featured the Trojans' offensive line blocking up the middle and Isaac cutting right, where he met two defenders. He faked out the cornerback with a juke, broke a tackle and burst towards the end zone, turning what should have been a seven-yard gain into a 37-yard score.
In games which he had more attempts, Isaac displayed the ability to evade defenders and read blocks well.
Now you could argue that Isaac's play came in garbage time, and you'd be right. More than half of his stats were produced in three of USC's blowout wins: Cal, Colorado and Fresno State.
However, it doesn't take away from Isaac's pure athletic ability, regardless if he was facing first or second-team defenses. Few teams are demoralized to the point where they quit if being routed, as competition at positions remains high in late-game situations.
So where does Isaac fit at Michigan?
Based on the skills he displayed at USC, his ceiling should be high. I'm talking stardom high. Isaac makes it look effortless, and, with three years of eligibility remaining, he could fill Michigan's feature-back void.
But there's a roadblock to all this: the player he was compared with as a prep.
After covering his first two collegiate seasons, I'd have to say Green would be the favorite to emerge as the starting running back following spring practice. He's the most experienced back on Michigan's roster with 19 games played and was in the midst of a breakout year last season before suffering his midseason clavicle injury, whereas Isaac missed all of 2014 while redshirting.
Keep in mind, though: Harbaugh is entering his first year as Michigan's head coach with no favorites at any position. He wants to evaluate his players firsthand, and, if this holds true, you better believe competition exists at each position. And that plays to Isaac's benefit.
At the very least, Isaac offers a nice complement to Green and his style of play. The former five-star prospects should be able to feed off each other if Harbaugh elects a two-man running back committee.
Isaac got a taste of success as a California golden boy at USC. Now donning the winged helmet, he can become a star at the place that nearly acquired his services as a prep.