He has established himself as the Trojans' feature running back, posted four 100 rushing yard games, scored eight touchdowns and was responsible for the game-winning drive at Ohio State.
The team, however, has stumbled to three conference losses and is all but eliminated from the Rose Bowl race.
McKnight, who returned to practice Thursday after missing time because of migraine headaches, admits it has been difficult to balance the two.
"I just keep coming out here and working hard and taking it over to the game," said McKnight, who needs only 68 yards to become USC's first 1,000 yard rusher since Reggie Bush and LenDale White did so in 2005.
"I'm trying to give my team some inspiration to follow me or make their own footsteps and make some plays."
-Center Kris O'Dowd could soon return to the starting lineup, Carroll said.
"It's the best he has been and really the healthiest he has been all year and it shows," he said. "He got worn down by the two injuries, not being able to get his shoulder just right and then his knee holding him back. He's really ready to play good football again and we'll see what happens with that."
-With Michael Morgan still dealing with an injured shoulder and broken wrist, freshman Devon Kennard is likely to start next week.
After starting out the season at defensive end, Kennard had four tackles against Stanford working at strongside linebacker.
"I like him at the spot," Carroll said. "He's transitioning beautifully and the thing I like best about him is he is really physical. He's 255 pounds playing outside backer and you can see it too. He's brought a good presence that we need."
"It's really similar in what's demanded of the job," he said.
"There's a couple of our guys that are just worn out and we're trying to give them a break," Carroll said.
-Tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) has used the bye week as a chance to get healthy.
"I get this extra time to heal and the team gets to come out here and polish up some stuff," said McCoy, who had just one reception for 7 yards against Stanford. "I'm working on this ankle, I'm getting there."
"It's hard to watch something you can't control," he said.
"He did some nice stuff today and I think he's back to full speed," Carroll said.
Smith did not start against Stanford, but was tied for the team-high with five solo tackles.
-Carroll praised freshman safety Jawanza Starling for a strong week of work.
-USC will practice Friday morning, allowing coaches to spend the weekend on the road recruiting.
Freshman safety Jawanza Starling has been impressive during the bye week.