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USC's Dynamic WRs Look to Breakout in Big Ten

USC Trojans Wide Receiver Zachariah Branch
© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

During the Southern California Trojans' inaugural Big Ten Conference season, success will depend significantly on the performance of USC's dynamic WRs.

Key participants in the Trojans' passing game in the 2023 season were QB Caleb Williams and WRs Brenden Rice and Tahj Washington. Each member of that skilled trio is now in the NFL.

To keep USC's offense humming as it did under Williams' stewardship, Williams' likely successor, redshirt junior quarterback Miller Moss, will need strong contributions from the team's current receiving corps.

USC's 2024 wide receiver room features sophomore standouts Zachariah Branch and Duce Robinson along with redshirt junior Kyron Hudson. Those three are likely to start. Freshman Xavier Jordan, sophomores Ja'Kobi Lane and Makai Lemon, and senior transfer Jaden Richardson will provide depth at the receiver position.

'Wide Receiver U'

If history repeats itself, the Trojans' current group of receivers will excel. Although USC was long known as "Tailback U," the Trojans have recently transformed into "Wide Receiver U."

According to ESPN, the Trojans are No. 1 in the top 10 wide receiver-producing universities:

  1. USC

  2. Ohio State

  3. LSU

  4. Alabama

  5. Oklahoma

  6. Oklahoma State

  7. Florida State

  8. Florida

  9. Pittsburgh

  10. Notre Dame

USC's Dynamic WRs From the Past

Southern Cal has a rich history at the wide receiver position including the likes of Lynn Swann, J.K. McKay, Keyshawn Johnson, Steve Smith, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jordan Addison, to name just a few.

Lynn Swann (1970-73)

A three-time NFL All-Pro and four-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Swann was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He played on the Trojans’ 1972 undefeated national championship team and was a consensus All-American in 1973. He is also in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Lynn Swann - USC Trojans
© Long Photography-USA TODAY Sports

The 1972 national championship team on which Swann played was rated by ESPN as the second-greatest college football team of all time. That team went 12-0, finishing its season with a 42-17 blowout win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and was the first team ever to be named No. 1 on every ballot cast in both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll.

J.K. McKay (1972-74)

McKay played on USC's 1972 and 1974 national championship teams, and was the MVP of the 1975 Rose Bowl. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1988.

J.K. McKay - USC Trojans
© Long Photography-USA TODAY Sports

McKay played three seasons in the NFL. He was a starting wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976-78. He had 41 career receptions for 632 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns.

Steve Smith (2003-06)

A unique fact about Smith is that he was born in Anchorage, Ala.

Smith was a first-team All-American for the Trojans in 2006. His teammates at USC included legendary Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush.

Steve Smith - USC Trojans WR
© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In his standout NFL career, Smith was named to a Pro Bowl and won a championship in Super Bowl XLII with the New York Giants. In that Super Bowl, Smith caught 5 passes, including a clutch catch in the fourth quarter.

Keyshawn Johnson (1994-95)

The author of "Just Give Me the Damn Ball," Johnson is a big personality. (Stephen A. Smith co-authored the auto-biography with Johnson.)

Johnson played two seasons for the Trojans—1994 and 1995. He was an All-American in both seasons and a unanimous first-team All-American in 1995. He was also the Rose Bowl MVP that season, after amassing a record 216 receiving yards in the game.

Keyshawn Johnson - USC Trojans WR
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets selected Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft.

Throughout his NFL career, Johnson was selected to three Pro Bowls, and he won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had more than 10,000 receiving yards and 64 touchdown receptions.

Amon-Ra St. Brown (2018-20)

St. Brown is now the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL. The multilingual, gifted wide-out just inked a four-year, $120 million deal with the Detroit Lions.

While playing for the Trojans he racked up 2,270 receiving yards and 16 touchdown receptions. He was named first-team All-Pac-12 Conference in 2020.

Amon-Ra St. Brown - USC Trojans
© Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With the Lions, St. Brown was named first-team All-Pro in 2023. The other two wideouts joining him on the first-team All-Pro squad are Tyreek Hill and CeeDee Lamb. St. Brown is in rarified air.

Jordan Addison (2022)

After earning first-team All-American honors at Pittsburgh in 2021, Addison transferred to USC for the 2022 season. He was a favorite target of Williams in his Heisman Trophy-winning year. Addison was named first-team All-Pac-12. He had 875 receiving yards, 8 touchdown receptions, and also had 147 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown.

Jordan Addison - USC Trojans WR
© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings drafted Addison in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Addison started in 14 games amassing 911 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions.

USC's Likely Starting WRs in 2024

As noted above, the likely starting receivers for Southern Cal in 2024 are Branch, Robinson and Hudson, each of whom have impressive resumes. This trio will endeavor to replicate the success of their illustrious Trojan WR predecessors.

Speedy Zacariah Branch

Branch was born in 2004 and raised in Las Vegas. Growing up, he frequently attended USC games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with his brother Zion Branch, who plays safety for the Trojans.

Branch was a five-star recruit in 2023 and was regarded as the "most dynamic skill player" in the 2023 recruiting class. He was the highest-rated wide receiver in the nation in that recruiting class with recruiters projecting him “as an instant impact game-breaker at the college level with immense long-term potential.” Branch chose to attend USC despite receiving offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma and other college football powerhouses.

As a true freshman in 2023, Branch was named first-team All-American as a return specialist.

Branch’s great uncle is the late Cliff Branch, the legendary Oakland Raiders wide receiver who is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Branch also competes on the Trojans' track team. CBS Sports named Branch one of the top 100 players in the nation heading into the 2024 season.

Athletic Duce Robinson

Like Branch, Robinson was a five-star recruit in the 2023 class. Robinson is 19-years-old, 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. In high school, he played tight end, but made the transition to wide receiver for the Trojans. Robinson received offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and other traditional powerhouses. However, he committed to USC in March 2023.

USC's Dynamic WRs - Duce Robinson
© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson is also a talented baseball player, roaming the outfield for the Trojans baseball team. He is one of three athletes named Under Armour All-American in both football and baseball. The other two were Kyler Murray and A.J. Brown. He is considered a Major League Baseball prospect.

Given the talented pool of receivers at USC during Robinson’s freshman year, his playing time in the 2023 season was limited. However, he did have 16 receptions for 351 yards, with an impressive average of 21.9 yards per reception. He also had 2 touchdown receptions.

Kyron Hudson

As a redshirt junior, Hudson is the most experienced of the projected 2024 starters at the wide receiver position.

Throughout his Trojan career, Hudson has appeared in 28 games and started in three. He has 34 receptions for 345 yards (10.1 avg.) with 5 touchdowns. He also blocked a kick on special teams.

USC's Dynamic WRs - Kyron Hudson
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Until this point in his collegiate career, Hudson has mainly backed up the talented receivers who preceded him. He looks to have a break-out year in 2024.

USC appears to once again have a stacked wide receiver room.


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