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USC TROJANS 2023 PREVIEW


The University of Southern California Trojans finished 2022 with an 11-3 record. The Trojans dropped their final two games, the Pac-12 Championship to Utah and the Cotton Bowl to Tulane.


Led by head coach Lincoln Riley, arguably the best there is at landing talent from the transfer portal, USC has bigger plans in 2023 than winning the Pac-12 title. The men of Troy are pushing for a playoff appearance and national championship. It should be a fun season in what will be the Trojans’ last year in the Pac 12 as they join UCLA, Oregon, and Washington in the jump to the Big Ten Conference in 2024.


OFFENSE

Quarterbacks: USC will have 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams back behind center in 2023. The junior threw for 4,537 yards, 42 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. He also chipped in 10 rushing touchdowns. Williams is being projected as a top 2 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, if he decides to skip his senior season. Sophomore Miller Moss and five-star freshman Malachi Nelson are battling for the backup spot behind Williams. But make no mistake, unless Williams gets hurt, Moss and Nelson will only see mop-up duty in 2023.


Running Backs: The Trojans lose their top rusher from 2022 in Travis Dye but still have senior Austin Jones, who was second on the team with 705 rushing yards, five touchdowns and picked up 25 catches for 267 yards and one touchdown out of the backfield. South Carolina transfer, junior Marshawn Lloyd will be the backup with a pair of four-star freshmen pushing for playing time in Quinten Joyner and A’Marion Peterson.


Receivers: USC returns five of their top seven receivers from 2022 who combined for 171 catches for 2,530 yards and 20 touchdowns. Riley added Dorian Singer, a junior transfer from Arizona who had 1,105 receiving yards in 2022, and five-star freshman Zachariah Branch. Sophomore tight end Lake McRee, who is looking for a breakout year, gives Williams a big target at 6’4”, 245 pounds. This group of receivers is one of the top five units in the country.


Offensive Line: The offensive line loses three veterans, but Lincoln Riley did what Lincoln Riley does and landed three experienced linemen from the transfer portal. LT Michael Tarquin, a senior from Florida, LG Emmanuel Pregnon, a sophomore from Wyoming, and Jarrett Kingston, a senior from Washington State all are slated to start for the Trojans. The trio of transfer linemen has 95 career starts between them.


DEFENSE

Defensive Line: The lone bright spot for the USC defensive line in 2022 was Tuli Tuipulotu, who left after his junior season and entered the NFL Draft. But again, as Lincoln Riley does, he hit the transfer portal and the haul on the defensive line was even better than that of the offensive line! The biggest get was 2022 National Champion sophomore nose tackle Bear Alexander from Georgia. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound bruiser will look to eat up blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays. Six of the eight defensive linemen on the two-deep are new with five transfers and one freshman. This group should be a decided improvement over the 2022 group.


Linebackers: The number 2 and 3 tacklers are back in senior Shane Lee and junior Eric Gentry. Lee looks to have taken the starting position over Gentry on the two-deep at the WLB spot. Senior Mason Cobb transfers in from Oklahoma State and will start at MLB. As with the defensive line, this group is more experienced and should improve over last season.


Defensive Backs: This unit had nine interceptions in 2022, led by junior strong safety Calen Bullock who had five. However, they also gave up 264 passing yards per game and will need to improve on that number if the Trojans are going to push for a playoff spot. Senior Christian Roland-Wallace transfers in from Arizona and will start at CB. Roland-Wallace led Arizona with six passes broken up in 2022. Senior Bryson Shaw came out of spring camp as the starter at FS and with Bullock will make a deadly tandem in the USC secondary.


Special Teams: Sophomore Denis Lynch was 74-74 on PATs but struggled with field goals, hitting only 15-22. With a year under his belt, Lynch should improve his accuracy and cut down on the misses. Junior Eddie Czaplicki transferred in from Arizona State where he averaged 46.0 yards per punt with a long of 75 yards and had 15 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Having a punter who averages over 45 yards per punt is a weapon that can flip field position in favor of the Trojans.


PREDICTION

This season is why USC lured Lincoln Riley away from Norman, OK. The Air Raid master and quarterback guru has built an incredible roster and has added a number of high-quality transfers, especially on defense. This year should answer the question that bugged Riley at Oklahoma and followed him to USC in 2022: were the defensive issues personnel issues or was the problem defensive coordinator Alex Grinch? Riley has given Grinch all of the tools needed to succeed in 2023.


I predict the Trojans will finish the regular season 11-1, win the Pac-12 Championship, and get USC’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff.


The play of the defense will determine if the playoff run is a one-and-done or if they advance to the National Championship. Unfortunately, I am not yet ready to trust that Riley and Grinch will get past the first round of the playoffs.

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