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College Football Predictions: No. 5 Southern California Trojans

The decision for Lincoln Riley to leave Oklahoma and take over an underachieving USC program was one of the biggest surprises of the offseason in the college football world.

He did not come to Los Angeles empty-handed. Quarterback Caleb Williams and receiver Mario Williams announced their intentions to transfer to USC a day apart in early January. Cornerback Latrell McCutchin followed them to Los Angeles. USC added All-American receiver Jordan Addison from Pittsburgh and added eight transfers from Pac-12 programs. That last fact won’t make Riley many friends in the Pac-12. However, if the Trojans return to national prominence, there will be few complaints out of the tradition-rich USC program.

College football predictions: No. 5 Southern California Trojans

The Trojans are being undervalued in the national polls, coming in at No. 14 in the Associated Press poll and No. 15 American Football Coaches Association poll. It would be surprising if USC isn’t in contention for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff field by season’s end.

With all the players brought into the program as part of the top-ranked class of transfers in the country, the Trojans come in at No. 5 in our breakdown of the top 50 teams in the nation heading into the 2022 season.

USC (+200) is the favorite to win the Pac-12 title as the Trojans are just ahead of Utah (+225) and Oregon (+275) according to the college football odds.

Southern California (+1800) is fifth in the odds to win the national championship according to the sportsbook.

Southern California Trojans

  • 2021 record: 4-8
  • 2021 conference record: 3-6
  • Head coach: Lincoln Riley
  • Odds to win conference title: +200

The quarterback position should be in capable hands with former Oklahoma star Caleb Williams, who is third in the odds to win the Heisman Trophy according to the college football lines. Williams finished fifth in the country in passing efficiency with 1,912 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and four interceptions while starting just eight games as a true freshman. Jaxson Dart and Keldon Slovis have transferred to Ole Miss and Pittsburgh.

Oregon’s Travis Dye, who finished second in the Pac-12 with 1,271 rushing yards a season ago, will lead the backfield. Austin Jones (378 yards as a junior at Stanford) is another running back who transferred in from another Pac-12 team. There will be plenty of opportunities with the top two rushers from 2021 (Keaontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai) having moved on after combining for more than 1,400 yards last season. That leaves Darwin Barlow (289 yards as a sophomore) as the top returning rusher.

Starters Justin Dedich, Brett Neilon, and Andrew Vorhees are back to lead the offensive line. Vorhees has a chance to be one of the top linemen in the country as he is showing up in multiple preseason award watch lists.

— USC Football ✌️ (@USC_FB) August 3, 2022

Former Virginia offensive tackle Bobby Haskins is another player to watch on the line.

Drake London was the first receiver selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. Tahj Washington, Gary Bryant, and Kyle Ford all return after combining for 117 yards and 1,433 receiving yards as sophomores.

The go-to receiver figures to be former Pittsburgh star Jordan Addison (100 catches, 1,593 yards), who won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football. Mario Williams (35 catches as a freshman) comes in from Oklahoma and Brenden Rice (21 catches, 299 yards as a freshman) transferred in from Colorado.

Tight end Michael Trigg joined Dart at Ole Miss while receiver Bru McCoy transferred to Tennessee.

Leading tackler Kanaí Mauga is gone after recording 91 tackles. Fellow linebacker Drake Jackson is another key loss.

Linebacker Ralen Goforth (62 tackles) and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu (48 tackles, 5½ sacks) are the top returnees. Caleb Bullock (40 tackles, two interceptions) and Xavion Alford (31 tackles, three interceptions) are back to lead the secondary.

USC lost seven of the top 10 tacklers from a season ago.

Former Arizona State linebacker Eric Gentry (45 tackles, five tackles for loss), former Ohio State safety Bryson Shaw (59 tackles) McCutchin and Wyoming defensive end Solomon Byrd are joined by linebackers Romello Height (Auburn), Carson Tabaracci (Colorado), and Shane Lee (Alabama), cornerbacks Jacobe Covington (Washington) and Mekhi Blackmon (Utah), as well as defensive linemen Tyrone Taleni (Kansas State) and Earl Barquet (TCU) for the Trojans, who look to improve after finishing 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense and 11th in scoring defense in 2021.

USC needs to replace punter Ben Griffiths and kicker Parker Lewis. Gary Bryant is back after being the Trojans’ top punt and kickoff returner.

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USC Outlook

It might take some time for all the newcomers to mesh, but there is little question that USC has more than enough talent to compete for the program’s first Pac-12 title since 2017.

USC gave up more than 30 points in seven of the last losses a season ago. The defense and entire team is expected to be much better in 2022 thanks to the addition of some high-profile transfers.

The Trojans have won five consecutive season openers. Southern California figures to extend that streak as the Trojans are currently favored by 34½ points against Rice in the 2022 opener. Facing Utah and UCLA on the road will be no easy task, but not having to face Oregon during the regular season is fortunate scheduling. The regular-season finale against Notre Dame could be pivotal for USC’s national title hopes.

Something to consider for those who bet online: USC failed to cover in six of the last seven games in 2021.

The expected regular-season win total of 9½ according to the NCAA football odds features -105 odds for USC to over that total. There are -125 odds for the Trojans to finish with nine wins or less.

2022 USC Schedule

Sept. 3 vs Rice

Sept. 10 vs Stanford

Sept. 17 vs Fresno State

Sept. 24 vs Oregon State

Oct. 1 vs Arizona State

Oct. 8 vs Washington State

Oct. 15 vs Utah

Oct. 29 vs Arizona

Nov. 5 vs California

Nov. 11 vs Colorado

Nov. 19 vs UCLA

Nov. 26 vs Notre Dame

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