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Jim Fuller’s Top 25 Teams To Watch: No. 7 Southern California Trojans

Will Heisman Trophy Winner Caleb Williams Lead USC to Title?

Caleb Williams followed head coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to Southern California and at season’s end walked away with the Heisman Trophy. There is a different trophy that Williams and the Trojans are eyeing this season with the college football predictions viewing USC as a legitimate national title contender.

USC received 25 of the 36 first-place votes from the media and is the favorite to win the Pac-12 before teams start heading to the Big Ten and the Big 12 as part of conference realignment that will end the Pac-12’s time as one of the Power-5 conferences.

Jim Fuller's Top 25 Teams To Watch: No. 7 Southern California Trojans
Caleb Williams #13 of the USC Trojans | Ron Jenkins/Getty Images/AFP

Even with star receiver Jordan Addison off to the NFL, Williams has a chance to join former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy.

After putting together the top-rated class of transfers in 2022 with Williams and Addison leading the way, the Trojans were busy working the transfer portal once again with the No. 4 rated class according to the 247sports.com database.

Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander is the top-rated incoming transfer for USC with Arizona receiver Dorian Singer, Arizona cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace, Wyoming offensive lineman Emmanuel Pregnon, Texas A&M defensive lineman Anthony Lucas, South Carolina running back MarShawn Lloyd and Oklahoma State linebacker Mason Cobb leading the list of transfers.

Receivers Kyle Ford, Gary Bryant, and C.J. Williams left for UCLA, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Safety Xavion Alford (Arizona State), linebackers Ralen Goforth (Washington) and Tuasivi Nomura (Fresno State), and cornerback Latrell McCutchin (Houston) are among the prominent outgoing transfers.

USC also landed a top-10 class of incoming freshmen with receiver Zachariah Branch, quarterback Malachi Nelson, tight end Duce Robinson, receiver Makai Lemon, edge rusher Braylan Shelby, and running back Quinten Joyner as the top signees. Branch, Lemon, and Robinson give Williams three more talented pass catchers to work with.

According to college football odds, USC (+1600) is tied for sixth in the odds to win the national title. The Trojans are ranked sixth in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.

Southern California Trojans

  • 2022 record: 11-3
  • 2022 Pac-12 record: 8-1
  • Head coach: Lincoln Riley
  • Odds to win conference title: +200

So what can Williams do for an encore after throwing for 4,537 yards with 42 touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing for another 10 touchdowns? The first thing on the to-do list is to get USC into the College Football Playoff field. The Trojans were in a position to do just that before losing to Utah in the Pac-12 title game. That was followed by a wild 46-45 loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.

Williams is not only the favorite at +550 to win the Heisman Trophy once again, but the college football lines have him priced at -400 to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Once again a prominent transfer could emerge as the go-to receiver for Williams. Singer had 66 catches for 1105 yards as a sophomore at Arizona. Imagine what he can do with somebody like Williams throwing him the ball?

Tahj Washington, Mario Williams, and Brenden Rice all return after combining for 129 catches and 15 touchdowns. However, Kyle Ford is now at UCLA. There are some top recruits who are somewhat untested who could emerge as threats in the passing game.

Leading rusher Travis Dye is off to the NFL leaving Austin Jones as the top returnee at the running back position. He will be challenged by South Carolina transfer Lloyd.

Center Justin Dedich is back to anchor the offensive line along with offensive tackle Jonah Monheim while USC dipped into the transfer portal to give Williams some help up front. Washington State’s Jarrett Kingston provides added versatility as he had at least 1 start at tackle and guard for the Cougars.

Dedich, Monheim, and Kingston were all second-team preseason all-conference picks.

The offense should be dynamic once again. The defense allowed 45.3 points and 544.7 yards per game in the three losses last season. The Trojans finished eighth in both total defense and scoring defense in the Pac-12 in 2022 and that is not good enough to compete for a national title.

Losing sack leader Tuli Tuipulotu hurts. However, leading tackler Mac Williams joins All-American Caleb Bullock at safety. Linebacker Eric Gentry also returns.

USC finished sixth nationally in takeaways in 2022 with nine fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions. However, just 12 defenses from Power-5 conferences had worse numbers on third down than the Trojans

The addition of defensive lineman Alexander from Georgia, Oklahoma State linebacker Cobb, Arizona cornerback Roland-Wallace, and Texas A&M lineman Lucas could help the defense.

Those who bet online might want to keep in mind that Southern California covered just three of the final seven games of the season with the Trojans favored in all of those games.

Each of USC’s final eight games finished over the college football betting line total and that included all three losses.

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The loss in the Pac-12 title game still must sting for USC as it would have been quite the story for Williams to lead the Trojans into the College Football Playoffs in his first season at Southern California.

There is plenty of talent, especially on offense, for the Trojans to be in contention for the national title once again. The defense is another story.

USC gave up way too many big plays in 2022 as only TCU, Colorado and Oklahoma gave up more plays from scrimmage of at least 10 yards among teams from the Power-5 conferences.

The Trojans didn’t exactly load up the early part of the schedule with dangerous opponents as San Jose State and Nevada come to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the first two games of the season followed by the Pac-12 opener against Stanford and that is also at home. USC is listed by the Las Vegas odds as a 30-point favorite against San Jose State and is favored by 38 points against Nevada.

The road opener comes against Arizona State and then there is a trip to Colorado to meet a Colorado team that features 50 incoming transfers under new coach Deion Sanders.

A trip to Notre Dame on Oct. 14 might be a little tricky. After that, the degree of difficulty in USC’s final Pac-12 season goes up significantly with games against Utah, Washington, Oregon, and UCLA over the final five games of the season. Only the Oregon game is on the road so perhaps that bodes well for the Trojans.

USC hasn’t posted back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins since the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. The price is set at -110 for USC to go over 10 wins during the regular season and comes in at -120 to finish under that total.

2023 Schedule

  • Aug. 26 vs San Jose State
  • Sept. 2 vs Nevada
  • Sept. 9 vs Stanford
  • Sept. 23 vs Arizona State
  • Sept. 30 vs Colorado
  • Oct. 7 vs Arizona
  • Oct. 14 vs Notre Dame
  • Oct. 21 vs Utah
  • Oct. 28 vs California
  • Nov. 4 vs Washington
  • Nov. 11 vs Oregon
  • Nov. 18 vs UCLA

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