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Notre Dame Football

Pumping the Brakes on the USC Hype Train

May 24, 2022

Gotta pile up those pageviews.

That’s really the only explanation for having USC as a pre-season top-4 team. That’s exactly where ESPN’s Mark Schlabach slotted them in his most recent “Way-Too-Early Top 25”. Apparently their transfer additions, with Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison (Pitt) the most recent one, inspired him to move them up from 12th.

Even 12th seems absurd for a team coming off of a 4-8 season, but the hype train has been rolling since Lincoln Riley arrived and he has worked quickly to do his best to fill in the gaps of the depleted roster he inherited.

They have added 19 transfers in the portal. You read that correctly. They are one away from adding 20 players via college football’s form of free agency.

No one can say that adding those transfers hasn’t made them better. How much better is the question.

The Trojans have immediately upgraded at the skill positions. Caleb Williams (Oklahoma) brings them a legitimate talent at quarterback right away and he has Addison, Mario Williams (Oklahoma), Terrell Bynum (Washington), and Brenden Rice (Colorado) to throw to. That should automatically make their passing game one of the best in the country.

The only issue is that some of these players are going to be unhappy with the amount of targets they get. USC also returns two players who caught over 40 balls each last season and are bringing in CJ Williams, who enrolled early. With that combination of talent, they shouldn’t have any issue replacing what they lost with Drake London, even if none of those players is the same kind of contested catch beast that London was.

USC lost Keontay Ingram at running back, but they’re bringing in Travis Dye from Oregon (over 1,200 yards last season) and Austin Jones from Stanford (91 yards per game in 2020). The backfield should be more than fine.

It all makes for a dynamite 7-on-7 team. Unfortunately for Riley, they don’t have a spring league for that and they play with pads in the fall.

The offensive line lost two starters from last season and though they did add Bobby Haskins (Virginia) in the portal, he was an average starter in the ACC, which is not a conference that has a reputation for great line play. They also signed no offensive linemen in their recruiting class so there will be no help from anyone else who wasn’t previously on the roster.

The line outperformed expectations last season so they may be fine in the short term. The offense overall should be potent. But as Notre Dame fans know, scoring points hasn’t been the problem for the Trojans during the last decade. It’s giving up too many which has led to their demise.

The defense was and still could be an issue this fall, even with 10 transfers being brought in. There’s some players with potential, but there are as many questions as answers with the group.

Edge Solomon Byrd (Wyoming) was a good pass rusher in the Mountain West, but will that translate to a Power 5 conference?

Safety Bryson Shaw started at Ohio State last season, but had lost his starting job and that’s why he was looking for a new school.

Linebacker Shane Lee was productive at Alabama in 2019, but that was three years ago. He had been passed on the depth chart since then.

Corner Mekhi Blackmon was good at Colorado last season, but is he an upgrade over the two starting corners that are gone?

Edge Romello Height (Auburn) flashed in a big way in terms of pressures in the SEC and might be the most promising out of all the new faces on defense. Linebacker Eric Gentry (Arizona State) looks like he has a bright future after a great start to his college career. Neither of them have the proven production that the skill guys on offense have, but they could develop into factors for this season and beyond.

The rest of the defenders they brought on do not have starting experience for their previous teams.

Riley may have added more than enough talent on offense to help the Trojans be contenders in the Pac-12, but it doesn’t appear he added the top end talent or enough depth to help rebuild a USC defense that finished 108th in F+ in 2021.

The offense could carry USC to 10 wins or more against a fairly soft schedule. Riley has experience guiding similar types of rosters to that kind of success. He managed to win a lot of games at Oklahoma with a high powered offense and a suspect defense in at least a few seasons.

But a College Football Playoff contender in year one with almost a ¼ of the roster coming from the transfer portal? That might be too big of a mountain to climb right away. It will likely take some time before USC resembles what they used to be in the early 2000s.

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