They have the best college football player in the country.
They have the best attacking football coach in the country.
They have the best offensive analyst in the country.
You play in the country’s most fertile name, image and likeness market.
There’s no moment that should be considered too big, no journey that should feel too far, and not a single game where they aren’t favored.
You’ve got the star, the smarts, the flair, the salesmanship and the schedule to conquer fall and dominate winter.
The 2023 USC Trojans football team regular season conversation should start with one word.
If the trojans live up to their potential, they should be perfect during their game 12 regular season gamesprepare for a wild post-season crapshoot.
Unfair Expectations? They only lost to one team in last year’s regular season schedule and should be a lot better.
Too much pressure? Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams get paid well to handle the heat.
Still can’t get started? The defense added several transfer giants that should prevent further collapses of Tulane’s proportions.
Is it unrealistic to expect an unbeaten regular season two years after they’ve won just four games? Hey Riley’s honeymoon is over, the opportunity to celebrate last year’s progress is over, these are his players, this is his program, this is his moment.
No one would dare predict the playoffs, but the path to get there seems clear.
USC, 12-0 or bust.
“Listen, we have a great opportunity ahead of us,” Riley said at last month’s Pac-12 media day. “I think everyone in our program, every player, feels that and wants to make excellent use of that. These windows are short. You only get a limited number of shots there.”
USC really needs to make that attempt because the window is closing really fast. This will be the last season with Williams and could be the last season with Riley. With several big NFL jobs potentially going vacant this winter, the quarterback genius might grow weary of another post-Heisman rebuild and decide it’s finally time to take the plunge.
Williams is gone, he will be number 1 in the draft. Riley could be gone and living his dream, from Muleshoe, Texas to the Dallas Cowboys. Suddenly, oddly enough, for a program just getting started, it almost feels like a last stand.
“There’s a lot of talk these days about making rosters faster than you used to, but you still can’t do it all in a year,” Riley said. “That can’t happen. You can make dramatic changes, but not everything. … We were proud of what we achieved in year one, but we were certainly very focused on what we thought year two could look like.”
And what a year it should be.
They should have comfortable wins in their first six games – San Jose State, Nevada, Stanford, Arizona State, Colorado and Arizona. Only Arizona State and Colorado are on the road, and those teams had a combined record of 4-20 last season.
This leads to their first major Test on October 14 at Notre Dame, with the Irish likely a nine-win team. Note, however, that they were a nine-win team last season and USC dominated them at the Coliseum. The 11-point lead seemed tight only due to a late Irish touchdown. In this new NIL and transfer portal era, the Irish simply don’t have access to the same great athletes that are available to USC and it shows.
A week after their visit to Notre Dame, the Trojans return home to host Utah, and even if lovable quarterback Cameron Rising has fully recovered from his knee injury, there’s no way the Utes could beat a Lincoln Riley team three times in hit a calendar year.
After a week of essentially a bye in California, the Trojans face the three main games of their program – home against Washington, Oregon and home against UCLA.
The Huskies and Ducks have decent quarterbacks — Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix, respectively — but neither of them are Williams’ caliber. The game at Autzen is set to be the Trojans’ toughest regular season, but if you think the Trojans’ well-stocked and revamped defense will be in full swing by then, believe USC will survive.
So all that’s left is the season finale against UCLA, and while that game is always stupid to predict, it feels like the Bruins are in some sort of rebuild and rocking the Coliseum.
There it is, 12-0, an undefeated team heading into the Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas and maybe a national semifinal game at the Rose Bowl, and anything is possible at this point.
Of course, for all of this to happen, two seemingly predictable things must happen.
First, Caleb Williams has to be Caleb Williams.
He’s already the best Trojans quarterback this observer has ever seen. Now he has a chance to become the best quarterback in college football history as he becomes the first to win consecutive Heisman Trophies. Not to mention, he might be the NFL-ready quarterback to draft since Andrew Luck more than a decade ago.
Williams lost favorite target Jordan Addison but still has a veteran roster of receivers bolstered by young talent Zachariah Branch. And, oh yeah, and Williams is now tutored by quarterback whisperer Kliff Kingsbury.
Williams should be able to have an outstanding second act. But then again, everyone knows how badly this town does sequels. Everyone knows how Hollywood can get into the minds of others. Whatever happens, Williams is acutely aware of the magnitude of the moment.
“We still have a lot ahead of us this year,” he said at the media day. “Everyone has the same goal and attitude this year, whatever it takes to get everything we want. It’s going to be a good year. I can barely wait for it. Very excited.”
Second, Alex Grinch can’t be last year’s Alex Grinch.
It won’t be him. He can’t be. The defense can’t be any worse, right?
The Trojans’ defensive coordinator was lucky not to be left behind after USC conceded 37 points per game in the last eight games of the season and conceded nearly 2,000 yards in the last four games, capped by the amazing collapse against Tulane.
Despite the screams after Grinch’s fall. Riley supported his buddy. It kept him busy. It’s a gamble that could define a season.
“I’ve been through enough with this guy to know not to bet against him,” Riley told reporters from Grinch. “I know what’s in him. I just do it and I know it’s going to happen on defense and so I just have confidence and conviction there. … I know we have the right person there.”
Speaking of the right people, check out these names: Mason Cobb. Bear Alexander. Anthony Lucas. Kyon Bars. These are just a few of the talented new hitters the Trojans are hoping will bring some toughness to a team that hasn’t been able to keep up.
Earlier this summer, Riley told reporters that new faces don’t necessarily mean instant success. It was as if he recognized the potential power of this squad and immediately wanted to dampen expectations.
“Individual guys here and there, that’s great, but you have to get them to live together, work together and act as a unit on all three sides of the ball, that’s what it’s all about right now,” Riley said. “The narrative is that all these things come back, everyone thinks they’re picking up where they left off, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s – everything’s different, we have so many different faces and I think when the group comes together and learns not just to be a group of talented people, but a group that plays very well together, we have to bridge that gap there.”
Nice, noble try, coach. But everyone knows the exact truth. This is a city of champions, people know a special season when they see one and for Trojans football it should be this season.
Nobody is perfect. But starting the last Saturday of August and over a dozen times in three memorable months, it should be USC.