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ASU Football Opponent Primer: USC Trojans

Return to the Coliseum after the nightmarish 2020 loss

Zac BonDurant

ASU’s 2022 Football Schedule

9/1: vs. NAU - 40-3 W

9/10: @ #9 Oklahoma State - 34-17 L

9/17: vs. Eastern Michigan - 30-21 L

9/24: vs. #12 Utah

10/1: @ #6 USC

10/8: vs. #15 Washington

10/22: @ Stanford

10/29: @ Colorado

11/5: vs. UCLA

11/12: @ Washington State

11/19: vs. Oregon State

11/25: @ Arizona

This opponent primer from earlier this month has been modified because of...circumstances.

Sizing Up USC

It’s a new day in LA. No football program in the nation made headlines like USC did this offseason, and their contention hopes for both the Pac-12 Championship and College Football Playoff are finally legitimate for the first time since 2016.

The new jockey of this Trojan Horse is Lincoln Riley, who coached the Oklahoma Sooners to four straight Big 12 championships (2017-2020) and three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances (2017-2019). Having bred Heisman winners in quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and a current NFL starter in Jalen Hurts, Riley’s high-octane offensive attack should fit right in with a city that loves flashiness with the kind of talent he’s recruited,

Coming with Riley to Hollywood is his quarterback Caleb Williams, who starred in his freshman year at Oklahoma with Riley’s Sooners as a dynamic, dual-threat and game-changing talent. If it weren’t for Alabama’s Bryce Young and a few weeks as Spencer Rattler’s backup, “Superman” was as good of a Heisman bet as anyone in the country.

Las Vegas Sportsbook expects to see that talent on display for a full season, as Williams (+600) trails just Young (+350) and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (+150) in the Heisman odds as of September 28th.

Among qualifiers, Williams finished 8th in the FBS in QBR with a 62.5 completion percentage. Eighteen touchdowns to four interceptions isn’t something to forget about either.

Even better for Williams, he’s also got himself a new top target in Pitt’s Jordan Addison. As the Robin to Kenny Pickett’s Batman and the 2021 ACC Champions, Addison exploded onto the national scene as the FBS leader in receiving touchdowns last season with 17. Riding his game-breaking speed, he racked up nearly 1,600 yards receiving on an even 100 receptions as a true freshman. This phenomenal season earned Addison consensus First-Team All-American honors as well as the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top wide receiver.

Addison is expected to replace first-round pick Drake London from day one in Los Angeles and he’ll need to for this team to live up to its massive expectations.

Rounding out the big three of skill positions is senior running back Travis Dye. Coming in from Oregon, Dye tore up Pac-12 defenses with nearly 1,300 rushing yards in 2021 with 16 trips to the end zone. If he can perform like he did with the Ducks in a fast-paced scheme like Riley’s, USC’s offense has the potential to not only repeat as the Pac-12’s best, but be among the top class of the nation.

While the Trojans defense didn’t help matters much a year ago, the new regime hasn’t forgotten about this side of the ball. Riley enlisted his right-hand man at Oklahoma in Alex Grinch to takeover as the defensive coordinator in LA. While it took a couple of seasons, Grinch turned the Sooners defense from pedestrian to passable as they allowed 25 points per game in the nation’s most offensive conference in 2021.

Specializing in stuffing the run, Grinch will have the pieces he needs to do it here with three NFL talents on the defensive line with tackle Tuli Tuipulotu and edge rushers Nick Figueroa and Auburn transfer Romello Height.

A pair of new linebackers behind them should be good insurance too, with Alabama’s Shane Lee, and former Sun Devil Eric Gentry.

A secondary that struggled last year will look to reap the benefits of both old and new blood to infuse a unit that allowed 241 passing yards per game last year, near the bottom of the FBS. Xavion Alford and Calen Bullock both showed potential both as pass defenders and second-level tacklers as freshmen and should only benefit from that year of experience. Mekhi Blackmon from Colorado will bring in a polished all-around game to help them out, along with former Sooner in the speedy Latrell McCutchin.

With a new coaching staff and mostly new roster, it’s hard to predict what we can expect from the Trojans this year. The preseason AP Poll has USC slated as the No. 14 team in the nation, the highest ranking in the Pac-12 South and third in the conference overall behind Utah and Oregon.

Regardless, this might be the most talented USC squad since Pete Carroll won back-to-back national championships and a modern NCAA record 34 straight games with Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush ran campus in the mid 2000s.

Key Newcomers

There’s a lot of them. You already know about the trio of Williams, Dye and Addison that has the potential to be college football’s best “big three” in 2022. But that’s just where the fresh talent starts with this team. 247Sports gave the Trojans the top ranking among the nation in the transfer class with 20 total commits and seven of them being four-star or higher.

Caleb Williams brought one of his favorite targets in Norman up to Hollywood with him when Mario Williams (no relation) boarded the train to USC. While he didn’t breakout like many expected him to in 2021, his big-play ability and elusiveness in the open field will be vital should Addison garner double coverage and open up plenty of opportunities to put up numbers.

Wide receiver Brenden Rice is also new to the team by way of Colorado and his big frame and ability to break tackles could be a sneaky breakout candidate in the short-field and red zone.

Virginia tackle Bobby Haskins was one of the most sought-after linemen in the portal and his arrival in Los Angeles alongside future draftees Brett Neilon and Andrew Voorhees should form an elite offensive line to protect this explosive offense.

Key Returners

It’s easy to get carried away in the amount of talent that’s new to the City of Angels, but the Trojans return some quality players from last year’s trainwreck. Tuli Tuipuloto is one of the nation’s most fearsome defensive tackles and is coming off a year where he was named to the Pac-12 First Team after sacking the quarterback 7.5 times.

Brett Neilon is as steady as they get at center following his second straight year as an All Pac-12 Honorable Mention at the position.

Nick Figueroa showed potential on the edge last year with five sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

Ralen Goforth is one of the defnese’s mainstays at linebacker as he enters his fourth year as a Trojan having 104 tackles for loss in his career.

ASU’s Path To Victory

When there’s a will there’s a way, right?

It’s a virtual guarantee that USC is going to light up the scoreboard all season long, and a home matchup with a depleted defense should only add more fuel to that fire.

Emory Jones will have to put the team on his back and literally carry the Sun Devils just to even compete with the Trojans on October 1st. While not on the level of Williams, Jones can also make plays both with his arm and feet which he will need to just to keep up.

Xazavian Valladay will need to be able to get himself to the second level and avoid being dropped in the backfield against USC’s fearsome front seven.

Stealing an interception or fumble might be the only way ASU could keep the Trojans from scoring and if they can pull that off once or twice, along with a couple of third down stops, the possibility becomes less far-fetched. Still though, every aspect of the game will have to go the Sun Devils way to pull off a major road upset like this.

USC’s Path To Victory

Two words: Air raid.

Lincoln Riley loves throwing the ball, especially with 5-star talents at quarterback and wide receiver. Chase Lucas and Jack Jones are off to the league and there is no clear answer on if viable replacements have been found in the secondary for Arizona State.

With the skillset on display in Jordan Addison and Mario Williams, USC’s elite offensive line will need to keep the pocket clean for Williams to fire rockets to the duo early and often. Running up the score early will likely be commonplace in USC games this year and Arizona State doesn’t have the necessary resources to stop it, even if the solid D-line can keep Travis Dye in check.

As long as the defense doesn’t allow Emory Jones to extend drives and plays often, it’s gonna be a long night at the Coliseum for the Sun Devils.