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It’s really the only explanation for having USC in the top 4 of the preseason. That’s exactly where ESPN’s Mark Schlabach ranked them in his latest “Way-Too-Early Top 25.” Apparently their transfer additions, with Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison (Pitt) the most recent, inspired him to move them up from 12th.
Even 12th seems absurd for a team coming off a 4-8 season, but the hype train has been rolling since Lincoln Riley’s arrival and he’s worked fast to do his best to fill the gaps in the depleted roster he’s got. inherited.
They added 19 transfers in the portal. You read correctly. They are one step away from adding 20 players through the free agency form of college football.
No one can say that adding these transfers didn’t make them better. How much better is the question.
Trojans immediately upgraded to skill positions. Caleb Williams (Oklahoma) brings them legitimate quarterback talent right away and he has Addison, Mario Williams (Oklahoma), Terrell Bynum (Washington) and Brenden Rice (Colorado) to pitch. That should automatically make their passing game one of the best in the country.
The only problem is that some of these players will not be happy with the number of objectives they get. USC is also firing two players who caught more than 40 balls last season and bringing in CJ Williams, who signed up early. With this combination of skills, they should have no problem replacing what they lost with Drake London, even though neither of these players are the same kind of contested capture beast as London.
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 perfect.
All of that 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 although they added Bobby Haskins (Virginia) in the portal, he was an average starter in the ACC, which is not a conference known for its excellent game of line. They also haven’t signed any offensive linemen in their recruiting class, so there won’t be any help from anyone not previously on the roster.
The line exceeded expectations last season, so they could be good in the short term. The attack as a whole should be powerful. But as Notre Dame fans know, scoring hasn’t been the Trojans’ problem for the past decade. It is the abandonment of too many that has led to their disappearance.
Defense was and still could be a problem this fall, even with 10 transfers. There are players with potential, but there are as many questions as answers with the group.
Edge Solomon Byrd (Wyoming) was a good passing thrower 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, which is why he was looking for a new school.
Linebacker Shane Lee was productive at Alabama in 2019, but that was three years ago. It had been passed on the depth chart since then.
Corner Mekhi Blackmon was good at Colorado last season, but is he an improvement on the two starting corners that disappeared?
Edge Romello Height (Auburn) has shone in terms of pressure in the SEC and could be the most promising of all the new faces on defense. Arizona State linebacker Eric Gentry appears to have a bright future after a strong start to his college career. None of them have the proven production of attacking players, but they could become factors for this season and beyond.
The rest of the defenders they signed don’t have starting experience for their previous teams.
Riley may have added more than enough talent on offense to help the Trojans be Pac-12 contenders, but it doesn’t look like he’s added top talent or enough depth to help rebuild. a USC defense that finished 108th in F+ in 2021.
The offense could lead USC to 10 or more wins against a fairly loose schedule. Riley has experience guiding similar types of lists to this kind of success. He managed to win a lot of games in Oklahoma with a powerful offense and a suspect defense in at least a few seasons.
But a freshman college football playoff contender with nearly a quarter of the roster coming from the transfer portal? It may be too big a mountain to climb right away. It will probably be a while before USC looks like it did in the early 2000s.
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