Trojan Football — Retooled From The Studs

Five questions ahead of USC’s first fall football camp under Lincoln Riley

Ryan Kartje (LA Times —  When Lincoln Riley took the reins of a USC program in desperate need of a rebuild, no one expected a new foundation to be laid overnight. Still, when Riley was asked in November how quickly he could turn around the Trojans, he didn’t try to limit expectations.

“In this day and age, I think it can happen quickly, I do,” Riley said.

Fast forward nine months — and 20 transfers — later, and USC enters camp as one of the most intriguing roster experiments in college football, a team rebuilt almost entirely through the transfer portal. Torn down essentially to the studs, the Trojans return this season with a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, a new backfield, two new potential All-American receivers, a new left tackle, a new corps of linebackers and a handful of new faces in the secondary.

What Riley has already built over the course of a single offseason will stand as an early case study for program building in the age of the transfer portal. Can a team that completely unraveled be completely transformed overnight? We’ll know soon enough.

As USC opens its first training camp of the Riley era on Friday, plenty of other pressing questions need to be answered first:

1. What should we expect from quarterback Caleb Williams and new top receiver Jordan Addison?

Caleb Williams warms up in the spring game at the Coliseum on April 23. (Gary Coronado / LAT)

They grew up just an hour apart in the Washington, D.C., area, but Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison didn’t know each other well until this past spring, when Addison, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner, suddenly became available in the transfer portal, and Williams, USC’s new quarterback, turned his attention to recruiting the reigning top receiver in college football.

“I was in his ear,” Williams said last week. “I think I texted [linebacker] Shane [Lee]. I was like, ‘Text this kid.’ I think it was 15 of my teammates I had text Jordan. Like, guys, ‘We’re going to need him to go win some big games.’ That’s how important Jordan was. That’s how important all these guys I tried to help support and get here to come play with me.”

Jordan Addison heads upfield against Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., on Nov. 27, 2021. (Adrian Kraus / AP)

None may be more crucial than Addison, who gives USC’s offense a deep threat unlike any other in college football. Addison scored 10 touchdowns of 20-plus yards at Pittsburgh last season. At USC, teammates are already marveling over his speed.

“He runs like 23 mph, which is crazy,” Williams said. “He can do just about anything.”

We don’t yet know how Riley plans to deploy him. But for the Trojans, it’s been quite some time since a quarterback-receiver connection has looked this promising.

2. How much have new transfers helped the defense?

There’s no question USC will be loaded on offense, with a Heisman contender at quarterback and a bevy of new weapons around him. Consider that Riley, in seven seasons as coordinator and coach at Oklahoma, never once finished outside of the top eight nationally in scoring offense, and it’s easy to envision the Trojans scoring plenty of points in plenty of ways this fall.

The crippling uncertainty is instead reserved for the other side of the ball, where it’s unclear what we should expect. The Trojans have been an abject mess on defense in recent years, but the unit that struggled to stop anyone last season has been totally overhauled. Twelve of USC’s 20 transfers and five of its seven freshmen come on the defensive side, many of whom are expected to have roles right away.

That turnover makes predicting USC’s defensive prowess this season an inexact science. We have no idea how all of those new pieces will fit together in new coordinator Alex Grinch’s scheme. Or whether those new pieces were a fit for the defense in the first place.

But on paper, there are reasons for optimism. For one, USC added a ton of talent where it was arguably weakest — at linebacker, starting with Lee, whose ascent as a locker room leader has been noteworthy. He’s joined by Arizona State’s Eric Gentry, a fellow freshman All-American, former Utah signee Carson Tabaracci and Auburn transfer Romello Height in a linebacker room that looks nothing like it did a year ago.

The same can be said of USC’s secondary, which could see as many as four new starters.

“We expect to have a national championship-caliber defense here at USC,” Riley said. “I believe we have the people to do that.”

3. Who will be the Trojans’ top pass rusher?

Korey Foreman lines up for a play against Washington State on Sept. 18, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. (Young Kwak / AP)

Former top recruit Korey Foreman was supposed to step right into the role of fearsome pass rusher as a true freshman. That lofty vision never quite crystallized. And after a disappointing debut season, it’s hard to know what the future holds for Foreman.

For now, it doesn’t appear that a starting role is a part of that picture. Foreman sat out part of the spring with an injury, allowing Height to surpass him on the depth chart and step seamlessly into the role of starting edge rusher.

Whether he’ll hold on to the spot through training camp is unclear. But after hearing coaches and players rave about Height’s performance in the spring, there’s no reason to think he’ll lose his grip on the role.

There’s still plenty of time for Foreman to figure it out, of course. In the spring, he reiterated several times how “blessed” he was to have a fresh start on a rebuilt USC defense.

No one on that unit needed a fresh start more than Foreman, and arguably no one on USC’s defensive front has more talent. Whether one will unlock the other this season is another question entirely.

4. How does Bobby Haskins’ healthy return shake up the offensive line?

Bobby Haskins (70) on the sidelines against BYU on Oct. 30, 2021, in Provo, Utah. (George Frey / AP)

He was expected to be one of USC’s most significant portal additions. But an ankle injury held new transfer lineman Bobby Haskins out of spring ball, delaying his debut and adding intrigue to a brewing battle on the offensive line.

Understand this: Haskins was not brought in as a grad transfer to ride the bench. Now that he’s healthy, the expectation is he’ll step in right away at left tackle, where he started 20 games for Virginia. The real question is whom he might displace in the process.

Courtland Ford and Jonah Monheim were USC’s starting tackles for much of last season, and both will be in contention to start opposite of Haskins. If Ford wins the job, Monheim could possibly kick inside to right guard, where Justin Dedich started for most of the spring.

A redshirt senior, Dedich has dutifully waited his turn, playing the role of swing lineman for several seasons. Could his chance finally emerge in his fifth season at USC?

5. How much will USC’s top freshmen be involved this fall?

With so many new players, their first-year counterparts haven’t quite received the same billing ahead of fall as they usually do. But there are a few freshmen who could be household names by the end of camp.

The most obvious is Domani Jackson, the top prospect in the state for the 2022 class. USC’s secondary is a wide-open competition, and Jackson has the chops to make an immediate impact. While Colorado transfer Mekhi Blackmon is sure to snag one corner spot, the other is up for grabs. It’s rare to see a freshman step in right away at cornerback, but Jackson is in rarefied air as an athlete.

His Santa Ana Mater Dei High teammate, Raleek Brown, could make a similar splash on the other side of the ball. A true all-purpose threat capable of catching passes out of the backfield, Brown won’t start in a traditional running back role as a freshman. Rather, he’ll be deployed as a runner or receiver however Riley sees fit.

It may take a while for that role to crystalize. Once it does, Brown may very well be a fixture in the offense by season’s end.

latimes.com

________

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volunteerTrojan
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August 5, 2022 7:19 pm
Chris
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August 5, 2022 8:06 am

Excited to hear what’s happening in fall camp. Who do you guys read or follow for that? I don’t pay for anything, not opposed to it, just haven’t yet.

Steveg
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August 5, 2022 8:12 am
Reply to  Chris

I go with just about anyone, for free. Wearesc, UscFootball.com(247), Trojans Wire and Reign of Troy. Usually get updated pretty well. Even Wolf is covering things much better than he used to, you just have to put up with the trolls who come on there. This is home to me, and we get lots of good info from Allen.

ATL D.D.S.
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August 5, 2022 9:09 am
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Wolf, at heart, is still a bitter troll….

Steveg
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August 5, 2022 11:51 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

He is, that is just his schtik.

Chris
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August 5, 2022 9:26 am
Reply to  Steveg

This for sure is home for me as well. It’s the best on game days.

RialtoTrojan
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August 5, 2022 8:00 am

I read an interesting article in the SB Sun this morning. Jordan Addison addressing tampering allegations and his choice to leave Pitt. The one thing that really stood out in the piece was the fact that several offensive coaches had left Pitt before Jordan decided to transfer. This fact is rarely mentioned, because it detracts from the narrative of tampering by USC.
This got me thinking about USC jumping to the Big 10. Could the move have a side benefit of eroding the East Cost bias?

Steveg
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August 4, 2022 2:31 pm

With the way things are changing so very rapidly with the big money TV deals coming up, NIL, and now BLA (look it up) legally exploiting young players with huge up front money, the game is going to become something we never imagined before. Hopefully things get reigned in soon or college football as we used to know it is done.

Last edited 6 days ago by Steveg
Golden Trojan
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August 4, 2022 3:59 pm
Reply to  Steveg

BLA – Big League Advantage. That will make your head explode! Basically getting more money up front and they get a piece of your action as a pro. Boy giving 17, 18, 19, 20 year olds tons of money sounds like gasoline on the bar-b-que. Some kids may handle it well but many others are going to blow up big time. There is something to be said for being a little hungry when you are an up and comer.

Scioto
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August 4, 2022 2:11 pm

If there is truth to this, I just don’t see how ND remains independent. NBC isn’t doing this and then paying $75M to ND so it can televise the Navy, Army, and BC games.

https://frontofficesports.com/nbc-big-ten-nfl/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=FOS+PM+NBCs+Big+Plans+for+Big+Ten&utm_content=FOS+PM+NBCs+Big+Plans+for+Big+Ten+CID_929a2f0ca5ecdb8b35dda3ed0cf63e85&utm_source=FOS+Daily+Newsletter&utm_term=click+here

Scioto
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August 5, 2022 8:38 am
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It appears that the B1G is looking at $1.5 Billion. That’s over $93M gross for each of the 16 schools. Fox will be the major, but CBS wants in as does NBC. ESPN has to want in as well. The 4 letter can’t just be regional/southern and the Pac 12/Big 12 crumbs while the B1G dominates Saturdays from 12pm EST to 2am EST and coast to coast. I wonder what escalators might be in the deal for additional teams. In addition to ND, there needs to be at least 2 more west coast teams. Stanford and Washington are my picks… Read more »

Golden Trojan
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August 4, 2022 2:22 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

If she had been a Trojan instead of a Baylor Bear I would agree with you! Let’s hope she can get out of there with a prisoner swap for the arms merchant monster.

PN4SC
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August 4, 2022 4:36 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

So true Allen. As much as Griner is being screwed, trading her for an extremely dangerous Arms merchant doesn’t seem right. But Biden is so clueless, who knows where this goes.

alfa1
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August 4, 2022 4:46 pm
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The Pot was the minor issue, the 8 vials of Hashish Vape oil rang the bell. She could have been put to death in several Central European or Middle Eastern countries. Actually she got off easy pleading guilty.

She and Paul Whelan will probably get swapped in the next year.
Griner is doing a replay of “Midnight Express” Lucky for her she’s in Russia, not Turkiye.

alfa1
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August 5, 2022 5:48 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

No matter Griner’s intent…she was guilty of having hard drugs, no amount of legal quibble can change the Facts. Talk about unjust and overly harsh for Griner, why don’t we discuss what waits the January 6 group in custody? First, get something straight. Russia isn’t dangling her in front of anyone…Blinkin iniatiated the call and made the offer to swap Bout, Russia is not interested in Bout, he’s a renegade…just because he’s from Russia [most] Americans view a connection, Bout is a traitor and was selling arms to ISIS for the US/CIA.Russia knows about all of Bouts transactions for the… Read more »

John Weld
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August 4, 2022 9:46 am

USC – Win total under 9.5 @ -105 (Bet $105 to win $100) My thinking is that we have a 75% probability of wining 8 or 9 games and only a 25% probability of winning 10 games, so I will take the under. What is your opinion: Under or Over? Sports Wager Opinion from Sam Cooper at Yahoo Sports Based on his track record at Oklahoma, the Lincoln Riley hype at USC is probably justified — especially with Caleb Williams as his quarterback for the next two seasons. This offense should be very, very good with the talent assembled and… Read more »

Steveg
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August 4, 2022 10:43 am
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IF and I repeat IF, they stay healthy I can see 10-11 wins. Last year means nothing, This is not the same team, staff, culture, or philosophy. There is now speed on the D and tons of talent on the O with a line that will be good. The three big missing ingredients. They will mesh, our staff is to good for them not to and we have leaders on the team this year.

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August 4, 2022 11:24 am
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The Part of me that LOVES USC Football combined with my EMOTIONS say 10 wins BUT………… My brain and non-emotional part says 8-9 wins ……..So FIGHT ON !!!!!

TrojanRJJ
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August 4, 2022 12:54 pm
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At the Hotel Laguna for lunch. Have a table overlooking the beach, sipping a Mai Tai. Truly on holiday and enjoying it immensely. In my relaxed condition, I would take the under. This team has too many unknowns and a tough schedule. 4 very difficult games (at Utah, at Oregon State, ND and at UCLA), one scrimmage (Rice), two difficult games (at Stanford -I know Allen disagrees- and Fresno State), rest are challenging but winnable. To go 9-3 would be a major accomplishment.

Golden Trojan
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August 4, 2022 2:19 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

If LR would actually say “Wait till you see this team in November”, CRINGE!, which I hope he doesn’t, I would believe him. I see this team getting better and better as the season progresses. That is why I would not be surprised to see SC favored in the Utah, ND and UCLA games the week of those games.

Golden Trojan
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August 4, 2022 2:27 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Oregon State is the potential trap game. Utah is a potential hard fought loss. ND is another close one. Other than that, SC can “potentially” win every game. The Chocolate Chips will get steam rolled!

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August 7, 2022 8:13 pm
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After what I saw last season I thought Sean Smith was building a good foundation and coaching physical football. I still do but maybe he has lost too many senior starters as I am reading from reports and may not have the line talent to replace it. If the weather, which seems to always be on OSU’s side, isn’t a burden to LR’s passing game, I think the Trojans have a fair chance to come out of Corvallis with a win. Utah is another story.

volunteerTrojan
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August 4, 2022 2:30 pm
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I would cringe too, but for the first time in years, I think it would actually be true.

volunteerTrojan
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August 4, 2022 2:19 pm
Reply to  John Weld

OK, I’ll bite, and go out on a limb of undetermined thickness, and go with 10. My very simple rationale is that the top transfer kids we’ve brought in are gamers, know how to win, and will rise up and make it happen.

volunteerTrojan
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August 4, 2022 2:28 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Good question, but I’ll pick from the 4 John mentions in his last paragraph. Assuming no catastrophic injuries, I also think we will be very good by the late season games. So, I’ll get even more bold and say we sweep ucla and ND, leaving OSU and Utah as the losses. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those two losses were swapped out with somebody else.

Looking at the schedule, I’m just not seeing any scary games out there (maybe Utah?), although I am looking through rose colored glasses these days.

volunteerTrojan
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August 4, 2022 4:04 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Ha, keep talking like that and you’ll have me in the undefeated camp. 😉

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August 4, 2022 4:43 am

Only a month to go before the first game of the 2022 football season. I’m so much looking forward to seeing this team play that I’m going to fly in and take my son to the see the opener at the LA Coliseum. Fight On!

Golden Trojan
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August 3, 2022 9:03 pm

Well nice to see someone at the LAT is capable of objective analysis. I have felt since spring this Trojan team has plenty of talent and very good to great coaching. The rub will be how soon can they put it all together and function as a team, a well oiled machine, .

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August 3, 2022 9:47 pm
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They looked pretty well-oiled in the Spring game. Like, ahead of schedule on that front. The real test is going to be that first dose of adversity, on the road, when the motor may be running a little rough. The things that have to happen to set the true character of this team are all still ahead of us.

Golden Trojan
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August 4, 2022 7:05 am
Reply to  Rock2112

The first test will be when they step on the field at the Coliseum in a month. Will they be 11 stars trying to promote themselves or working together as a team. I think they will be awesome, just trying to keep it to cautious optimism through August.

Jamaica
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August 4, 2022 8:46 am
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GT, I would like to think if the players will trust the coaches in their calls and the coaches can trust the players in their execution, it would be a good way to start the season and build confidence.

Steveg
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August 4, 2022 9:42 am
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Players trust the coaches? That’ll be something new.

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August 4, 2022 2:13 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I would be shocked beyond belief if we see an ugly win against Rice. Which a year ago we would have seen.

Steveg
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August 3, 2022 6:04 pm

Considering the talent on hand and all the transfers filling roles, I see USC as much more formidable on defense than we have seen the last few years. LR brought in speed which was so blaringly absent. I am betting Foreman catches fire and starts to show just how good he can be. The O line will work fine, the D line is a little shy of big bodies and depth at LB can be an issue down the line. Like I said months ago, just go score a hundred points and we won’t worry about the defense so much.

Last edited 7 days ago by Steveg
volunteerTrojan
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August 3, 2022 5:33 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I’m OK with no more PAC10 teams moving to the BIG. I get the arguments on both sides, but frankly, I’m tired of other schools riding the coattails of USC’s success. It’s enough goodwill that we drug uclsa along. Let them all stand or fall on their own merit.

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August 3, 2022 8:22 pm

I’d be on with throwing the ruins back as well.

volunteerTrojan
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August 3, 2022 10:00 pm
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Me too. I really don’t care what, if anything, the UC does to them. I say to the BIG, swap ucla for the Domers.

Jamaica
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August 4, 2022 8:57 am

Me three.