With Heisman winner Caleb Williams at quarterback in 2022, USC football reached heights it hadn’t reached in more than a decade, only to crash back to earth at the conclusion. With an 11-1 record at the end of the regular season, the Trojans were just one victory away from competing in the College Football Playoffs for the first time. Instead, the Trojans finished 11-3 despite suffering a crushing defeat to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game and giving up an unlikely comeback against Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, USC still had a fantastic year. Keep in mind that this team had a 4-8 record in 2021 and hadn’t qualified for a New Year’s Six bowl game since 2017. Lincoln Riley transformed a team that had struggled in recent years into a title contender in just one season.
It’s possible that the first season was just a preview of things to come. There are high expectations for the Trojans to contend for the national championship in 2023. In fact, according to online sportsbooks, the Trojans have the fifth-best odds to win the championship the following year.
But why is there so much hype surrounding USC football? Here are some explanations for why the Trojans might prevail in the national championship game the following year.
3. USC might take on the challenge
You must defeat the best to be the best in college football—or any sport, for that matter. The Trojans clearly understand this and are very familiar with it based on their 2023 schedule. With home games against Stanford, Nevada, and San Jose State before the first of two bye weeks, the season gets off to a smooth start. The Trojans won’t have any free weekends after that, though.
The Trojans play five teams that were ranked in the top 25 at the end of the season in their final nine games. Other groups, including Colorado and Arizona State, ought to be significantly stronger in 2023 and won’t be USC’s simple pick-ups. Due to the familiarity and animosity between the teams, even games against opponents like Arizona and Cal will be a little challenging.
There are many risks involved in creating a schedule like this, but there are also many potential rewards. On the one hand, it’s very possible that USC loses one or two crucial games and is eliminated from contention. On the other hand, if the Trojans do succeed, it will be very difficult to refute them.
2. Excellent transfer class
In the past few years, the transfer portal has completely altered college football. To compete on the national level, recruiting transfers is now necessary, and the teams that haven’t adjusted have found it difficult to keep up. Fortunately for the Trojans, they are one of the most sought-after places for transfers nationwide.
In comparison to almost every other team, Lincoln Riley and USC have completely cleaned up in the transfer portal this offseason. Six four-star transfers, including four players ranked in the top 50 of 247Sports’ transfer rankings, have signed with the Trojans this offseason. The fact that four of those players play defense was a major issue for USC in 2022.
These players might need some time to adapt, but once they do, they will be unstoppable. Last season, the Trojans used their transfer class, which included stars like Jordan Addison, to elevate themselves to the top. If that pattern holds, this class might give them the edge.
1. Persistence of the quarterback
USC returns the best player in college football, which is the main factor making it a genuine threat to win the national championship. In 2022, Caleb Williams was a true prodigy who accounted for over 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 total yards. The Heisman winner still has at least one more year left in college since he was only a sophomore in 2022. He may very well win the championship this season and then enter the NFL as the #1 draft pick.
Williams should continue to be a fantastic player in 2023. Even though he will experience some setbacks, particularly with Addison, his incredible capacity for playmaking will ensure his success. Williams’ retention, however, becomes even more crucial when considering the state of college football as a whole.
Three of the four teams that qualified for the College Football Playoff this year will be searching for new quarterbacks for the following campaign. Williams is a far superior quarterback, with Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy standing out as the sole exception. Only three of the top 10 teams (aside from USC) that are favorites to win the national championship still have their starting quarterback. Williams is superior to them all, which comes as no surprise to anyone.
While football powerhouses like Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State must replace their stars, USC picks up where it left off. Any team can compete for the championship just by having Williams on the field, and USC is a real threat because of the talent around him.