AP's Ralph D. Russo picked USC football to return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2016, and to play Michigan for the first time since 2007. That matchup in 2007 was a Rose Bowl itself, so it's going to feel like a classic Pac 12-Big Ten matchup if the Maize and Blue take on the Cardinal and Gold.
And that 2007 Rose Bowl was quite a great memory for USC and their fans. For Michigan, however, not so much. SC didn't have much trouble with Michigan--beating them 32-18. It marked the third straight victory for SC against Michigan.
So, history suggests that Michigan is a matchup the Trojans can handle very well. All three matchups were Rose Bowls too. USC always dominates Michigan on the biggest stage. They've beat the Wolverines six out of the last seven times they've played them, and all were in Rose Bowls. They've only lost two total Rose Bowls against them, ever.
USC football could be a better team than the Michigan Wolverines this season.
Look--USC football is coming off of a 4-8 season last year, and Michigan football is coming off of a Playoff appearance. That being said, USC had an amazing offseason where they brought in a top five head coach in the country, two five-star transfers, and five four-star transfers.
Michigan, on the other hand, had an awful offseason where their head coach (Jim Harbaugh) wanted to leave the program to go coach in the NFL. Despite him making it very clear to his players and alma mater that the NFL was more important to him than them, even after he finally beat Ohio State, the Minnesota Vikings did not hire him after a VERY lengthy interview with him.
Harbaugh lost both his coordinators this offseason. It goes to show that things within the entire coaching staff were not stable. While Michigan is ranked six spots ahead of USC in the preseason AP Poll (at No. 8), it is possible that they regress further than that.
It's also possible that Michigan will meet that ranking, too, but it's just worth mentioning that SC's upside can absolutely compete with Michigan when taking a look at what trajectories the programs are on due to what's happened since the season ended.
Unfortunately, Russo does not have this as a College Football Playoff matchup. He has Oregon winning the Pac-12 and going to the Playoff. That's a little odd, as Oregon had an offseason arguably even worse than Michigan's, but it's still nice to see SC back in a New Year's Six bowl for the first time since 2017.
That would be a great first step for Lincoln Riley and co. Taking a program from a 4-8 season to a top two finish in their conference and Rose Bowl birth would be a truly great job and elevation from Riley in Year 1. Then, the goal will be a conference title in the last year USC has in this conference, before they are freed from the grips of the Pac-12's incompetency.