Athlon Sports is buying ALL the USC football hype heading into the 2022 season. Steven Lassan ranked them as his No. 9 team in his recent 'College Football Top 131 Team Rankings for 2022.'
However, before anyone rolls their eyes and mutters to themselves about how USC football 'is always so overrated' and all that, understand that Lassan did analyze both sides and pointed out USC's shortcomings in the article. As for the good, he seems to love the Lincoln Riley hire and roster transformation:
"Riley has flipped the roster in a big way, landing impact transfers in quarterback Caleb Williams (Oklahoma) and receiver Jordan Addison (Pitt) among a bevy of new additions. Those two pickups, along with Riley’s scheme, should result in a much-improved offense. The backfield is also headlined by two transfers (Travis Dye and Austin Jones), while the Trojans won’t lack for other playmakers in the receiving corps to team with Addison. The line brings back four starters and could potentially be among the best in the Pac-12."- Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Lassan did, however, refer to how much of a longshot it would be for USC football to make the College Football Playoff.
"The Trojans were 4-8 last fall and struggled mightily on defense, so a quick jump into CFB Playoff consideration would take a lot to break in USC’s favor," said Lassan.
So, it's clear that while Lassan is bullish on SC this upcoming season, he's not one of these national media analysts that insists that the Trojans are ready for a Playoff jump. This really isn't an unreasonable ranking at all. I wouldn't have them at No. 9, but Lassan does understand the skeptics of USC's 2022 prospects:
"Defense is where Riley has more concerns in ’22. This unit was pushed around on the ground (167.1 rushing yards a game allowed last year), ranked 11th in the Pac-12 against the pass, and struggled with big plays allowed (13 of 40-plus yards) and a lack of a pass rush (21 sacks). New coordinator Alex Grinch won’t fix all of the issues in one offseason."- Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
He's right. USC needs a leap from Korey Foreman, health from Brandon Pili and Nick Figueroa, a renaissance from Shane Lee, and breakouts from Romello Height and Raesjon Davis if they want to have a quality defense out there. None of those things have been proven just yet, so they have some holes on D coming into the year.
It's all going to come down to how quickly Grinch can turn things around in just one year. His defenses during his first couple of years at Oklahoma were drastically improving from what they were before he got there, but OU's defense regressed last year.
It may depend on which Grinch USC gets in Year 1. The one who took Oklahoma from the No. 101 ranked defense in 2018 before he got there, to the No. 64 defense in 2019 during Year 1? Or the one who went from having the No. 21 defense in 2020 dip to No. 60 in 2021?