Athlon Sports has USC football playing in the Pac-12 Championship game. That is most certainly a solid step for the program in Year 1 under new Head Coach Lincoln Riley. That's it for the Trojans, though, according to Athlon. They have SC losing to Utah in that Pac-12 Championship game.
Not only do they have Utah winning the division, but they have them taking care of SC in the title game.
"USC has certainly improved under new coach Lincoln Riley, but the path to a Pac-12 title still runs through Salt Lake City," said Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports.
Athlon Sports was right to put USC football in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Unfortunately, though, they were also right to have USC football losing to Utah in that Pac-12 title game. It's important to remember what the Utes are returning for 2022. Lassan hit on that precisely in his article.
"(Utah) returns quarterback Cameron Rising, running back Tavion Thomas and a pair of standout tight ends in Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid...As usual, Utah will be strong on defense. Whittingham’s group returns five starters, including cornerback Clark Phillips III, ends Van Fillinger and Karene Reid and Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate at linebacker."- Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
While Lassan made it very clear that he respects USC's offense, he went into detail about why he's not so sure SC's defense is fixable in just one year under a new Defensive Coordinator.
"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
It's hard to argue with the facts and statistics Lassan pointed out. This defense was terrible last year, and will likely not even be close to where Utah's was in 2021 or where it will be in 2022. Lassan didn't discount the fact that the Trojans most certainly will have better players in the fold on the defensive side of the ball this year, however.
"However, a handful of transfers have added depth and talent, and a scheme change should bring some improvement," said Lassan.
That was also a great point by Lassan. Despite most of the transfer portal hype for SC being about the offensive additions, USC did bring in two four-star transfers on the defensive side of the ball in LB Eric Gentry (ASU) and DB Latrell McCutchin (Oklahoma).
If the Trojans want to win the Pac-12 title, defense is going to be the X-Factor. Lassan is right to be sold on the offense. Lassan is also right, however, to be a bit skeptical of how good the defense can be in just Year 1 with the new staff.