It's safe to say that this upcoming USC football season largely depends on how quick the defense can be fixed. The offense looks great, and the play-calling will be top-tier now that Lincoln Riley's calling the shots. The defense, which was awful last season, is the aspect of this team that is in question.
Trusted analytical mind in college football, ESPN College Football writer Bill Connelly, expressed that very much in his break down of college football programs that can win national titles "if" certain things happen. He had four notable "ifs" for USC, and three of them are pertaining specifically to the defense:
His first two concerns go hand in hand. If "Grinch's all-or-nothing style relies heavily on havoc," then him inheriting a roster that ranked 119th in havoc rate last season is...not the best situation. Especially since they blitzed "constantly" and were 120th in pressure rate.
USC football's constant blitzes did not work at all last season.
It truly is odd USC football had an awful pass rush last season despite Todd Orlando--who loves blitzing seemingly all the time--being the defensive coordinator. It's safe to say that this personnel that USC has isn't overwhelming.
Tuli Tuipulotu is a Pac-12 Preseason First-Team All-American, and Eric Gentry is coming off of a Freshman All-American season. Other than that, the front seven isn't very proven, and isn't really proven at all if Nick Figueroa and Brandon Pili have injury issues flare up again.
As for Connelly's concerns with the secondary, it's wise to pump the brakes on that. SC brings back two solid safeties who not only showed promise but played legitimately well last season in Xavion Alford and Calen Bullock. Max Williams will be healthy again at the nickel, and as he said, Mekhi Blackmon is legit at CB1.
Domani Jackson, the No. 5 overall player in the 2022 class (247Sports), looks primed to be a stud and it also helps that SC brought in a four-star DB transfer in Latrell McCutchin. The secondary likely won't be great, but it's a secondary SC can win with.
His concerns about the defense as a whole are valid, though, and SC will have to prove themselves early and often to erase that aspect of their 2022 reputation. Connelly's analysis is always respected for a reason, and most of what he said in this article about the Trojans is more than understandable.