USC Football is a very hard team to evaluate for the 2022 season. On one hand, they just hired a top five head coach in America who runs the best offensive system in the country. They picked up a top three QB in the country in Caleb Williams who is one of the Heisman favorites for 2022 as well.
That quarterback is definitely going to ball out in this offense. He was in it last year at OU with our new head coach in Lincoln Riley, and dominated. He threw 21 touchdowns and rushed for six despite not even starting until the second half of the season. He averaged 9.1 yards per pass attempt and 5.6 yards per rush attempt.
He'll have a running game too. SC just picked up elite RB1 Travis Dye from Oregon, who averaged six yards on the ground last season and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. He ran for 1,271 yards and caught 46 passes for 402 yards and added a couple of reception TD's too.
Adding the next Dye in Raleek Brown in SC's 2022 recruiting class gives SC depth. It's not just one capable backup running back. Darwin Barlow is still around, and he did real well in his chances last season. What people are worried about as far as the offense is concerned, however, is the offensive line.
USC Football's offensive line is underrated.
USC football is returning four starting O-Linemen for 2022. That's four starting O-Linemen from PFF's No. 1 graded offensive line from 2021. In particular, SC brings back three impressive interior O-Linemen. Most notably is LG Andrew Vorhees who was the only lineman in America last year who put up both a 90+ pass-blocking and run-blocking PFF grade. Center Brett Neilon also had an elite season--not allowing a single sack in 534 snaps in 2021, which is the most snaps without allowing a sack last year by any Power 5 center.
The one hole SC had on the line was one of the tackle spots due to 2021 starter Jalen McKenzie going to the NFL Draft. They followed that up by getting a transfer from quality tackle Bobby Haskins (Virginia). Couple that lineup with the hiring of Josh Henson, who is one of the best O-Line coaches in the country and you have a solid offensive line.
The receivers will be good. SC got two more four-star transfer receivers in the ultra-talented Brenden Rice (Colorado's WR1) and one of Williams' favorite OU targets in Mario Williams for the slot. The team returns Tahj Washington (1,345 yards in last two years), Gary Bryant Jr., Kyle Ford, and more. They poached Terrell Bynum from Washington in the portal too (436 yards last year).
This will be an elite offense, but the issue is the defense. The previous Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator, Alex Grinch, is the new man in charge. He's certainly an upgrade over Todd Orlando, but it's worth noting that Grinch's defense regressed from the No. 21 D in the country (after he developed it from the No. 101 defense it was in 2018 before he got to Oklahoma) to the No. 60 defense in the nation this last season.
He's not on an upward trajectory anymore. That fact, along with a lot of uncertainty in the front seven is concerning. The D-Line only has one bona fide baller who is fully durable in Tuli Tuipulotu. Nick Figueroa and Brandon Pili are good players when healthy, but they have had injury history in their careers so far.
Sure, Korey Foreman is ultra-talented as the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation during the 2021 class, but he didn't show a ton last year. He'll be much better, but he hasn't arrived just yet. It's going to be up to Grinch to truly get the most out of him. If he starts dropping him back like Orlando did with Drake Jackson, his development may be stunted.
If he doesn't push him hard and toughen him up in practice, he may not find the necessary mindset to dominate offensive linemen. It's not clear that Orlando's toughness mantra actually had any action behind it. That will need to change with the new DC. That's also partly because the linebackers are a work-in-progress as well.
SC bagged an Auburn transfer who has proven that he can put pressure on the quarterback in the past in Romello Height, but he hasn't been able to put up big sack numbers. Former Alabama Freshman All-American Shane Lee was a perfect transfer portal pickup, but one man can't handle this entire linebacking crew.
Like his good friend Foreman, Raesjon Davis needs to recover from dealing with terrible coaches last year too. He's a major talent with great quickness that will be great for him as a WILL linebacker, but he like Foreman wasn't put into positions to succeed last year. Much of their success could depend on how fast Grinch can have them unlearn whatever foolishness Orlando taught them.
Perhaps he'll have a bit more time than expected, however, due to the secondary actually looking pretty promising. Xavion Alford will be back, and he looked solid last season. Calen Bullock has already shown what he's got, and that scouting report is impressive.
Solid nickelback Max Williams is back from injury, so he'll have a nice impact on this defense as well. At corner, SC brings over one of Colorado's captains who is one of the better corners in the Pac-12 in Mekhi Blackmon. Let's also not forget that Donte brought in the No. 5 overall recruit in the entire country in Domani Jackson to be CB2 this year. He's too talented to leave off the field. His physicality/speed combo gives the team the perfect mindset to have out on the grass.
Looking at this schedule, there are only two teams who will be ranked ahead of SC coming into the season: Notre Dame and Utah. The ND game will be at home, and the Utah game will be in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Given the strong offense, this team will be able to win against almost all of the inferior teams they play. For these two tougher contests, however, this potentially porous defense could be exposed.
Therefore, the team is not going to be elite. That being said, they will still be a good team who continues to stay ranked by season's end and wins close to ten regular season games. If the team wants to accelerate the process of getting back to glory, the defense will need to be built up at a much quicker pace than expected.