USC football 2022 season prediction, preview, awards, 2022 bowl game

USC football has been utterly transformed over the last year with new head coach Lincoln Riley setting the Trojans up for some fun in 2022.

What a difference nine months can make. Less than year ago, USC was in tatters. Now, they’re a preseason Top 15 team.

All it took was enticing Lincoln Riley to leave Oklahoma for Los Angeles, then loading up in the transfer portal like no one has before.

There may be big question marks, but there is also huge excitement around the Trojans in 2022. That’s why USC lands at No. 9 in FanSided’s Preseason Top 50 Rankings,

USC football 2021 season in review

The Trojans wasted no time firing Clay Helton after his loss to Stanford in Week 2, ending his drawn-out and often disappointing tenure at the helm. Unlike past midseason firings, this one could only galvanize the team so much.

Under interim head coach Donte Williams, they looked rejuvenated against Washington State. It turned out to be a false dawn as the rest of the season was a miserable descent into the darkness of a 4-8 record.

Previewing USC Trojans offense for 2022 season

  • Returning starters (6): WR Gary Bryant Jr., WR Tahj Washington, LT Courtland Ford, LG Andrew Vorhees, C Brett Neilon, RT Jonah Monheim
  • Newcomers: QB Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), RB Travis Dye (Oregon), RB Austin Jones (Stanford), WR Jordan Addison (Pitt), WR Terrell Bynum (Washington), WR Brenden Rice (Colorado), WR Mario Williams (Oklahoma), OL Bobby Haskins (Virginia)
  • Impact player: QB Caleb Williams

The offense will have a ton of new faces, all of them more than welcome as Riley looks to bring his high-powered offense to Los Angeles.

It starts with quarterback Caleb Williams, the stud transfer from Oklahoma who will continue his story as Riley’s pupil with his starting place all but assured.

Williams will have a new receiving corps to throw to with familiar target Mario Williams joining him from Norman. Of course, the biggest prize of them all was Pitt receiver Jordan Addison, the Biletnikoff Award winner from 2021. Transfers from Colorado and Washington, Brenden Rice and Terrell Bynum respectively, will try to make a name for themselves alongside returning talents Gary Bryant Jr., Tahj Washington, Kyle Ford and others.

The running back group is almost exclusively made up of transfers, and they’re good ones. Travis Dye led Oregon in rushing last year while proving a dangerous weapon as a pass catcher. Austin Jones was Stanford’s primary rusher for the last two years. Darwin Jones joined up last year from TCU. The lone non-transfer in the group is highly-talented freshman Raleek Brown.

While the skill positions will look quite a bit different, four of five starters from last year’s offensive line are back, including AP and PFF All-Pac-12 first-teamer Andrew Vorhees. Virginia’s All-ACC honorable mention Bobby Haskins transferred in to take over at left tackle.

Previewing USC Trojans defense for 2022 season

  • Returning starters (3):  NT Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, DT Tuli Tuipulotu, LB Ralen Goforth
  • Newcomers: DL Solomon Byrd (Wyoming), DL Tyrone Taleni (Kansas State), Earl Barquet (TCU), DE Romello Height (Auburn), LB Eric Gentry (ASU), LB Shane Lee (Alabama), LB Carson Tabaracci (Utah), CB Mekhi Blackmon (Colorado), CB Jacobe Covington (Washington), S Latrell McCutchin (Oklahoma), S Bryson Shaw (Ohio State)
  • Impact player: Shane Lee

The defense will be even more transformed by transfers if new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has his way.

The defensive front has Tuli Tuipulotu back to lead the way along with Stanley Ta’ufo’ou at nose tackle and Nick Figueroa at defensive end. They’ll be supported by expanded depth via the transfer portal, including Auburn edge rusher Romello Height, who looks in line to start over former five-star Korey Foreman.

At linebacker, former Alabama Freshman All-American Shane Lee is likely to be the most important transfer of them all. His presence could transform a unit that has underperformed for years. Ralen Goforth will return as a starter though ASU transfer Eric Gentry will also look for plenty of playing time.

The secondary lost both starting cornerbacks from last year, leaving Colorado transfer Mekhi Blackmon to lock down one spot while Washington transfer Jacobe Covington, five-star freshman Domani Jackson and others battle it out for the other starting job.

The safety group was reinforced by Ohio State transfer Bryson Shaw and Oklahoma transfer Latrell McCutchin but standout youngster Calen Bullock and last year’s Texas transfer Xavin Alford should step into starting roles.

USC football players awards watch for 2022 season

Caleb Williams, Heisman/Camp/O’Brien/Maxwell

Williams comes into his sophomore campaign with even greater expectations than before after swapping his Oklahoma crimson for USC cardinal.

Tuli Tuipulotu, Lombardi/Bednarik/Nagurski

Tuipulotu led the Trojans with 5.5 sacks last season and is now a pivotal figure as the defense looks to rebuild under Grinch.

Jordan Addison, Biletnikoff/Maxwell

Addison is the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner and he’s going to team up with a talent-loaded offense. Of course, he’s on the national award radar.

Andrew Vorhees, Lombardi/Outland

Vorhees anchored a better-than-expected USC offensive line last season, getting a third-team AP All-American nod. His return will give the Trojans some much-needed reliability up front.

Travis Dye, Doak Walker

Dye led the Pac-12 in total yardage last year while playing for Oregon. He’ll try to up his profile as the counterpunch to USC’s dangerous passing offense.

Malcolm Epps, Mackey

Epps had the most production among USC tight ends in 2021, but that only meant 171 yards and a touchdown. Riley’s offense could give him a chance to shine much brighter.

Austin Jones, Doak Walker

Jones had 378 yards in a Stanford rushing offense that didn’t look built to thrive. He’s a Doak Walker Award watch lister because his potential could be unlocked by Riley and company.

Brett Neilon, Rimington

Neilon returns with an All-Pac-12 first team nod from Pro Football Focus and plenty of veteran experience at center.

Brendan Rice, Hornung

Another Pac-12 transfer with an incredible football heritage, Rice has hopes of making waves at his new home in the conference as an all-purpose threat.

USC football biggest game on 2022 schedule

It would be easy to point to the road game at Utah on Oct. 15, since that will be the Trojans’ biggest test in the first half of the season. However, USC can lose that game and still make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Instead, let’s go with a rivalry game that will give Riley and company an opportunity to prove how far they progressed in Year 1. We’re talking Nov. 19 at UCLA. The Bruins put up 62 points on the floundering Trojans last year. Riley will need to make a statement in his first Crosstown Showdown.

USC football best-case scenario

The College Football Playoff. Seriously. This USC team could turn 4-8 into a playoff berth in less than a year if literally everything goes right.

If Williams lives up to his Heisman potential and Addison forms a deadly connection while Dye and company run the ball effectively, the Trojan offense could quickly become the best in the west.

The biggest “if” is on defense. If Grinch brings together USC’s latent talent while breathing new life into transfers like Lee and Height, people will stop talking about the defense as a liability. And look out for a breakout season from Bullock, who has All-American potential.

It would start with an 11-1 record, perhaps an early road loss to Utah, an upset of Notre Dame in the regular season finale, then a Pac-12 Championship and end with a playoff berth.

USC football worst-case scenario

This was a 4-8 team last season and Riley has a lot of work to do to turn the culture of the program around.

If the offense has any sort of growing pains despite their talent in the early part of the season, the Trojans could be vulnerable in games against Stanford, Fresno State and Oregon State.

If the defense never stabilizes, there’s little hope of beating the likes of Utah, Notre Dame or even UCLA.

There’s too much talent and proven coaching to miss bowl eligibility but it could be an easy slip to 7-5.

USC football 2022 season prediction

When they’re good, USC is going to be very good in 2022. Riley has a quarterback already familiar with his system running the show and more than enough skill talent to put up 40 points regularly.

Meanwhile, Grinch has had success with far less in the Pac-12, dating back to his time at Washington State.

However, anyone who expects no hiccups from this squad is kidding themselves. Simply because there are too many new pieces that need to come together, USC will lose a game in the opening six weeks of the season, whether road trips to Stanford or Oregon State or a tricky out-of-conference matchup with Fresno State.

They’ll come into the game against Utah with one loss and leave with a second. The Utes are just too good at home.

From there, it all depends on how Riley rallies the troops in the second half of the season. His success at Oklahoma suggests he knows how to do that. The Trojans will rip off four straight wins, including a rivalry victory over UCLA before suffering a tough loss to Notre Dame to cap a 9-3 regular season.

USC football 2022 bowl game prediction

Bill Bender of Sporting News put the Trojans in the Cotton Bowl against Houston.

College Football News expects even more from USC, pitting them against Alabama in the Peach Bowl playoff semifinal.

Up Next: No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Other articles in this series:

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