The USC Trojans were ranked sixth in the preseason power rankings with high hopes that they could end their championship drought. Last season, the Utah Utes wiped the Trojans dreams away after defeating them twice during the season.
Once again, the Utes would play Trojan Killer. On Utah’s game-winning drive, the Trojans would be flagged for a targeting penalty on 3rd & 9 that kept the drive alive. Moments later on 2nd & 15 with 15 seconds left in the game, they allowed a 26-yard rush which led to the game-winning field goal.
With the hype surrounding Caleb Williams possibly being a two-peat Heisman winner and the number one pick this Spring, a sendoff as a National Championship would’ve been storybook-like. The Trojans now won’t get that opportunity to do so.
USC Football: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
It’s hard to find many positives, especially considering a loss that just put an arrow through any playoff hopes but there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. Even with the loss, the Trojans sit in second place in the Pac-12, if the season ended today, they would be competing for a conference title against Washington. In two weeks, these two will face off in the Coliseum.
A conference championship isn’t out of the picture, but it’s a long shot. The Trojans have to win out and win impressively for the remainder of the season. If they can find a way to run the table, they could play their way into a New Year’s Six Bowl.
USC football is a perfect example of why wins are a team stat/accomplishment. Week in and out their offense puts on a clinic and has been the heartbeat of this team but this season has been a duplicate of last year’s team. Coming into this season there was plenty of emphasis on the defense and how they could be better. After their first game, the concerns surrounding the defense remained high and they haven’t figured it out yet. Over their last four games, their opponents are averaging 41 PPG.
Following the loss, Caleb Williams’ Heisman campaign may be over. After last season’s historic Heisman run, there was almost nothing stopping Williams from winning the award back-to-back. All that changed over the past two weeks. In their two losses, Williams has two touchdowns (one rush, one pass) and three interceptions. This season the Trojans are 0-2 against Top 25 opponents and they play three ranked opponents in their last four weeks. However, it doesn’t stop there, three of those games feature the number one, two, and four-ranked offenses in the conference.
USC’s season will go down as a failure. They had the fifth-best odds to win the National Championship in the preseason but that goal is out the door. In the latest AP Top 25 poll they’ve fallen to 24th and playing for nothing more than a conference title is an underachievement. The past two years the Trojans have been too talented to not reach the playoff or even win the conference, especially if they fall short this year.
There has been a lot that has come to light about this team. The most alarming is that they must score 35+ points to win games due to the defensive struggles but that won’t sail in 2024. Next season, they’re moving to a conference whose bread and butter is defense. Being in the Big Ten can go one of two ways.
The first is that they’ll thrive and all will be good. There are only three teams in the conference that are offensive powerhouses, the rest struggle to score points meaning they won’t have to be great defensively each week. They should most likely find success against the teams that won’t score a bunch. Of course, this is before Washington and UCLA join them as well.
On the other hand, their offense may not have that same explosion going forward. Considering Williams enters the draft — that’s already a big loss — but currently, there are eight teams allowing less than 20 PPG in the conference. USC is built to score big and make more plays than the opponent. It may not be easy for the Trojans to come by points, what happens if USC can’t move the ball and score like they’re used to?
Defensively, it may be time for them to move in a different direction. In Norman and now again, defense is the biggest obstacle for Lincoln Riley-coached teams. He was brought in to end the championship drought in Southern Cal but he won’t accomplish that unless there are changes. The loss to Utah may have been the wake-up call they needed.
The Trojans still have four regular season games to go and have to find ways to bounce back. They’ll have to put the loss behind them and focus on trying to win out, but it’s going to start with the defense challenging themselves to be better.