Pac-12 football preview: Predicting USC’s weekly results and win total Expectations are soaring in Year One of the Lincoln Riley era

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

USC Trojans

Coach: Lincoln Riley (first season)
Offensive coordinator: Josh Henson (first season)
Defensive coordinator: Alex Grinch (first season)

2021 record: 4-8/3-6

Last postseason appearance: 2019 Holiday Bowl (lost to Iowa)

Best-case 2022 scenario: 11-1
Worst-case 2022 scenario: 7-5

Projected starting quarterback: Caleb Williams

Key question: Will the Trojans justify the hype?

Here we go …

Sept. 3: vs. Rice
Result: win
Record: 1-0
Comment: Anything less than 52-7 will be a letdown for the faithful.

Sept. 10: at Stanford
Result: win
Record: 2-0/1-0
Comment: It won’t be clean or easy, but the Trojans collect their first win at Stanford since 2014 in their final appearance as a member of the Pac-12.

Sept. 17: vs. Fresno State
Result: win
Record: 3-0/1-0
Comment: Caleb Williams vs. Jake Haener and Lincoln Riley vs. Jeff Tedford under the Coliseum lights on the FOX broadcast network? Yes, please.

Sept. 24: at Oregon State
Result: loss
Record: 3-1/1-1
Comment: Better USC teams than this version have fallen a few points short in Corvallis. The early Riley-era euphoria fades to the reality of Helton-era roster deficiencies.

Oct. 1: vs. Arizona State
Result: win
Record: 4-1/2-1
Comment: Preparation edge to USC, which should be focused following the loss. Also, the Sun Devils will be not-so-fresh after facing Utah’s brutality.

Oct. 8: vs. Washington State
Result: win
Record: 5-1/3-1
Comment: Trojans won the past two duels by a combined score of 83-27, and we don’t see how the dynamics have changed significantly. If anything, USC’s edge has increased.

Oct. 15: at Utah
Result: loss
Record: 5-2/3-2
Comment: If the season plays out as we expect, this showdown of top-10/15 teams is slotted into the primetime window on FOX or ABC. Heck, maybe the GameDay crew hits Salt Lake City.

Oct. 22: idle
Comment: No competitive advantage; Arizona also has the week off.

Oct. 29 at Arizona
Result: win
Record: 6-2/4-2
Comment: Six of USC’s past seven trips to Tucson have resulted in one-score outcomes. This should be close throughout, with plenty of points on both sides.

Nov. 5: vs. Cal
Result: win
Record: 7-2/5-2
Comment: November is the time for Heisman candidates to shine. Williams makes his case as a one-man show against the Bears, who manage to shut down everyone else.

Nov. 11 (Friday): vs. Colorado
Result: win
Record: 8-2/6-2
Comment: Obvious trap situation for the Trojans, but Colorado doesn’t have the personnel to take advantage. We expect a Friday night snoozer.

Nov. 19: at UCLA
Result: win
Record: 9-2/7-2
Comment: The penultimate crosstown showdown as members of the Pac-12 is exactly the high-profile matchup in L.A. that the conference could have used last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and …

Nov. 26: vs. Notre Dame
Result: loss
Record: 9-3/7-2
Comment: A nine-win season would be poorly received in some corners of the USC universe. But we believe Riley needs one more recruiting cycle to build the lines of scrimmage to the point that playoff contention is reasonable.

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