We are less than six weeks away from the official start of a new era of USC football. Before you know it, you’ll be watching Lincoln Riley coach his first official game at the Coliseum, and enjoying the wealth of new talent the Trojans now possess on the field. With all of those new players, from Caleb Williams to Romello Height, will come some very interesting matchups within each of USC’s games this upcoming year. So, let’s take a look at one specific matchup in each game that could dictate the outcome for USC Football in 2022.
Game 1: Rice
USC QB Caleb Williams Against The Rice Secondary
Rice has struggled to defend the pass throughout head coach Mike Bloomgren’s tenure. The Owls lost their best tackler from a secondary that already allowed the eighth-most passing yards per game in the nation last year. So, this should be a fairly easy matchup for Williams to settle into an almost completely new offense around him. Still, that’s a task easier said than done, so don’t be surprised if it takes a quarter or two for the USC offense to find a rhythm around its quarterback.
Game 2: Stanford
Stanford WR Brycen Tremayne Against USC CB Mekhi Blackmon
The Trojans lost both starting cornerbacks from last season, so the transfer Blackmon will have to instantly become their top guy at that position, though he is definitely capable. He should face a tough early test in the speedy Tremayne, who averaged almost 19 yards per catch in 2020. The Stanford offense fell off a cliff once he got hurt after five games last season, so containing the downfield connection of Tremayne and his quarterback, Tanner McKee, will be the key for USC.
Game 3: Fresno State
Fresno St QB Jake Haener Against USC FS Calen Bullock
Trojan fans probably remember Haener from happily watching him hobble down the field late at the Rose Bowl throwing dimes to beat UCLA last year. One of the top non-Power 5 quarterbacks in the nation, Haener looks to build off a 4,000-yard 2021 season with 33 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.
On the other side, Bullock needs to continue to build off the potential he showed in six starts last season, and he will be needed to contain Haener’s deep passing ability. The Bulldogs’ quarterback had seven 60-yard completions last season, the second-most of anyone in the nation.
Game 4: Oregon State
OSU RBs Deshaun Fenwick And Trey Lowe Against USC LBs Shane Lee And Ralen Goforth
B.J. Baylor ran for 158 yards last season for the Beavers against USC. The good thing for the Trojans is that he is gone. The bad news is that USC also gave up 164 rushing yards to people not named B.J. Baylor in that game. Most of those guys are returning, including Fenwick, who should step into the lead-back role. Lee and Goforth will need to play smart in order to limit these Beaver backs, along with dual-threat quarterback Chance Nolan, on the ground to give USC a chance to win.
Game 5: Arizona State
USC OL Andrew Vorhees Against ASU LB Kyle Soelle
Soelle is arguably the Sun Devils’ best remaining player after a large exodus of talented players away from the program this past offseason due to alleged recruiting violations. The team’s defensive captain had eight tackles for loss last year and led the team in tackles, so he will be the main focus of the Trojans’ blocking scheme. Luckily for USC, Vorhees was just named by PFF as the best interior offensive lineman in the nation in 2022, which should help keep Soelle out of the Trojans’ backfield.
Game 6: Washington State
WSU QB Cameron Ward Against The USC pass rush
Ward is a transfer from the FCS program Incarnate Word, and he threw 47 touchdowns last season to just 10 interceptions. He has good mobility and an even better arm, but the big question is whether or not his mental game can make the jump from FCS to Power 5 opposition. USC’s pass rush disappointed last year, but the addition of transfer edge rusher Romello Height along with existing talent like Nick Figueroa and Korey Foreman could make things difficult for Ward.
Game 7: Utah
USC QB Caleb Williams Against Utah QB Cameron Rising
While this isn’t an offense-vs-defense matchup like the others listed above, it might be the most fun battle Trojan fans will see all year. Utah’s offense looked as good as ever once Rising became the starter a couple of weeks into the season, with his breakout performance coming against the Trojans at the Coliseum. Rising and Williams are probably the two best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 heading into next year, and it’s likely they get into a Salt Lake City shootout in mid-October.
Game 8: Arizona
USC Wide Receivers Against The Arizona Secondary
It’s a little unfair to only highlight one or two USC receivers here because there’s so much talent in that receiver room. It shouldn’t be unrealistic to think that the Trojans will have six or seven receivers play a significant role in 2022. Thankfully for the Wildcats, their secondary is the most experienced area of the team, and they will need all of their veterans to show up in order to hang with USC’s endless receiver depth, led by reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison.
Game 9: California
USC HC Lincoln Riley Against Cal HC Justin Wilcox
Yes, this isn’t a direct matchup between the sidelines, but hear me out. Wilcox is one of the more respected defensive minds in college football, and his Cal teams have had sneaky good defenses throughout his tenure that haven’t gotten much attention. However, the Golden Bears will be replacing a lot of key pieces on both ends. That will put greater emphasis on Wilcox’s creative defensive gameplans in order to limit Riley and the Trojans’ seemingly limitless offensive ceiling.
Game 10: Colorado
Colorado Offensive Line Against USC Pass Rush
The Trojans’ pass rush will be a key part of this team as a whole in 2022 after underwhelming the year before, even with a wealth of talent. USC only had 21 sacks last season, but almost a quarter of them came in just one game in Boulder. Colorado QB Brendan Lewis was pressured on almost half his dropbacks — one of the highest rates in the nation — and sacked more than anyone in the Pac-12 in 2021. So, the Trojans’ focus should be to carry over their momentum at the line of scrimmage against Colorado from last season into next.
Game 11: UCLA
UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet Against USC RB Travis Dye
Both teams should have more backs in the fold for this game, but these two seem primed to shine in this rivalry contest. Charbonnet ran for 167 yards and a score against USC last season. Dye (while at Oregon) had FOUR touchdowns against the Bruins a few weeks earlier. Whoever puts up a closer stat-line to their 2021 highlight games on November 19, 2022, will give his team a very good chance to win the Crosstown Showdown.
Game 12: Notre Dame
Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer Against Whoever Is Going To Guard Him From USC
With lackluster talent at receiver and turnover at quarterback and running back, Mayer is far and away the guy in the spotlight for the Irish offense. Mayer is a Travis Kelce-like player in many ways, as he can run routes from anywhere on the field and block more than competently. This makes him a matchup nightmare for any team, including USC, who will likely need a cast of characters to limit his offensive impact.