With July already in full swing, there isn’t much news to report on and recruitment slows down, however, it’s never too early for projections for the 2022 season. We’ll go over each USC Football position group offensively and defensively.
Caleb Williams: 4,100 Yards, 38 TDs, Eight Interceptions
There will be no quarterback competition this year with the Oklahoma Transfer coming off a hot start his freshman year. Being reunited with Lincoln Riley will be the reason Williams’s ceiling is so high this year being that it’s another year of familiarity in the system. I see him picking up right where he left off and developing connections with wideouts sooner rather than later.
Travis Dye: 1,000 Rush Yards, 12 TDs, 250 Rec Yards
Austin Jones: 500 Rush Yards, 12 TDs, 400 Rec Yards
I’m speculating a 70/30 split with Travis Dye getting a majority of carries, with Jones being the change of pace back. Dye is a better all-around back than Austin Jones, however, Jones is a known threat catching the ball out of the backfield, displayed by his time at Stanford, and could offer a lot in the passing game. Dye was the number one RB in the Pac 12 last year and I don’t see him slowing down this year with a much-improved offense.
Jordan Addison: 80 Receptions, 1,100 Rec Yards, 13 TDs
Gary Bryant Jr.: 55 Receptions, 600 Rec Yards, Five TDs
Mario Williams: 40 Receptions, 400 Rec Yards, Seven TDs
This might be the most stacked receiver room USC has ever had. Some can make the argument a couple of years ago with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman on the field. However, with the nation’s number one receiver in Jordan Addison, rising star Gary Bryant Jr., and transfers Mario Williams and Brendan Rice, it’s by far the deepest. In fact, ESPN has them ranked the #2 room in the nation this year.
I’m not expecting Addison to have another record-breaking year as he had at Pitt, although you can’t deny the talent and the target share he’ll demand this year. A lot of people believe Williams is the #2, and where that may be true on the depth chart, I think Gary Bryant Jr. will start hitting his stride this year as a top WR in the Pac 12.
Malcolm Epps: 20 Receptions, 200 Rec Yards
The tight end position is in good hands this year with Senior Malcolm Epps leading the room with Junior Jude Wolfe coming back for another year. Although a name that doesn’t get mentioned is Lake McRee who looked really poised and comfortable in crucial 3rd down situations.
DE Nick Figueroa: 20 Total Tackles, Three Sacks
NT Brandon Pili: 25 Total Tackles
DT Tuli Tuipulotu: 35 Total Tackles, Four Sacks
It’s hard to project the statistics of a defensive line that will most likely be aligned in the 3-3-5 scheme because it’ll lower sack totals just from being outnumbered on the line. I see the juniors and seniors returning to get back on track and record some sacks given the scheme change. Some would argue the defensive line this year is USC’s weakest position group. It’s certainly not the deepest on the team, with the news of moving to the Big 10 breaking, Southern California is going to have to boost recruiting in the trenches immensely.
MLB Shane Lee: 65 Total Tackles
OLB Romello Height: 25 Total Tackles, Two Sacks
DE/OLB Korey Forman: 20 Total Tackles, One Sack
OLB Eric Gentry: 35 Total Tackles, Four Sacks
Whether Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch deploys a 3-3-5 defense or a 2-4-5, the linebackers are going to be asked to do a lot more this year. I expect ASU transfer Eric Gentry to be out there as a primary rusher off the edge, however, it’s unclear if the coaching staff has Romello Height starting over former five-star recruit Korey Foreman. Either way, I think both will be successful since both are most effective at rushing the passer. Alabama transfer Shane Lee and senior Ralen Goforth will likely be in the field together but I have Shane Lee putting up stats just from his athleticism.
CB Latrell McCutchin: 30 Total Tackles, Two Interceptions, Five Passes Defensed
CB Mekhi Blackmon: 45 Total Tackles, Three Interceptions, Six Passes Defensed
S Calen Bullock: 40 Total Tackles, Three Interceptions, Four Passes Defensed
S Xavion Alford: 35 Total Tackles, Four Interceptions, Four Passes Defensed
Since we mentioned the position groups that are lacking depth it’s only right to mention one that has the talent and the depth. Transfers Mekhi Blackmon and Latrell McCutchin offer stability at corner with their experience at the position. Latrell isn’t afraid to play run defense with a PFF run-defense grade of 89 even though those snaps were limited. Mekhi Blackmon was also ranked a top-10 corner in the Pac 12 according to PFF last year.
Both freshman safeties Xavion Alford and Calen Bullock return for their sophomore season where they both looked really good on a shaky defense in 2021. Not to mention former five-star freshman Domani Jackson, and nickel back Max Williams who missed last season due to injury.
With this rotation of players and coaches like Alex Grinch and Donte Williams both being defensive back gurus, I fully expect this to be the best unit in the PAC 12.