4 Players USC Trojans Must Target In The Transfer Portal, Including Walter Nolen

College football’s transfer portal has been very kind to Pac-12 teams recently, including the USC Trojans. With Caleb Williams likely headed for the NFL, it’s time to start looking at potential transfer portal targets for USC this winter.

The Trojans’ roster has some obvious needs as we look ahead to the 2024 campaign. After all, USC ranked 116th in total yards allowed per game (438.8) and opponents averaged a 150.9 QB rating (115th in FBS) against USC’s defense. A new defensive coordinator will help, but talent wins championships.

Related: USC Trojans starting QB for Holiday Bowl revealed

Let’s highlight four potential USC Trojans targets in the 2023-’24 transfer portal

Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma
Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports

While Miller Moss might start in the Holiday Bowl, it’s hard to believe Riley and the Trojans’ coaching staff would be comfortable with him as the full-time starter in 2024. As for Malachi Nelson, USC has made it fairly clear that he’s not ready. Enter Dillon Gabriel, becoming the next Oklahoma Sooners star who could potentially leave for the West Coast.

  • Dillon Gabriel stats 2023: 87.3 QBR (4th in FBS), 30-6 TD-INT, 3,660 passing yards, 69.3 percent completion rate, 9.5 yards per attempt, 12 rushing touchdowns

It also already appears that Gabriel is on the Trojans’ radar, with Pete Nakos of On3Sports reporting USC as one of three teams to watch. Even from a narrative perspective, it would be fitting for the Sooners to lose another star quarterback to Riley and the good life in Southern California.

Gabriel offers several intriguing qualities, too. The 5-foot-11 quarterback is very comfortable in an offense that relies heavily on play-action concepts. While 38.5 percent of Williams’ pass attempts this season came on play-action per Pro Football Focus, 52.3 percent of Gabriel’s attempts came on play-action. Combine that with the statistical comparison on deep shots and it’s clear why Gabriel can fit this offense.

NFL QB ratingPFF gradeCompletion RateYPA
Caleb Williams on PA110.870.868%8.7
Dillon Gabriel on PA124.99.367.7%11.0
Caleb Williams on deep throws124.190.251.5%20.3
Dillon Gabriel on deep throws114.695.150%20.0
Statistics via Pro Football Focus. Deep throws are 20-plus yards downfield

Joey Slackman, Penn defensive lineman

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington State
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The best defenses at any level are successful firstly because they can generate pressure up front. Look at the NFL today, the team leaders in pressure rate are the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. In college football, Penn State, Alabama and Michigan had three of the highest sack rates in the nation.

Related: USC Trojans coach Lincoln Riley visits top transfer portal QB

USC must win the battle in the trenches and there’s one player every Power 5 program that has any interest in competing for a national championship is pursuing. Penn defensive lineman Joey Slackman is one of the most coveted players in the transfer portal. Fittingly, his list of offers from SEC and Big Ten bluebloods is just as big as his size (6-foot-4, 300 lbs.). USC has offered him as of last week.

  • USC Trojans run defense (2023): 183.7 rushing yards per game allowed (115th), 4.8 yards per carry allowed (104th), 9.3 rushing first downs per game (104th)

Slackman was the lone standout on the Pennsylvania Quakers’ defense, meaning opponents could double and triple-team him to limit his production. That’s why he’s never averaged more than four sacks in a season. However, PFF data highlights his true dominance. Slackman registered a 90.1 PFF grade this season and was credited with 18 pressures and 12 tackles for loss. Just as crucially for USC, one of the nation’s worst run defenses, Slackman had the highest PFF run-defense grade (92.8) among all FBS and FCS players.

Related: Top defensive player in transfer portal receives offer from USC Trojans

Upton Stout, Western Kentucky cornerback

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

It can’t be understated just how bad USC was against the pass this season. Quite simply, Alex Grinch’s system and the personnel on the roster made opposing quarterbacks nearly as effective as Caleb Williams. Everything about this side of the ball has to change in 2024.

  • USC Trojans pass defense (2023): 62.8 percent completion rate (95th in FBS), 7.9 yards per attempt (89th), 10.8 passing first downs per game (96th), 255.2 pass ypg allowed (255.2)

Related: Latest news, rumors on USC Trojans athletics

Once a three-star recruit and the 127th-rated safety in his class, Upton Stout proved at Western Kentucky that he deserves to be playing at a higher level. He proved extremely sticky in coverage, holding opponents to a 56.7 percent completion rate with a 66.3 quarterback rating NFL allowed when he was targeted.

On 30 passes thrown his way in over 200 passing snaps, Stout allowed just 17 receptions, 222 receiving yards and zero touchdowns. He might not necessarily be a No. 1 cornerback, but he can be a nice piece in USC’s secondary next season and the Trojans have already offered him. If Stout wants to play in the NFL, D’Anton Lynn’s background as a secondary coach with the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens provides the teaching needed for Stout to achieve his goals.

Related: Final Heisman Trophy rankings

Walter Nolen, Texas A&M defensive lineman

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Texas A&M
Dustin Safranek-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn’t be a list of USC Trojans transfer portal targets without the best player on it. We already highlighted the importance of creating pressure and interior penetration. Adding Slackman would help that, but one massive piece on the interior defensive line isn’t enough. Walter Nolen can be USC’s X-factor.

  • USC Trojans pass rush: 6.44 percent sack rate (57th in FBS), 2.3 sacks per game (52nd)

Nolen hasn’t quite met expectations at Texas A&M, but that likely says a lot more about the Aggies’ player development. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive lineman was the No.2-ranked recruit in the 2022 class, drawing comparisons to NFL star Dexter Lawrence.

Nolen showed flashes on the Aggies’ defense, posting an 8 percent pass-rush win rate and recording 17 pressures in 213 pass-rush snaps. It’s clear, however, that he would benefit from being paired with a great coach. Enter D’Anton Lynn. The new Trojans’ defensive coordinator just helped Laiatu Latu improve from a 19 percent PRWR in 2022 to a 23.3 percent PRWR in 2023.