The Notre Dame Fighting Irish renew their rivalry with the Southern Cal Trojans in the 93rd meeting between the two schools and the first at the Los Angeles Coliseum since 2018. In three of their last five matchups in the rivalry, the Irish have been able to emerge with a win.
New Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley bolted from Oklahoma late last year to accept USC’s lucrative deal, coming after five seasons in which he compiled a 55-10 record. During that stint, he led the Sooners to four NCAA playoff appearances, though putting the Trojans into that realm may take a while. In an effort to expedite that process, a wealth of transfers are following his path to the Land of Troy.
Southern Cal Offense: Major Infusions of Talent
The transfer portal injected some immediate offense into the Trojans’ skill positions, beginning with quarterback Caleb Williams. He followed Riley from Norman to Los Angeles after an impressive first year with the Sooners, which included 21 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. Williams also serves as a running threat, so if Southern Cal has to use backup Miller Moss for an extended period, they’re in deep trouble.
Another key transfer will be former Oregon running back Travis Dye, who rushed for 1,271 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also catching 46 passes for the Ducks last year. Supplying depth here will be Stanford transfer Austin Jones as well as the Trojans’ top rusher from last season, Darwin Barlow, and top recruit Raleek Brown.
Receivers for Williams will also be newcomers for the Trojans, with Pitt transfer Jordan Addison coming off a 100-catch season. He’ll be joined in the Air Raid offense by Mario Williams, who’s coming along with Riley and Williams, while Colorado transfer Brenden Rice only had 27 catches in his two years but brings the intriguing bloodline of being the son of receiving legend Jerry Rice. Southern Cal returnees Tahj Washington and Gary Bryant will provide depth, while another Trojans vet, Malcolm Epps, is back at tight end.
Brett Neilon will anchor the Southern Cal and will have fellow returnees Courtland Ford and Andrew Vorhees on the left side at tackle and guard, respectively. Ford could be challenged by Virginia transfer Bobby Haskins. On the right side, Jonah Manheim will remain at tackle, with Justin Dedich expected to handle the duties at guard.
Southern Cal Defense: Improvement Could Provide Major Boost
As potent as the Trojans’ offense might be, their efforts might be undercut without strong performances among the Southern Cal defenders. There’s plenty of talent on the line, beginning with defensive tackle Tuli Tuipulotu, who hits hard and can get to the quarterback. Nick Figueroa is back at one end, with Stanley Ta’ufo’ou the current starter at nose tackle. That status could change if Brandon Pili can make it back from his Achilles injury that kept him off the field last year.
Either Auburn transfer Romello Height or returnee Korey Foreman will likely handle the Rush position. At weakside linebacker, Ralen Goforth is coming off his best season yet for the Trojans but could be challenged by Arizona State transfer Eric Gentry. In the middle, Alabama transfer Shane Lee figures to move into that spot.
Yet another Oklahoma transfer, Latrell McCutchin, will fill one of the two starting spots at cornerback as Colorado transfer Mekhi Blackmon is poised to take the other. There will be familiar faces back deep in Xavion Alford at strong safety and Calen Bullock at free safety, with Max Williams returning in nickel coverage after his knee injury.
Southern Cal Special Teams: Intriguing Potential with Some Concerns
After serving as a reserve placekicker last year, Alex Stadthaus will take over the job full-time this year after hitting on all 16 of his extra-point and field goal attempts. One potential concern is just how strong his leg will be over the course of the campaign. Heading the punting unit will be native Australian Atticus Bertrams. Bryant and Washington figure to be key players on the return unit if they don’t see much action among the receivers. Another possibility on returns is Michael Jackson, who had modest numbers on two efforts last season.
The Last Time Notre Dame Faced Southern Cal
Getting the second half of last season started on a bright note, the Irish held off a fourth-quarter comeback bid by the Trojans to win 31-16. Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams paced the offense with 138 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, marking the first of his two 100-yard rushing efforts of the year. Kyle Hamilton’s season-ending injury dampened some of the excitement over the win.