Finishing up the first portion of the 2023 season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host another longstanding rival when the Southern Cal Trojans visit on October 14. With rare exceptions, the two schools have matched up against each other every year since 1925, with the Irish holding a 50-38-5 advantage in the series.
Entering his second year at the school, Southern Cal head coach Lincoln Riley managed to lead his team to 11 wins in 2022. However, that was marred by a pair of defeats to Utah and a Cotton Bowl loss to Tulane. Riley used an infusion of transfers to achieve success last year and is once again taking that route for the upcoming campaign.
Southern Cal Offense: Williams Aiming for Back-to-Back Heismans
Caleb Williams seamlessly moved in behind center for the Trojans last season and ended up winning the Heisman Trophy. That accolade came after he threw for 4,537 yards and tossed 42 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. He’s mobile enough to move and is a strong contender to again win college football’s most prestigious award.
Austin Jones is the top returnee at running back after gaining 705 yards on the ground and also catching 25 passes. However, he very well could be overtaken by MarShawn Lloyd, a South Carolina transfer who could be ready for a breakout season. Others that may end up carrying the ball are Raleek Brown, who gained 227 yards last season or Quinten Joyner, who brings athleticism and speed to the table.
When Williams goes to the air, a trio of returning wideouts will be among his options. That threesome of Tahj Washington, Mario Williams, and Brenden Rice combined for 119 receptions and 15 touchdowns. Yet, that total is likely to take a hit if Arizona transfer Dorian Singer again has an All-Conference season. At tight end, Lake McRee figures to get a stiff challenge from top prospect Duce Robinson, who presents a huge target.
Major changes on the line means that both guard slots will be held down by transfers. On the right will be Washington State transfer Jarrett Kingston and on the left side, Wyoming import Emmanuel Pregnon will try to open holes and protect Williams. Left tackle will have Florida transfer Michael Tarquin in that spot, while Jonah Monheim at right tackle and center Justin Dedich are returnees.
Southern Cal Defense: Strategic Transfer Repair
Despite collecting 11 wins in 2022, the Trojan defense ended up getting gouged on multiple occasions and ended up allowing 29.2 points per game. To address that concern, the entire front line got a new look through the transfer portal. A trio of new tackles figure to have an immediate impact, especially Georgia transfer Bear Alexander and Arizona import Kyon Barrs. That should allow Georgia State transfer Jamil Muhammad and Texas A&M pickup Anthony Lucas to thrive.
Among the linebackers in the 4-2-5 defense last year, two players combined for 149 tackles, yet may get lost in the shadow of a newcomer. Shane Lee and Eric Gentry are those returnees and are expected to share the weakside position. In the middle will be Mason Cobb from Oklahoma State, who had 96 stops, including 13 behind the line, for the Cowboys last year.
The secondary was one area that only required some offseason tweaking, with Arizona transfer bolstering the strong cornerback department. He’ll be joined by sophomore Ceyair Wright, with other talented players ready to back them up. At strong safety, Calen Bullock led Southern Cal with five interceptions and also knocked away five other passes. The free safety position will be a battle between Max Williams and Bryson Shaw.
Southern Cal Special Teams: Busy Times Ahead
Given the Trojans’ prolific scoring in 2022, kicker Dennis Lynch was a busy specialist with 74 extra points and 15 field goals on 22 attempts. Last year’s punter, Aadyn Sleep-Dalton, will try and hold on to his role against Eddie Czaplicki, another Arizona transfer. Among returners, Singer and Washington are expected to handle kickoffs, while freshman Zachariah Branch is a top candidate to return punts.
The Last Time Southern Cal Played Notre Dame
Closing out last year’s regular season, the Irish fell behind after one quarter by 10 points and, after slicing the deficit to three, were never able to get any closer in the 38-27 defeat. One major factor in the Torjans’ win was the 204 rushing yards they rolled up for the evening, with Jones collecting 154 of those yards. In contrast, the Notre Dame running game was stagnant, and two costly turnovers also hurt them.