January 29, 2023

USC one win away from ending Pac-12’s five-year Playoff drought

USC Trojans Football

USC tight end Malcolm Epps walks towards the sideline after a timeout in the second quarter against Colorado Saturday October 2, 2021 at Folsom Field. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

There’s no denying the Trojans are resembling the glory days of Pete Carroll with the way they’re playing on the gridiron this season.

After the arrival of Coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, USC went from having a 4-8 record in 2021, to an 11-1 campaign this fall. That’s because Riley revamped the Trojans’ roster with a plethora of star players from the transfer portal. Most of those players became starters and delivered on the hype, including quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Jordan Addison.

Now Riley is on the verge of killing two birds with one stone in his first season in the Pac-12. The 39-year old has an opportunity to conquer the conference and end a five-year Playoff drought for the Pac-12. Washington was the last team from the league to accomplish that feat back 2016.

USC is fourth in the latest Playoff rankings, but a vaunted Utah team stands in its’ way of Pac-12 notoriety and postseason glory. The Utes are the reigning Pac-12 Champs, and they beat the Trojans by a point at home back in October.

Although USC led by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter in that clash, Utah (9-3) scored a touchdown in the waning minutes and converted a two-point conversion to pull off the upset. Now the Trojans have an opportunity to avenge their only loss of the season, and do it on the biggest stage in Las Vegas Friday night.

Riley has the Trojans playing their best ball too. USC has been averaging a jaw-dropping, 45.4 points per game since the loss to Utah. Williams has performed like the Heisman favorite up to this point also. The Washington D.C. native leads the Pac-12 with 34 touchdown tosses. He’s also numero uno in the league and sixth in the FBS in passing efficiency.  Williams’ ability to extend and execute plays is smooth as watching a cat swipe at yarn.

He’s arguably the most clutch player in the country. And Williams is proof why Riley is considered a quarterback guru. It’s obvious Riley is completely comfortable with Williams having the ball in his hands last. After all, the signal-caller torched the Utes’ vaunted defense for five touchdowns in their first meeting.

Still, Utah is more superior along the lines on both sides of the ball. It’s no mystery this game will be won in the trenches. The Utes like to pound the ball and quarterback Cameron Rising is deadly with his mobility and the play-action pass.

Riley’s defense failed him in the last time, so the unit will have to step up the intensity. Regardless, the Trojans’ defense has been their achilles heel all season long. And Coach Kyle Whittingham will be looking to expose the front seven again.

Riley can’t afford to let his foot off the gas if his team builds an early lead. It’s better to have Utah try to climb from behind, then let Rising control time of possession and keep USC’s explosive offense on the sidelines. Whittingham’s boys haven’t been getting enough respect this week, so they’re going to be feeling like they have something to prove.

And that’s a perfect scenario to play spoiler. Which is why Riley will need to keep his players focused on the task at hand, and not get distracted by all of the outside noise. All eyes will be on Allegiant Stadium Friday night. So Riley and the Trojans plan on taking advantage and making a statement for the rest of the Pac-12.