LOS ANGELES — This was supposed to be the year.
After more than a decade of disappointments and underachieving, this was supposed to be the season that USC finally broke through. Led by second-year head coach Lincoln Riley and superstar quarterback Caleb Williams, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, the Trojans were a popular pick to win a loaded Pac-12 Conference and make their first ever College Football Playoff appearance.
It was supposed to be USC’s dream season, the one that Trojan fans had been waiting for ever since legendary head coach Pete Carroll left the program in January of 2010. But after two straight October losses to an old rival in Notre Dame and a relatively new foe in Utah, USC’s College Football Playoff hopes are dead before Halloween.
What was supposed to be the Trojans’ dream year is quickly turning into a nightmare.
To be clear, the season is far from over. USC is still very much alive in the Pac-12 title race. While the playoff might be out of the picture, the Trojans could still potentially win the conference and go to a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game.
But at this point, that feels like a massive long shot. After watching the Trojans get manhandled on the line of scrimmage by the Irish and make Utes’ backup quarterback Bryson Barnes look like a Heisman contender, does anyone really think that they can take down either Washington or Oregon—two top-ten teams with explosive offenses—let alone both?
Heck, the Trojans losing to crosstown rival UCLA at the end of the year suddenly looks like a very real possibility. In a season where the Trojans were expected to contend for a national championship, there is a legitimate chance that they could finish the year 7-5.
Talk about a potential nightmare scenario.
To be clear, this is not a call for head coach Lincoln Riley to be fired. Any talk of that is nonsense. You don’t fire a coach with a career winning percentage just shy of 83% because of one bad season.
But Riley will absolutely have a lot of issues to address this offseason. The first and foremost of those will be defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and a defense which ranks outside the top 100 in the country for the second consecutive season. But there are numerous other major question marks with the USC program as well, including play calling issues, offensive line struggles, and recruiting not quite being good enough.
But those are questions for a month down the line. Right now, the Trojans still have four more games left to play in 2023.
With three of those four remaining contests agains ranked opponents, USC has a major opportunity in front of it. But it also renders the possibility of a four or five-loss season a very real one.
The Trojans’ season is far from over. But right now, things are trending rapidly downward.
USC started off its 2023 campaign with big dreams. But right now, those dreams are starting to look more and more like a massive nightmare.