As it was, USC had a whole lot of talent.
It might not have had the high level that Alabama and Ohio State and Georgia could boast, and Oregon probably had the best starting 22 in the Pac-12, but the guys were in place no matter who was going to take over as the head coach.
And then came Lincoln Riley, combined with the new and more relaxed rules of the transfer portal, and the explosion of NIL and all the opportunities that came with that, and kaboom.
USC loaded up with lots and lots and lots of fantastic players who wanted to be part of the fun.
The program got the Oklahoma Heisman-caliber quarterback, landed one of the best running backs in the country – with the double boost of getting him away from Oregon – and signed on the best wide receiver in college football in 2021.
Here are the 10 best USC players going into the season – and there are at least 10 more who could’ve made this list.
Caleb Williams, QB Soph.
The 6-1, 215-pound sophomore burst on the scene with a breathtaking touchdown run to change around the Texas game, led the way to a shocking win, and never looked back.
He might have had some lulls in the passing game, but he’s leadership and maturity for his age, smarts, and dual-threat ability make him one of the nation’s most dangerous all-around quarterbacks.
In just over half a season of work, he completed 136-of-211 passes (65%) for 1,912 yards and 21 touchdowns and four interceptions, and he ran 79 times for 442 yards and six scores.
Jordan Addison, WR Jr.
The 6-0, 175-pound Biletnikoff winner as the nation’s top wide receiver, All-American, and All-ACC star caught 160 passes for 2,259 yards – averaging 14.1 yards per catch – with 21 touchdowns and 114 rushing yards and a score in his two years at Pitt. He averaged 14.3 yards per punt return and 19.5 yards per kickoff return.
Tuli Tuipulotu, DT Jr.
One of the nation’s top defensive tackles and a big-time pro prospect, the 6-4, 290-pound First Team All-Pac-12 defender made 70 tackles with 7.5 sacks, ten tackles for loss, broken up two passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered one for a score in his two seasons.
Travis Dye, RB, Sr.
The 5-10, 200-pound two-time Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 back from Oregon ran 521 times for 3,111 yards – 6 yards per carry – with 21 touchdowns, and caught 83 passes for 869 yards and eight scores in his four seasons with the Ducks. He also averaged over 20 yards per kickoff return and 10.4 yards per punt return.
Brett Neilon, C Sr.
The 6-2, 295-pound two-time Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 center is going into his fourth year at the position.
Nick Figueroa, DE Sr.
The 6-5, 275-pound former JUCO transfer and Cal Poly Mustang made 46 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss with a fumble recovery in his first three seasons.
Ralen Goforth, LB Sr.
The 6-2, 225-pound outside linebacker has made 104 tackles with four tackles for loss with a forced fumble and fumble recovery in his three years.
Andrew Vorhees, OG Sr.
A 6-6, 325-pound mainstay on the line, he started the last four years for the Trojans and is now firmly entrenched at left guard. Honorable Mention All-Pac-12.
Courtland Ford, OT Soph.
The 6-6, 305-pound sophomore is growing into a top pro prospect at left tackle after seeing time early in his career at guard. He started most of last year but missed a few games hurt.
Mario Williams, WR Jr.
The 5-9, 185-pound former superstar five-star No. 1 wide receiver-in-the-nation recruit hasn’t broken out yet, but the talent is there to explode. He caught 35 passes for 280 yards and four scores and ran 12 yards last year for the Sooners.