USC football 2023 preview: Record prediction, breakout candidates, bowl game

Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams turned USC football around in Year 1. But Year 2 brings taller expectations and bigger questions.

USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley talks to quarterback Caleb Williams.
USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley talks to quarterback Caleb Williams. / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
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It's easy to forget that USC football entered 2022 with relatively modest expectations. Lincoln Riley had a full roster flip to complete and Caleb Williams wasn't yet a Heisman Trophy winner.

Going into the 2023 college football season, the expectations are as high as they've been for the Trojans in ages. For many USC fans, it's College Football Playoff or bust.

Is USC ready to take that leap? Or will last year's pitfalls remain?

USC football's 2022 season in review

The Trojans shot out of the gate with six wins in a row to start the 2022 season. A trip to Rice-Eccles brought them back to earth with a loss in a barnburner against Cam Rising's Utah.

In the second half of the season, two things were plain to see: 1. Caleb Williams was the best quarterback in the country, and 2. USC's defense might be the worst in the Power 5.

After exciting wins over UCLA and Notre Dame, USC went into the Pac-12 title game rematch against Utah with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. However, the wheels fell off as Williams was severely hampered by a hamstring injury.

The disappointment of losing the Pac-12 Championship was only compounded when defensive ineptitude and special teams blunders led to a stunning Cotton Bowl loss to Tulane.