Lincoln Riley and USC enter the 2023 season with lofty aspirations, and for good reason. With the reigning Heisman Trophy winner back among the USC Trojans 10 returning players, it’s easy to see why the Trojans are in the national championship conversation.
USC Trojans Top 10 Returners in 2023
Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes that were included on each team’s roster page to open fall camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.
1) Caleb Williams, QB
It’s fitting that the Johnny Manziel documentary came out this summer because Caleb Williams will create some of his own Manziel Magic in 2023. It’s been a decade since we’ve seen some of the wizardry he produces on a weekly basis, and it’s a huge reason why Williams has a strong case for being the first two-time Heisman winner since Archie Griffin.
Riley is still looking for his first playoff win, and he has the quarterback to get him there. Williams is a special player, and currently, everyone else is gunning for the role of QB1 in college football. If everything goes according to plan, we’re set for a legendary season, at least as long as the defense gets their act together.
2) Eric Gentry, LB
With the talent level returning to the USC Trojans and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, there aren’t any more excuses. Eric Gentry has a future in the NFL, and adding size to his frame only makes him even more menacing.
Gentry’s an athletic linebacker who can cover well in space. His length jumps out too, and that’s helped him create turnovers for the Trojans. That aspect of this team is huge, as more turnovers mean giving this explosive offense more opportunities to put points on the scoreboard.
3) Calen Bullock, S
Again, the talent level is elite on defense. How Grinch gets it to translate to the field remains the question, but a guy like Calen Bullock gives them an umbrella on the back end of the defense. He led the team with 5 interceptions last year, and he’s already a potential first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Bullock’s a fluid mover, meaning there’s not a ton of wasted energy for him to get somewhere or change direction. USC’s front seven must identify a few new pieces, but the secondary appears set to make plays even if that group needs more time.
4) Shane Lee, LB
Shane Lee finally got another opportunity to start, and the USC Trojans are happy he decided to transfer from Alabama. Lee posted 79 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks on his way to becoming an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection.
If he can elevate his game even more, I like what the USC front seven can do.
5) Dorian Singer, WR
Arizona’s rise in the Pac-12 came from a number of things, but the emergence of Dorian Singer helped tremendously. He took his talents West to join the Trojans, and USC now has a replacement for Jordan Addison.
Catches will come at a premium in this offense thanks to a deep group of receivers, but Singer could be the stud of the group. He nearly averaged 17 yards per catch with the Wildcats, and Lincoln Riley’s track record says that should help him post even bigger numbers for his new team this year.
6) Mario Williams, WR
Even while Addison stole the spotlight, other players like Mario Williams found ways to stand out. The former Oklahoma Sooner followed Riley and Caleb Williams to USC, giving the Trojans another formidable threat out wide.
At 15.8 yards per catch in 2022, Williams will challenge his teammates for catches and put pressure on opposing defenses quite frequently.
7) Brenden Rice, WR
Given the amount of talent at wide receiver, someone is going to be an underrated player because of it. Brenden Rice appears to be one of those guys. It could also be Tahj Washington, Michael Jackson III, Kyron Hudson, or even freshman Zachariah Branch. The point is, USC’s passing attack is loaded, so good luck stopping them.
Rice isn’t a slouch, just in case anyone was thinking that. He caught 39 passes last year and turned that into 611 yards (15.7 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. Given the family pedigree, it shouldn’t be a shock to see him thrive. With that DNA, we should probably expect a few highlight-reel catches that not many other receivers can make.
8) Austin Jones, RB
Losing Travis Dye hurts, but Riley and the Trojans reload with Austin Jones. The former Stanford transfer took over when Dye went down with an injury last year, and he produced 702 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. H
e also added 267 yards (10.7 ypc) and another score as a pass catcher.
Balance will still be key for this offense, but the rushing attack figures to benefit the most from Caleb Williams running the show. Teams will put their resources toward containing Williams and the passing attack, so a guy like Jones figures to see clearer running lanes thanks to that.
9) Raleek Brown, RB
I stand with the notion that the USC Trojans need to find ways to get Raleek Brown and his speed involved more in the offense. We’ve seen what Lincoln Riley can do with speed (see Hollywood Brown at Oklahoma), and the results are deadly.
Some of this is on Brown too. He needs to become an invaluable resource for this offense as a runner and a pass catcher. Touches will come at a premium thanks to a loaded offense, and Brown’s speed could ensure that he won’t need many opportunities to gash the opposing defense.
10) Max Williams, S
Bullock will receive most of the attention, but the Trojans also have a solid player in Max Williams. He posted 79 tackles and 2 interceptions last year, and his experience returning helps this defense tremendously.
This group also benefits from facing an elite group of receivers in practice, and that should only elevate this team.