Ahead of its final tour through the Pac-12, USC has been picked as the preseason favorite to ride off into the sunset with a conference title in 2023.
Conference media voted USC as the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12, with 25 of 36 first-place votes going to the Trojans. Washington was picked to finish in second, followed by Utah third and Oregon fourth.
UCLA was picked to finish sixth, the same place they finished in 2023.
No one was quite as confident in the Trojans at this time last year, as Lincoln Riley took over a struggling outfit that finished 4-8 the previous season. USC was picked to finish third ahead of 2022, but outperformed expectations, winning 11 games and falling just short in the Pac-12 championship against Utah.
The expectations are much higher in 2023, with Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams back under center and much of his supporting cast returning. But the schedule is also far more exacting, with road trips to Notre Dame and Oregon on tap, as well as critical home matchups against Utah, Washington and UCLA.
The most pressing questions for USC will be on the defensive end, where the Trojans struggled mightily last season. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch returns for what’s expected to be a make-or-break season for the unit, which Riley has vowed to improve, in spite of losing the nation’s sack leader, Tuli Tuipulotu.
The additions of Oregon and Washington to the schedule after a three-year hiatus should only ratchet up that difficulty.
Nonetheless, the conference media appears to have faith Riley and USC will figure it out. If they do, a Pac-12 title could very well put them on course for a place in the College Football Playoff, just before the Trojans pack up and head to the Big Ten in 2024.