The USC Trojans (11-1, 8-1) and Utah Utes (9-3, 7-2) meet in Las Vegas on Friday night, with the Pac-12 on the line.
Playoff, Heisman Implications
For the Trojans, 2022 has been nothing short of a remarkable turnaround. In Year 1 of the Lincoln Riley era, USC’s new head coach has them in the spotlight.
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams, who came with Riley from Oklahoma, has been brilliant. With 3,712 passing yards and a 34-3 TD:INT ratio, Williams paces an offense that ranks 3rd nationally in points per game.
The numbers are nice but don’t nearly tell the whole story. Williams’ ability to escape and improvise has drawn comparisons to Patrick Mahomes and defenses have not had an answer.
With the Heisman Trophy ceremony next weekend, Williams is the heavy favorite and a win would certainly help his case.
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a College Football Playoff team since Washington in 2017, but a USC win could change that. Ranked 4th in the CFP Committee’s most recent ranking, a win would presumably punch USC’s ticket.
Early Pac-12 Rematch
Helping matters for USC’s playoff case is that the Trojans’ only loss this season was at Utah.
In an absolute barnburner of a primetime game, Utah won 43-42 on October 15. Kyle Whittingham’s Utes did not have an answer for Caleb Williams but rode a stellar performance from redshirt junior QB Cam Rising to victory.
A gutsy 2-point conversion call late sealed the home win for Utah in one of the season’s best games.
It’s never easy to beat the same group twice, especially with USC hitting its stride down the stretch. Pac-12 officials are likely hoping the Trojans can pull it off, given the CFP implications.
The Road Here
USC’s hopes for Lincoln Riley’s debut season were high, but few predicted this much success. The Pac-12 preseason favorite was Utah, who received 28 out of 33 first-place votes at Pac-12 Media Day.
The Utes started the year with a rare SEC road game, losing in dramatic fashion to Florida.
A season that began with rare playoff hype for the Utes has been solid, but losses in Pac-12 play to UCLA and Oregon have kept it from being special.
Still, a win Friday and Rose Bowl berth would mark a great year in Kyle Whittingham’s 18th season at the helm.
Lincoln Riley’s USC group seems to be hitting its stride at the right time. After a few subpar offensive showings early in conference play against Oregon State and Washington State, the Trojans scored over 40 points in 5 straight games before a 38-27 victory against Notre Dame last week.
While the defense has struggled all year, a bend-but-not-break approach against Notre Dame was a step forward.
If they can find a way to win one more, a playoff berth looks likely. Coverage on Fox starts at 8:00 ET.