LOS ANGELES (AP) — Caleb Williams' remarkable rise through his first two seasons of college football was built on hard work and preparation, so the Southern California quarterback welcomes the chance to get an early start on reaching all of his remaining goals this fall.
The Heisman Trophy winner begins his second year at No. 6 USC on Saturday night against San Jose State, hitting the field one week earlier than most top programs. Williams is focused on beating the Spartans, yet he's also got history in mind.
“Immortality comes from championships and things like that, and I haven’t reached one here in college yet,” Williams said. "We've got a special, special moment here this year to be able to go reach one."
The Trojans' second season under Lincoln Riley is loaded with expectation, and the head coach isn't downplaying those aspirations while still acknowledging the work necessary to reach them. USC went 11-3 last season, but is actually on a two-game skid after losing the Pac-12 title game and the Cotton Bowl.
When asked what's different about USC a year later, Riley laughed.
“More good players, less bad players,” Riley said. "More depth in the front seven defensively is a big difference. Linebacker, defensive line, all levels, that feels a lot different. A little more competition across the board. ... But there’s still lot of youth on this team. It’s not like we return 20 starters, so we've got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of growing. We’ll have to grow some during these early games.”
And it isn't Williams' offense that's really under the spotlight, at least during the first half of a USC schedule that looks a whole lot less daunting than the second half.
The Trojans are nearly certain to score a bunch of points with the best quarterback in college football complemented by an improved offensive line and an impressive array of playmakers headlined by new running back MarShawn Lloyd and receivers Dorian Singer, Mario Williams, Raleek Brown, Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice.
But USC's defense didn't keep up with Williams' high-powered offense in several important games last year, and coordinator Alex Grinch's revamped group will get an early test from San Jose State quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, the mobile Hawaii transfer who led the Mountain West in yards passing last year for the 7-4 Spartans.
The Trojans finally have the chance to build on last year's successes while burying memories of their failure at the finish, and they can't wait to get to work.
“We've got to go out there and prove something," USC safety Bryson Shaw said. "Not that there wasn’t a high bar last year, but we hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we didn’t meet that standard last year, and it makes us mad. We want to reach that standard and exceed that standard this year.”
According to Grinch, Cordeiro is “just real slippery. Can make a bad play good. To say you've got a scrambling quarterback, if you’re surprised by it in this day and age, shame on you. So it’s our expectation every single week. It doesn’t make it any easier to defend.”
The Trojans landed another motherlode of talent in the transfer portal, and Saturday is the first chance to show it off. Singer and defensive lineman Kyon Barrs arrived from Arizona, and ex-Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander joined them. Linebacker Mason Cobb, formerly of Oklahoma State, should immediately have a prominent role on defense. Lloyd seems poised for a major role as well if Riley can unlock the potential that only flashed sporadically during three seasons at South Carolina. The Trojans' several promising freshmen include linebacker Tackett Curtis, who has wowed Grinch with his speed in picking up the defensive scheme.
USC has won all five meetings with San Jose State. The Trojans' underwhelming 30-7 victory over the Spartans in the 2021 season opener was the last game won at USC by coach Clay Helton, who was fired a week later following a loss to Stanford.
THE SECOND CENTURY
The Trojans are beginning their 101st season of play at the Coliseum, the school's home ever since it opened next to campus in 1923. USC has won 15 straight season openers in the Coliseum, and Riley has yet to lose at home after going 7-0 last year.
The Trojans and Spartans are meeting in a Week 0 game that represents USC's earliest start to a season since 1996 and its earliest game ever at the Coliseum. USC will have a second bye because of this early game, but it will be three months from now on Thanksgiving weekend after the Trojans have played all 12 of their regular-season games.
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