In his first season as USC football’s glitzy new coach, offensive wunderkind Lincoln Riley turned the Trojans from a Pac-12 to a College Football Playoff Contender. In characteristic Riley fashion, USC football was one of the most potent offensive outfits in the country, but were let down by a squishy defense that surrendered more than 40 points in each of USC’s two losses (both of which were to Utah). After hitting the transfer portal hard this offseason, though, Riley is confident that he now has a defense that’s good enough to take full advantage of Heisman winning quarterback Caleb Williams‘ presumed last year on campus.

“We brought in some good players up front. There’s no question about it,” Lincoln Riley said in a press scrum during spring practice, referring to defensive tackle Kyon Barrs (Arizona), edge rusher Jamil Muhammad (Georgia State) and lineman Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M). “And we’ve got a few more coming. There’s more competition. There’s less of a gap between what was good for us last year on the front and then kind of the gap between the next level was too big. The gap is much smaller. There’s a lot more competition, a lot more talent. I think this group has shown they have an opportunity to be more difficult for offenses to block than our group last year.”

Live and breathe sports?

🚨 Get viral graphics, memes, rumors and trending sports news delivered right to your inbox with the Clutch Newsletter.

On the whole, Riley remarked that he’s “very pleased with the progress defensively” that his team has shown during spring practice. As for whether the defense is actually improved or if it’s just pre-pre-season optimism, that remains a mystery. USC opens the 2023 football season on August 23d with a game against San Jose State, but don’t shouldn’t face a serious threat until a late September showdown with the revamped Colorado Buffaloes.