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USC football: 2 Trojans breakout stars set for monster 2022 seasons in Pac-12

USC, Lincoln Riley

The arrival of Lincoln Riley at USC has sparked hope and excitement that had been longing at the program. Riley’s move to USC also helped to bring in multiple coveted talents via the transfer portal.

Caleb Williams headlined USC’s transfer activity this year, as he decided to follow Riley from Oklahoma to the Pac-12 powerhouse. Over on the defensive side of the ball, there will be several new faces, including cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, who elected to take his talents from Colorado to USC in January.

For the Trojans to meet the grand expectations that have been placed on them for the 2022 season, it will take a collective effort from the team to help the program return to the top of the mountain in the Pac-12. Among them, these two players must elevate their play and emerge as breakout stars for USC.

2 USC breakout stars set for monster 2022 seasons in Pac-12

Brenden Rice

Williams is expected to call upon Mario Williams and Jordan Addison to be his top two wideout targets in the 2022 campaign. From there, much uncertainty clouds just which talents will fill out the middle of the team’s depth chart at the position. At the least, Brenden Rice is expected to receive an opportunity to be USC’s No. 3 wide receiver this year, and he has what it takes to secure the role and not look back.

Rice, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice, joined USC as a transfer addition in January following a two-season run at Colorado. He is just coming off of a 2021 season where he recorded 21 receptions and 299 receiving yards in 10 games played.

From his big play capability to his breakaway speed in the open field, Rice can add another dimension to the Trojans’ passing game. More so, there is plenty of room for Rice to grow in his game, and with a creative offensive mind in Riley at the helm, the sky sure will be the limit for him in what is slated to be a fast-paced USC offense.

Overall, Williams will not only rely on the likes of Addison and Rice on a game-by-game basis. As Riley touched on during his Pac-12 Media Day press conference, the depth at the receiver position is quite stacked top to bottom.

“The receiving core obviously we’ve made a lot of additions and changes, too,” Riley said. “I mean, so many of those guys, obviously Jordan [Addison] and Mario [Williams] have been talked about quite a bit and deservedly so. Excited about Terrell Bynum, Brenden Rice, Tahj Washington, Gary Bryant. I think that’s a really intriguing group.

“We have some neat skill positions, have some guys that can stretch the field, make a lot of plays, give us some versatility.”

Solomon Byrd

USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has welcomed in multiple new additions on defense over the past months, including defensive lineman Solomon Byrd. After featuring for Wyoming in three seasons, Byrd, a former three-star recruit, decided to transfer to USC. He initially committed to Georgia Tech for the 2022 campaign, but after touching base with USC, he opted to then flip his call to the Trojans.

Byrd brings much-needed depth to USC’s front seven unit. He showcased over his tenure at Wyoming that he can be a disruptor in the backfield, as he logged 13.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks in 23 games played. His assertiveness in helping to stop the run sure is set to be vital for the Trojans, especially as they ranked in the bottom half in the Pac-12 last season in rushing yards allowed per game with a 167.2 average.

Byrd is set to have his work cut out for him to beat out Nick Figueroa to be the Trojans’ go-to starter at defensive end. Still, from Riley’s standpoint, he has had glowing reviews of what he has seen from Byrd in practice ahead of the upcoming campaign.

“He’s picked up our schemes very quickly,” Riley said on Friday. “The guy can naturally rush the passer. He’s been able to move around and play some different positions for us as well.

“So he did a good job getting his body into shape. We thought he came into summer a little bit out of shape, and that’s really changed.”

Rice and Byrd are each not going to be called on to continually be a force this season. But if they can provide for game-changing plays on a regular basis, it can all go a long way in the Trojans’ bid to run the table in conference play in the opening year of the Lincoln Riley era.