USC will hold its annual spring game on Saturday afternoon.

This is a crucial offseason for the Trojans, who will be seeking redemption this fall after falling well short of expectations in 2023. Despite entering the year with College Football Playoff aspirations, USC went just 8-5 and fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch midway through the year.

USC’s defensive issues are well-documented, but the Trojans also have questions to answer offensively as well. The 2024 campaign will mark the first time someone other than Caleb Williams will enter the season as USC’s starting quarterback during the Lincoln Riley era.

Here’s something to watch for on both sides of the ball in USC’s spring game:

USC’s quarterback competition

Miller Moss, Jayden Maiava and Jake Jensen are all battling for the right to replace Williams in USC’s starting lineup this spring.

Moss and Maiava are widely considered to be the leading candidates for the role, and both players have some unique advantages in this competition.

For Moss, he has time in Riley’s system on his side. Moss is entering his 4th season at USC and has been a key reserve at the quarterback position over the past couple of years with the Trojans. He also got the start in USC’s bowl game win last year after Williams opted out and took full advantage of that opportunity. Moss threw for 372 yards and 6 touchdowns in a dominant win over Louisville.

Maiava was brought in as a transfer this offseason and has some quality experience on his résumé as well. Last year at UNLV, he completed 63.5% of his passes for 3,085 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 8.7 yards per attempt led all qualified Mountain West quarterbacks in 2023. He also rushed for 277 yards and 3 more scores.

Riley famously keeps information on quarterback competitions close to the vest, and that has remained the case this offseason. Riley has not tipped his hand as to who will start in the spring game on Saturday, but said all 3 of Moss, Maiava and Jensen will see time.

“We’ll rep all 3 of those guys probably pretty similar to how we repped them in the spring,” Riley said. “Which has been Miller, Jayden and Jake. They’re certainly all getting competitive reps every day.”

Given his bowl game performance, it seems Moss likely has the edge in this battle for now. But Maiava’s track record is impressive, and seeing these quarterbacks continue their battle on Saturday will likely be the most intriguing part of USC’s spring game.

First look at USC’s defense under De’Anton Lynn

USC hired D’Anton Lynn away from UCLA this past offseason as the Trojans look to to shore up their defense in 2024 and beyond.

Lynn has become a very highly-respected defensive mind, particularly for what he accomplished while working under Chip Kelly in Westwood. The Bruins led the Pac-12 in yards-per-play allowed last season with just 4.63.

USC’s move to the Big Ten will almost certainly complicate matters as the Trojans will face the likes of Michigan, Penn State and Maryland in 2024.

USC was dreadful against both the run and the pass last season. The Trojans finished dead last in the Pac-12 in yards-per-carry defense and 11th (ahead of only Stanford) in the league in pass defense efficiency rating.

Improving the defensive line would help both of those areas significantly, and it sounds as though the Trojans may not be done adding talent at that position this offseason. Riley acknowledged while talking with reporters last week that USC could look to add another lineman through the portal.

“We might,” Riley said when asked about defensive line additions. “We’ll certainly look and evaluate the spring. That’s one of those positions you never completely shut the door on.”

Of course, USC has already explored the portal when it comes to the secondary. USC added a couple of ex-UCLA defensive backs in Kamari Ramsey and John Humphrey who are expected to play key roles this season. Former Oregon State safety Akili Arnold and former Mississippi State cornerback DeCarlos Nicholson also signed with the Trojans during the winter transfer period.

While speaking with reporters earlier this week, Riley singled out Ramsey as a player who has taken a big leap this spring.

“He’s done a great job just coming in here and I feel like really affecting the group,” Riley said of Ramsey. “He’s a really good player. He obviously knows this scheme very well, so just having another guy out there that kind of knows it and has played in it and you can use as a great example of how a lot of this stuff needs to look. I mean, I think he’s had a really strong spring.”

At the cornerback position, Riley singled out returner Jacobe Covington as someone who has “surged” at the end of spring camp. Covington will be battling with Humprehy, Nicholson and others for playing time in 2024.

Not to be forgotten, Riley also praised USC’s linebackers for how they have gone about their business this spring.

“The linebacker room as a whole, there’s some really good competition, but those guys are really getting better,” Riley added. “I think they’re really taking the coaching and I feel like that room has really grown.”

USC’s spring game should shed a lot of light on how much the Trojans have improved in a short period of time on the defensive side of the ball.

Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. PT on Saturday afternoon.

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