LOS ANGELES — There has been plenty of attention on USC’s recruiting of late. The Trojans haven’t lived up to the expectations on the trail that many had for them when Lincoln Riley took over the program.
Of course, that puts added stress and importance on transfer portal evaluations and development. Whether it’s to flip the roster two offseasons ago or to fill some needs last offseason, USC has been one of the country’s most prominent portal programs under Riley.
The Trojans’ transfer class ranked fourth nationally, per 247Sports, this past offseason. As No. 20 USC attempts to keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive against fifth-ranked and undefeated Washington this weekend, its transfer class has epitomized its season: some pretty obvious hits and some concerning misses.
With the season heading into the final stretch, let’s examine how USC’s 2023 transfer class has performed.
DL Bear Alexander (Georgia, 4-star transfer rating)
Alexander would probably be receiving a lot more attention on the national level if USC’s defense was better. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, but the stat sheet doesn’t do a good job of contextualizing his disruptiveness. Alexander arrived at USC with a lot of hype, and he’s impressed even though everything around him on the Trojans defense has faltered.
DL Kyon Barrs (Arizona, 3-star)
Before the season, the thought was that Barrs and Alexander would anchor the interior of the defensive line and provide the size and athleticism the Trojans have been missing in recent years.
Surprisingly, an undersized Stanley Ta’ufo’ou has been the starter next to Alexander for most of the season. Barrs, who was an All-Pac-12 performer in 2021, has yet to make a true impact. He has nine tackles in nine games with no tackles for loss or sacks. He’s not the only defensive line addition who has had a quiet season, which is an issue for the Trojans.
Cobb was second-team All-Big-12 in 2022 and is second on the team with 55 tackles this season. Like most of the players on USC’s defense, Cobb has had some ups and downs. The Trojans’ linebacker play has been subpar for the better part of a decade, and Cobb’s addition hasn’t moved the needle in a positive direction for the group.
Czaplicki was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2022 and has provided an upgrade with an average of 44.6 yards per punt. The problem: USC fans have probably seen more of Czaplicki than they’ve wanted to this season. The Trojans have already punted more times in nine games (34) than they did all of last season (32), which spanned 14 games. Czaplicki is one of the few bright spots on USC’s special teams.
DB Tre’Quon Fegans (Alabama, 4-star)
Fegans transferred into a crowded secondary this spring and has yet to carve out a role on USC’s defense. He’s played six snaps over the past two games, per TruMedia. But with some injuries hitting the secondary over the past two weeks, we’ll see if Fegans’ snap count increases, especially with the defense facing some explosive offenses in the next few weeks.
Kingston has started every game on the right side of USC’s offensive line. At Washington State, Kingston started at left tackle in 2022. He played right guard for the first seven games of the 2023 season but was inconsistent as the offensive line struggled as a whole. Kingston has started at right tackle the past two games and has been steadier at that spot.
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Lloyd saved the Trojans with big plays in the fourth quarter of their 50-49 win over Cal last week. After Alexander, Lloyd has probably performed the best out of USC’s transfer additions. He has rushed for 766 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. He’s also caught 10 passes for 157 yards and has provided an explosiveness to the run game that USC lacked last year.
The size and potential are there with Lucas, but he’s played mostly a reserve role after beginning the season as a starter. He’s shown flashes and has notched 3.5 TFLs in nine games but other players have earned starting roles at rush end or defensive end. Unlocking Lucas’ potential will be key for USC’s defense in the long term. He has two years of eligibility remaining after this season.
Muhammad transferred to USC as a bit of an unknown, but the staff was clearly high on him dating back to the spring. He’s made an immediate impact with 10 TFLs and six sacks — both team-highs — and has been the starter at rush end.
Muhammad hasn’t been as disruptive the past few weeks as the schedule has become more difficult. The Trojans will need more out of him against Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon’s Bo Nix in the next two games.
OL Emmauel Pregnon (Wyoming, 4-star)
Pregonon was another transfer who came with a lot of fanfare, but Riley suggested in the preseason that the staff needed to see more development from the former Wyoming Cowboy. That was apparent when Pregnon didn’t clearly secure a starting spot coming out of camp. True freshman Alani Noa started the season opener at left guard. Pregnon has certainly had rough moments but has settled in as the starter at left guard since then.
DB Christian Roland-Wallace (Arizona, 4-star)
Roland-Wallace was banged up when he arrived at USC and didn’t open the season as a starter but has become the team’s best corner over the past month and has a team-high six pass breakups. He’ll be under the microscope against Washington and Oregon in the next two games.
Singer was No. 2 in the Pac-12 in receiving last season when he caught 66 passes for 1,105 yards and six touchdowns at Arizona. With USC’s talent at the position, it was logical to assume he wouldn’t replicate those numbers. It is, however, a surprise that he has struggled to find his footing in an offense that lacks a true No. 1 receiver. He hasn’t appeared to be in sync with Caleb Williams and has 21 receptions for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He is tied for fourth in receiving yards with Zachariah Branch and tight end Lake McRee.
Sullivan was a starter at Purdue, which reached the Big Ten title game last season. He was projected to be a versatile piece who could move around the defensive front. In the season opener, Sullivan received 28 snaps. He hasn’t matched that total since and has played just seven snaps over the past three games and has seemingly fallen out of the rotation completely. Through nine games, Sullivan has recorded just one tackle.
The narrative this offseason was that USC’s defensive front was going to improve because of additions like Alexander, Barrs, Lucas and Sullivan. Alexander has made an impact, but for whatever reason, USC’s coaching staff hasn’t been able to coax much production out of the other three, and that has lowered the ceiling of this defense.
Tarquin, Pregnon and Kingston were all highly regarded additions, and some believed the offensive line had a chance to be better than last year’s group that was a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the nation’s best O-line.
But the line has clearly lacked the cohesion of last year’s group, which was very experienced and had played together for several seasons.
Tarquin started the spring at left tackle but was moved to right tackle during training camp. He held off Mason Murphy for the starting job but had some tough reps against Arizona and Notre Dame and was essentially replaced by Murphy in each game. Offensive line coach Josh Henson shuffled the right side of the line two weeks ago and moved Murphy to right guard. The right tackle spot came down to Kingston and Tarquin and the staff chose Kingston, which bumped Tarquin to a reserve role.
(Photo of MarShawn Lloyd: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)