Last season, the USC football spring game was an event, a scene, the grand debut of the two men who would help the Trojans return to prominence.

The program announced its biggest crowd ever for a spring game in 2022 — pretty remarkable when you think about it. This is a program with a title or two, arguably the most popular team this side of Texas. But Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams delivered, guiding USC to a seven-win turnaround as Williams won the Heisman Trophy in his first season.

Now, with a year under Riley’s belt — and a flashy new toy in coach in place elsewhere in Colorado’s Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders — the shine has worn off USC a bit.

It’s not that Saturday’s spring game was a letdown. But when the returning Heisman winner plays just two series before taking off his helmet for good, well, it’s bound to be a bit of a disappointment.

Here are my takeaways from USC’s spring showcase…

USC defense wins the day, err, sort of?

The Much-Maligned USC Defense (trademark pending) gave off little hope for optimism, beyond the “final” score, which it “won,” 42-34.

Here were the obscure rules for the matchup.

Of course, spring game statistics are far from legitimate, so we have to mainly go by the eye test.

And, in that case, yikes.

A USC defense that struggled with basic football fundamentals like tackling and allowed chunks of yards at a time last year was on its heels from the first play of the game. Williams led touchdown drives on the first two offensive possessions, and the Trojans first team defense showed little push.

But that’s to be expected. This is one of the best units in the country.

Less expected?

The Trojans aren’t particularly deep up front, so to see the first-team defense struggle to tackle, maneuver past inexperienced offensive linemen, and fail to muster a pass rush against the lower units was a disappointment.

There has been a lot of talk from Alex Grinch and Co. about the improvements expected in Year 2, but we sure didn’t see much.

Were there interceptions? Sacks? Yes. This is a team that was incredibly opportunistic last year.

But in between the sacks and the picks were far too many first downs and broken tackles, something that is all too familiar for the Trojans. Questions about the physicality of the unit are all still there.

Williams gives a glimpse, then gives it a rest

USC fans were lucky on Saturday that star quarterback Caleb Williams was honored at halftime with a Heisman Trophy presentation, or they might have missed their chance to see him with an untimely bathroom visit.

Williams played in just two drives on Saturday before giving way to freshman Malachi Nelson and redshirt sophomore Miller Moss.

Of course, Williams made the most of his time, completing tossing two touchdowns. And he had his fair share of highlights, too, kicking off the day with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Brenden Rice on the first play of scrimmage.

He also capped off the Trojans’ second drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mario Williams.

Coming off arguably the best season by a USC quarterback … ever … it’s not too big a surprise that Riley decided to play it safe with him. You’re not going to put the reigning Heisman winner at risk, and aside from that, why give away the playbook?

Instead of a full dose of Williams, Riley gave Trojan supporters a closer look at USC’s future at the position — maybe.

It’s hard to imagine Moss in the driver’s seat short of a major injury, but Nelson comes in as a true freshman rated fifth in the country and 2nd among California quarterback prospects. Both Nelson’s youth and arm were on display in a big way, as he had three turnovers — two interceptions and one fumble — with one particularly bad pass on a jumped route by freshman safety Christian Pierce.

Nelson is considered Williams’ current heir apparent, though the Trojans may dip into the transfer portal once more to replace Williams — likely next year, as the reigning Heisman winner is projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft — so his rough outing won’t engender much enthusiasm heading into the summer.

For now, Moss appears to be the obvious option at No. 2 for the Trojans.

How will the offensive line shake out?

With Courtland Ford heading into the transfer portal and Florida transfer Ethan White still waiting to kick off his USC career, the Trojans had some shuffling to do this spring on the offensive line.

Some of the line appears settled. Fellow transfers Jarrett Kingston (right guard, Washington State) and Michael Tarquin (left tackle, Florida) seem like a lock up front. And, of course, old standbys and all-conference shoo-ins Justin Dedich and Jonah Monheim are locked into place.

But to see Monheim move around a bit should make USC fans excited.

The hulking right tackle moved around a bit, displaying some versatility that might come into play this season. Dedich, who moved inside to the center position that was expertly manned by Brett Neilon, adds another layer of flexibility, as well.

“I think it’s always just growth in all aspects,” Monheim told reporters this week. “Growth in the weight room with my own body, with my strength, size, things like that. Obviously, growth on the field never stops in terms of being a player, being an offensive lineman never stops growth there. Just techniques and details and things like that. As a person and a teammate on and off the field, being there for my teammates, being accountable, being a leader. Holding the other guys accountable and just being consistent is always a challenge.”

The Trojans have to feel very relieved to have gotten out of spring with minimal injuries up front, but also to have gotten a good look at what appears to be a seven- or eight-man rotation up front.