USC is looking to make its 1st-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff in 2023.

On Tuesday morning, ESPN published a breakdown of 3 teams who will be fighting for their 1st CFP trip this coming season as well as 3 programs who are trying to make it back.

USC nearly reached the College Football Playoff last season in Lincoln Riley’s 1st season at the helm. However, the Trojans’ defense failed to get enough stops against Utah in the Pac-12 title game.

Unsurprisingly, ESPN’s Heather Dinich identified USC’s defense as its “biggest hurdle” to finishing in the top 4 in 2023. Here’s Dinich’s analysis:

Yes, teams can finish in the top four without great defense — but they can’t seem to advance to the national championship without one. Riley’s Oklahoma teams were evidence (0-4 in CFP semifinals). While the selection committee is certainly aware and leery of poor defenses, it has shown a willingness to overlook it if the offense is phenomenal and the team is consistently beating quality ranked competition despite it. That weakness gets exposed at some point by opponents along the way, though. If USC is going to match up with the likes of Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and, apparently, Utah (twice), it’s going to need to show marked defensive improvement, starting with fundamental tackling skills.

With Caleb Williams and several other key players returning, USC’s offense shouldn’t once again be amongst the most efficient in the country.

Defensively, there are more concerns. However, Riley decided to bring back defensive coordinator Alex Grinch for another season in 2023. Riley will hope that Grinch’s unit is able to take a big step forward this upcoming season.

USC’s spring game is set for April 15.