USC is a potential College Football Playoff contender in 2023.

The Trojans won 11 games in Lincoln Riley’s 1st season at the helm, perhaps setting the stage for another big leap forward in Year 2.

According to ESPN’s Paolo Uggetti, USC’s path to the College Football Playoff is dependent on defensive improvement. Here’s Ugetti’s analysis:

The answer for USC is both simple and incredibly complicated: defense. The offense is one of the most known quantities in college football with Caleb Williams back under center after a Heisman season. The defense, however, is what plagued the Trojans from Game 1 to their final matchup — a high-scoring loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has his work cut out for him for a second year in a row, and though he has been nothing but forthright in how much the defense — which ranked 112th in passing defense last season — needs to improve, the results need to be there from the get-go. What’s unique about the Trojans’ situation is that given their offensive firepower, to be a playoff team, the defense doesn’t need to be elite. It just needs to be enough.

Caleb Williams coming back for the 2023 season will certainly help the Trojans as they aim to meet lofty expectations. USC’s offense appears to be on track to be one of the nation’s best once again in 2023.

But defensively, USC struggled throughout the year. Those issues were most apparent in the Trojans’ 2 losses to Utah and in their Cotton Bowl loss to Tulane.

USC gave up 6.53 yards per play last season, which ranked 9th in the Pac-12. USC will be looking for its 1st-ever College Football Playoff appearance in 2023.