The penultimate week of the 2023 college football season yielded yet another disappointing loss for the USC Trojans in what was actually their final game of the regular season. One year removed from a top-10 finish and Caleb Williams' magical Heisman campaign, the team finsishes 7-5 with little to look forward to beyond a meaningless bowl game.
All the energy has been sucked out of the fanbase. Lincoln Riley joined the program with high expectations in 2022. He left a cushy job at Oklahoma to live in sunny Los Angeles and bring the Pac-12 back to relevance. It's too early for his seat to get hot, but Riley is officially on the clock. USC has the best QB talent in college football and couldn't deliver more than one game above .500. That won't cut it.
Despite the extremely anticlimactic season, the Trojans have earned a bowl berth (earned is a strong word, I know). Seven wins passes the test — a classic 'C's get degrees' accomplishment from the Trojans. As for which bowl USC will play in, it's a matter of marketability versus performance. USC didn't perform well enough for a flashy, high-profile bowl game, but it's still USC. It's still Lincoln Riley, and (hopefully) Caleb Williams. That's free money for the corporate powers that be.
USC bowl projections: Trojans expected to play in Las Vegas Bowl
The most popular projection for USC is a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl.
Andy Yamashita of the Las Vegas Review-Journal cited the Illinois Fighting Illini as a potential opponent last week. Illinois is 5-6 following a loss to Iowa on Saturday, so that outcome would require a Week 12 victory over 6-5 Northwestern.
Given the general buzz around Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams, Vegas would be a suitable stage for the Trojans' still-explosive offense, even if the matchup leaves much to be desired. Last year's Las Vegas Bowl featured Florida and Oregon State, with the Beavers steamrolling their way to a 30-3 win.
Another potential option would be the newly re-minted LA Bowl Hosted By Gronk. That would allow the Trojans to play close to home and give Rob Gronkowski a noisy team to promote with his new partnership.
If the powers that be decide to get bold, USC could also battle Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl. The Trojans haven't exactly played well enough for the Alamo Bowl, which featured two top-25 teams last season, but money talks. Lincoln Riley facing his former team would generate a ton of marketing upside and it would similarly motivate the Sooners to perform on the big stage.
At the end of the day, however, the Las Vegas Bowl feels like a more realistic outcome for USC based on their underwhelming performance in the regular season and the possibility that Williams won't even suit up in advance of his NFL Draft decision.
Recent Las Vegas Bowl history
2022: (17) Oregon State 30, Florida 3
2021: Wisconsin 20, Arizona State 13
2019: Washington 38, (23) Boise State 7
2018: (18) Fresno State 31, Arizona State 20
2017: (22) Boise State 38, Oregon 28
The Las Vegas Bowl is slated to involve one team from the Pac-12 and one team from the Big Ten, so USC is a prime candidate to continue the tradition given the program's unique combination of towering national status and average regular season performance. There are worse 7-5 teams out there.
When is the Las Vegas Bowl?
The Las Vegas Bowl will air on Saturday, Dec. 23 at 7:30 PM E.T. on ABC. The game is played in Allegiant Stadium.