USC spring football game: Miller Moss

Quarterback Miller Moss looks downfield during the scrimmage at the Coliseum. (USC Photo/John McGillen)


USC fans get first look at Big Ten Trojans during spring football game

With last year’s big stars headed to the NFL, the next class of Trojans made its debut as the team looks toward fall and a new conference.

April 20, 2024 By Grayson Schmidt

Ever since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011, the Pac-12 logo has adorned the 25-yard-line at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for all USC home football games. The logo has emblazoned the front of the Trojan football uniforms, just opposite the Nike logo. It has appeared next to the interlocked “SC” behind coaches and players during post-game interviews.

But as the last players and coaches left the Coliseum after Saturday’s annual spring football game, that era ended.

The next time the Trojans take the field at the Coliseum — Sept. 7 against Utah State — they will officially be part of the Big Ten Conference. Three weeks later they’ll host their first Big Ten game at the Coliseum, against the Wisconsin Badgers.

USC spring football game: A’Marion Peterson
Running back A’Marion Peterson (22) makes a statement play during USC’s spring football game. (USC Photo/John McGillen)

Though Saturday’s spring game was only a scrimmage between the offense and the defense, with the Coliseum at about one-quarter capacity, there was a different aura from previous years — excitement, uncertainty, nostalgia all rolled into one. The game served as an end of one era, and a journey into a new one. And for head coach Lincoln Riley, the different feeling in the air was welcome.

“The future, and what happens here in the next eight or nine months, will determine if we say it’s positive or not, but it feels different,” Riley said. “This team feels a little different than any of the teams that we’ve had right now at this point, so I’m excited about that.”

USC spring football game: Success in post-Caleb Williams era

Unlike a regular game in the fall, the spring game follows its own format. With the offense in cardinal jerseys and the defense in white, the squads play two 15-minute quarters, and the defense is given a 24-0 lead. While the offense scores points the traditional way — touchdowns, field goals and extra points — the defense earns points though plays like turnovers, fourth down stops, defensive touchdowns and safeties.

USC spring football game: fans
USC football fans make their way across the University Park Campus in advance of the spring football game at the Coliseum. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Perhaps the largest absence felt was on offense, with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams no longer at the helm. The record-breaking leader of the Trojan offense for the past two seasons declared for the NFL draft following the 2023 season, finishing his college career with nearly 10,000 passing yards and 120 total touchdowns.

When Williams announced he would sit out the Holiday Bowl against Louisville to prepare for the NFL draft, backup quarterback Miller Moss earned the start. The latter proceeded to throw for 372 yards and a Holiday Bowl record six touchdowns. On Saturday, Moss, along with the whole offense, struggled to get going.

“That was probably the story of the day — the defense making the offense pay for their mistakes,” Riley said.

Of the offense’s first four drives, three ended with interceptions — by three different quarterbacks. UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava threw an interception on the second drive of the game, with Moss throwing one during the following drive and backup Jake Jensen throwing one to end the drive after that. Midway through the first quarter, the defense led 33-0.

Though Moss is projected to be Williams’ successor, Riley said with the improvement of Maiava, a quarterback competition is still on the table.

“We’ll certainly lean in on the right guy, and we’ve got several guys in the room that we feel that can do it,” Riley said.

New faces on the sideline at USC spring football game

Arguably the biggest hire for this season addressed one of the last season’s major weaknesses — the defense. USC brought in UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn to turn around a group that had struggled mightily. For a unit that gave up nearly 440 yards and 35 points per game last year — finishing 116th out of 130 in total defense — Saturday was a major confidence booster.

2024 football schedule“Good defenses make things tough on offenses — good defenses prey on offensive mistakes, and they did that,” Riley said.

Moss was able to brush off early mistakes and throw a touchdown later in the game, but the offense still fell to the defense 43-28. Though frustrated with the mistakes, all Moss could do after was give credit to the defense.

“They make you earn it this year, and I think it makes us better as an offense,” Moss said.

For senior defensive end Jamil Muhammad, the difference could be felt the moment Lynn met with the defensive unit — and Saturday’s performance was evidence of that.

“It’s night and day,” Muhammad said, comparing the defense’s feeling today versus the end of last season. “But it’s almost like today wasn’t good enough because we’re hungry for more — we’re hungry for Sept. 1, for sure.” That’s the Trojans’ season opener against LSU.

End of one era, onto the next

Though the turnout wasn’t as high as some previous spring games, walking around the Coliseum, one didn’t really notice. From the time the gates opened at 10:30 a.m. to the kickoff just after noon, a steady stream of cardinal-and-gold clad fans made their way into the stadium. Lines still wrapped around food trucks and merchandise tables, and crowds still gathered to have their picture taken with Traveler.

But perhaps one of the busiest booths Saturday afternoon belonged to the Big Ten Network, which handed out free cardinal and gold hats with the network’s logo, and operated a photo booth for fans, who could hold up large cutouts of both the USC and Big Ten Conference logos.

Though fans appeared to be enjoying the free hats and photo ops, seeing Trojan fans decked out in cardinal and gold holding the Big Ten Conference logo would make any college football fan do a doubletake. But it is the way of the future, a future that might give other fans in USC’s new conference mixed feelings but one that has nearly everyone in the Trojan Family excited. To players like defensive end Jamil Muhammad, that’s all that matters.

“The whole ‘too small’ comments … we definitely take that with a grain of salt,” Muhammad said of remarks regarding USC’s size compared to other Big Ten teams. “We choose to take it as a challenge and get better.”