Ranking USC's 11 additions in the transfer portal
LOS ANGELES — USC’s roster is basically set for the spring. The recruiting cycle came to a close last week. The transfer portal window is over except for some schools like UCLA.
Spring practice is set to start sometime next month, and plenty of new faces will be in the Trojans’ program. USC has brought in 11 transfers this offseason as it attempts to fill some holes on its roster.
With those transfers in place, let’s rank them based on where they fit and how they stand.
1. Linebacker Easton Mascarenas-Arnold (Oregon State)
USC’s linebacker play has been subpar for several years and has become only more concerning in the past two seasons. So adding Mascarenas-Arnold, who was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, is a significant addition.
Mascarenas-Arnold tallied 107 tackles, 6 1/2 for loss, two sacks and two interceptions for Oregon State in 2023. USC returns Mason Cobb, Eric Gentry and Raesjon Davis at linebacker, but it seems unlikely that any of them will prevent Mascarenas-Arnold from stepping right into the starting lineup. He should have an immediate impact on this defense.
USC hasn’t had a true off-ball linebacker who made an All-Pac-12 team since Cam Smith in 2018.
Ramsey was the first player who followed defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn across town from UCLA, and it makes sense. After redshirting in 2022, Ramsey started 11 games at safety and recorded 40 tackles, 2 1/2 for loss, and an interception in 2023 — Lynn’s only season as the Bruins’ DC.
USC lost standout safety Calen Bullock and starter Max Williams, so it has an immediate need at the position. Safety will be an interesting spot for the Trojans. They brought in Ramsey and Akili Arnold from the portal and return Zion Branch, who has plenty of promise; Bryson Shaw, who is limited but played quite a bit for USC in recent years; and Anthony Beavers Jr., who started in the Holiday Bowl.
Considering Ramsey played for Lynn and knows this defense, he seems like a safe bet to earn one of the starting safety spots.
USC desperately needed some help at running back after losing its top two backs — MarShawn Lloyd and Austin Jones — and depth like Raleek Brown and Darwin Barlow.
The only returners were two freshmen who played sparingly in 2023: Quinten Joyner and A’Marion Peterson. Marks rushed for 573 yards and four touchdowns and caught 23 passes for 167 yards for a bad Mississippi State offense in 2023. During his four-year career, he has posted 3,108 yards from scrimmage and has scored 27 touchdowns.
He’s adept as a ball carrier and a pass catcher and gives the Trojans much-needed experience.
Domani Jackson and Christian Roland-Wallace were USC’s starting cornerbacks for most of last season, but Jackson transferred to Alabama and Roland-Wallace has exhausted his eligibility, so the Trojans have an opening at both corner spots.
Prophet Brown and Jacobe Covington started the Holiday Bowl at cornerback and played particularly well, but Humphrey followed Lynn from UCLA and will be a front-runner to start at one of those spots based on his familiarity with the system.
Humphrey possesses good size at cornerback (6 feet 2, 205 pounds) and notched 31 tackles, two picks and three pass deflections for the Bruins last season.
Miller Moss is the favorite to be the Trojans’ starting quarterback in 2024, but Maiava was an intriguing addition.
Maiava burst onto the scene a couple of games into UNLV’s season last year. After starting the season as the backup, Maiava threw for 3,085 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 277 yards and three scores.
USC lost highly touted freshman Malachi Nelson to the portal and Caleb Williams to the NFL Draft, so it was down to just two scholarship quarterbacks. Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley said USC would look at potentially adding a veteran quarterback and a younger one.
Maiava kind of fills both needs. He was a redshirt freshman in 2023 and has experience. It’ll be a significant surprise if he wins the starting job coming out of training camp, but if things don’t work out for Moss, Maiava will be in line to step in.
It’s no secret that USC needs defensive line help in the worst way. The Trojans haven’t been able to dictate the line of scrimmage defensively for several seasons, and that’s a major problem as it transitions to the Big Ten.
And outside of Bear Alexander, there’s not enough proven talent or depth. So adding a player like Clifton, who is listed at 6-5 and 280 pounds, helps. He brings needed size and has been productive recently. In 2023, Clifton posted 7 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks for Vanderbilt. Only two USC players hit those marks last season (Jamil Muhammad and Solomon Byrd), and one of them is gone (Byrd), so Clifton is an able body. USC needs as many of those as it can get along the defensive line, so he should be part of the rotation immediately.
USC values length at cornerback. Humphrey is listed at 6-2, and Nicholson is listed at 6-3. He has recorded 42 tackles and two TFLs in 2023. There was some familiarity there with USC’s general manager, who was at Mississippi State when it recruited Nicholson.
The reason Nicholson is ranked below Humphrey is primarily because Humphrey has played for Lynn before, which gives him a leg up on most everybody at the position.
8. Safety Akili Arnold (Oregon State)
Arnold is Mascarenas-Arnold’s stepbrother. At Oregon State last season, Arnold totaled 60 tackles, two for loss, and two picks. He’s an experienced player and collected 152 total tackles across his five seasons with the Beavers. That should help him in the competition for a starting safety spot, but as we noted, it’ll be competitive.
9. Defensive lineman Isaiah Raikes (Texas A&M)
There’s a clear directive from Riley and Lynn for USC to get bigger along the defensive front. Raikes helps in the size department at 6-2 and 320 pounds. He started a handful of games at Texas A&M over the past three seasons and was even a captain in 2022, but he was more of a rotation piece on the Aggies’ defensive line.
Texas A&M is deeper along the defensive line than USC, so we’ll see if Raikes, who posted 17 tackles and three TFLs last season, can become more than that for the Trojans.
Jac Casasante served as USC’s long snapper for the past two seasons but has exhausted his eligibility, which clears the path for Pepper to be the long snapper in 2024.
Richardson is making the rare jump from Division III to the Big Ten. He posted 830 yards in nine games in 2023, so he was productive for Tufts, but USC has several talented young receivers who have spent a season in the offense. The Trojans needed to add another veteran receiver, but most of the playing time will be shared by Zachariah Branch, Duce Robinson and the others who return.
Where does USC still need help?
Defensive line: The Trojans added Clifton and Raikes but still need more depth and talent at the position. There’s no such thing as having too many good defensive linemen, so if there’s one of quality who enters the portal in the spring, USC would be wise to pursue him.
Offensive line: Jonah Monheim has returned, but even though he started at left tackle for most of last season, he could always slide back to the interior of the line. It’s probably safe to assume Elijah Paige will be the left tackle, but there are still questions about who will start at right tackle. USC has refrained from making any offensive line additions through the portal, but it might be worth adding an experienced player if one pops in the portal in the spring.
Running back: The Trojans have only four scholarship running backs, which is one fewer than a program would ideally want. If the staff trusts Joyner or Peterson, maybe this won’t be a need, but we’ll learn more in the spring.
Receiver: With several losses to the portal at wideout this offseason, USC could stand to add another veteran to the position group.
Quarterback: It’s not the biggest need, but Riley raised the possibility of adding two transfer quarterbacks. Riley is thorough with his quarterback offers, so it would have to be someone pretty talented to join the room at this point, but if a talented signal caller jumps in the portal after spring, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock if USC pursues him.
(Top photo of Easton Mascarenas-Arnold: Ali Gradischer / Getty Images)