Trojan football has a long and storied history. However, USC has been “down” over the last few seasons, compared to the run of dominance the program enjoyed for years and even decades. However, with the hiring of Lincoln Riley, the Trojans are set to relive their former days of glory. The question is how fast can the former Oklahoma head coach return USC back to their place in the hierarchy of college football?
Judging by his first off-season in LA, it may not take that long. Lincoln Riley has a well-earned reputation as one the most innovative offensive minds in football. However, Riley is also a relentless recruiter. He has wasted no time bringing serious talent to SoCal. Riley is already bringing a top ten recruiting class with him led by cornerback Domani Jackson, wide receiver CJ Williams, and running back Raleek Brown, among others.
Riley won’t be strictly relying on freshmen, however. USC also boasts a stellar class of transfers as well, including some heavy hitters led by All-American wide receiver Jordan Addison. The former Pitt Panther is not alone, however, as Caleb Williams, an Oklahoma transfer who was the number two quarterback recruit of his class will also be joining him. Other impact transfers include wide receiver Mario Williams, running back Travis Dye, wide receiver Terrell Bynam, linebacker Shane Lee and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon who should all be instant starters.
On paper, the Trojans look impressive as far as starters are concerned. That being said, depth could be an issue, especially on the defensive side. That is not a complete given though, as Riley is inheriting two top twenty recruiting classes over the last three years, outside of his own. So, the cupboard wasn’t exactly bare before Riley’s arrival. The question will be, how do these young men develop?
The off season has certainly been a big win for this new coaching staff, however, the only wins that matter happen on Saturdays during the Fall. The big question is how many wins does it take for Riley’s first season to be considered a success? Nine wins would be a good year for most programs, However, we’re talking about a historic program with arguably the biggest name at head coach outside of Nick Saban. Nine wins wouldn’t be bad, but ten puts you in the conversation and eleven puts you in the hunt, in terms of a playoff spot.
Can the Trojans get to ten or even eleven wins? Let’s look at the schedule….
Vs Fresno St
@ Oregon St
Vs Arizona St
Vs Washington St
Vs Notre Dame
I see USC with a solid nine wins at worst, at first glance. The trouble areas being Washington St, Utah, and Notre Dame. I can certainly see the Cougars as a toss-up game, however, one that is winnable. That would get USC to ten wins. Utah might be the biggest game on the schedule. The Utes are considered by some as the early favorites to win the Pac-12.
A win over them would not only get them to eleven wins but would put them in the driver’s seat to win their conference as well. Of course, beating an up-and-coming Notre Dame squad would also be just as impactful. Hypothetically speaking, if all these scenarios were to fall this way then the Trojans would be knee-deep in the title hunt. Certainly, that would be a heck of a debut season for the Lincoln Riley regime.
I would argue the most likely outcome, however, would be nine to ten wins, especially if depth proves to be an issue this coming season. A win over Washington St is very possible but certainly not a given, and beating both Utah and Notre Dame is a tall ask. You have to also be prepared for the possible upsets that could occur within the other nine games of the schedule.
Either way, Lincoln Riley is truly one of the better coaches in college football. The Trojans are still a brand name and Southern California will always be a draw for top athletes, especially homegrown prospects in a talent-rich state like California. Players will continue to arrive on campus in droves.
Make no mistake, USC is back, as far as being a major player again. Will that be evident this season in terms of wins and losses? Only time will tell. This team could go anywhere from 7-5 to 12-0 quite honestly and the truth may lie somewhere in between. However, no matter how their record ends up, you will be hard-pressed to find a more captivating team during this 2022.