Lincoln Riley looks to resurrect USC football quickly

Andrew Vorhees can feel the excitement just by walking across campus.

There is a palpable expectation on the part of students and faculty, people talking about USC football who have not paid attention in the past.

The Lincoln Riley era has yet to begin in earnest — Game 1 is Saturday against Rice at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — but there’s already a sense that USC is back. They are arguably the most talked about team in the country after Riley’s arrival from Oklahoma in the wake of USC’s four-win season a year ago.

“There’s an emotion, and you can feel it,” Voorhees, a senior offensive lineman who has been a Trojan since 2017, told The Post. “It feels different in all good ways.”

New coach Lincoln Riley is looking to turn USC around quickly.
New coach Lincoln Riley is looking to turn USC around quickly.
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A brilliant offensive mind who has produced two Heisman Trophy winners, Riley led Oklahoma to the college football playoff three times in his five seasons as the Sooners’ head coach. He won the Big 12 four times and compiled a record of 55-10. He now comes to Southern California looking to reestablish USC, which last won more than 11 games in 2008. The coach then was Pete Carroll, the team won the Rose Bowl and 11 players were drafted. That’s the bar for Riley. That is to be expected eventually, which is fine with him.

“As I said in my opening press conference, even before one of these players came in, you don’t come to USC and you don’t come to Los Angeles to do small things. You have to set your sights big,” Riley said at the Pac-12 press day. “We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and win them for a long time.”

Riley and his staff have already been impressive down the recruiting trail, landing elite transfers and high school prospects who have in the past turned down USC. He picked up the best quarterback (Caleb Williams) and receiver (Jordan Addison) in the trade market. They are part of a transfer class that also includes former Oregon running back Travis Dye, Oklahoma wide receiver Mario Williams, Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice and Arizona State linebacker Eric Gentry, and were ranked No. 1 by 247Sports. .com. Riley’s additions and track record have led to 14th place in the USC standings in preseason, and the potential that he could compete for college football playoff.

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“I think they are the team that embodies the 2022 college football world that we live in probably more than anyone else,” said ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. “They had a welcome coaching hire, and then here comes Caleb Williams, here comes Jordan Addison, here comes Travis Dye. All eyes are on Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley leaving Norman and going, of all places, to USC.”

Caleb Williams
Caleb Williams
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Riley recently traded Class of 2023 four-star cornerback Maliki Crawford, who was originally committed to UCLA, and the current class is ranked 13th nationally. That run features two prospects in the top five: quarterback Malachi Nelson and wide receiver Zachariah Branch.

That’s quite different from former coach Clay Helton’s class of 2020 who was ranked 63rd and couldn’t keep five-star California kids like Bryce Jones (Alabama), CJ Stroud (Ohio State), Justin Flowe (Oregon) and DJ Uiagalei (Clemson). ) home. He prompted former Trojan Matt Leinart to tweet: “Oregon is the new Usc in west coast recruiting… back in my day no one dared to recruit So Cal. Now it’s open season and Oregon is hunting!”

However, times seem to be changing since Riley’s arrival.

“It’s certainly a big step in the right direction to bring them back onto the national stage,” said Adam Gorney, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. “I have spoken to parents and children who seem to love him and the staff. … They have definitely done a great job recruiting so far.”

Said Bruce Rollinson, a USC alumnus and coach at powerhouse Mater Dei (California) high school: “Everyone I’ve dealt with, from football operations to assistant coaches and Lincoln himself, they all talk the same thing, they’re all throwing of the rope in the same direction. No one resigns or offers another opinion. It’s total loyalty to Lincoln Riley and his plan. That is what I have seen.

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One change that Vorhees has already noted is the attention to detail under Riley. Everything matters, from practice to conditioning to simply getting to class and tutoring sessions on time. There are repercussions for not meeting the expectations that the coaching staff has presented. There is an accountability sheet that results in extra conditioning work for any infractions. In the spring, all players started with a clean cardinal helmet that did not include the gold Trojan decal. The player received it only when he advanced to a certain point.

“I think it’s something we need,” said Vorhees, an All-Pac-12 first-team preseason selection. “That’s something that Coach Riley has really been communicating to us and sending messages, that all the little details matter. Nothing goes unnoticed. … Everything from an accountability perspective has totally changed.”

There is a belief that USC’s return to national prominence has already arrived, that it will soon be back among the top programs in the country. Riley hasn’t shied away from expectations and has told his team that he doesn’t think patience is needed. He expects to win big right away.

“This is not going to be a two- or three-year buildup,” Vorhees said, reciting Riley’s talking points to the team. “He expects us to start fast and get down to business. We are not going to use crutches or excuses.”

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