Riley sets high expectations for the USC football team

When Lincoln Riley was hired as the head football coach at USC last November, he knew what he was walking into. The Trojans football team is a blueblood football program that had won one Pac-12 conference title in the past 13 years. They were coming off a 4-8 season, which included a thrashing from their cross-town rivals, the UCLA Bruins, 62-33.

One might assume that Riley would be cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the 2022 Trojans football. That would be wrong. When asked about his expectations for the 2022 season at the Pac-12 Media Day last on July 29, Riley answered, "To win the championship."

Riley was not done. "You've got to see the opportunity in it," said Riley. "The opportunity is, if you do it well, anything is possible. This is one of those places. This is one of those programs. Frankly, this is one of those cities that if you do it well here, the sky's the absolute limit. I believe it's there for our football team."

Riley continued to say, "My expectations are extremely high. I mean, again, this is a go-for-it kind of place. I would reiterate again; we didn't come here to play for second." Riley was very successful as a young head coach at the University of Oklahoma, winning four consecutive Big 12 conference championships and making it to the college football payoffs three times.

It is easy to admire his determination. Riley has done an excellent job of accumulating talent in his seven months on the job. The Trojans have the No. 1 ranked transfer class in college football. Led by Oklahoma quarterback transfer Caleb Williams, among the early favorites for the Heisman trophy, and Pittsburgh transfer and Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison at wide receiver, the Trojans are loaded on offense.

But defensively the Trojans do not look like a championship team. The best defensive teams in the Pac-12 are the Oregon Ducks and Utah Utes. The cross-town rival Bruins led the Pac-12 in scoring last season, averaging 36.5 points per game. The Trojans will avoid Oregon in the regular season but will have to go up to Salt Lake City to play the Utes and to the Rose Bowl to take on the Bruins.

The Utes are the defending conference champions. They are led by their head coach Kyle Whittingham, in his 18th season as head coach at Utah. His defensive coordinator, Morgan Scalley, is in his 7th season and his offensive coordinator, Andy Ludwig, in his fourth season with the Utes. Utah has established a level of consistency and toughness that has made the Utes one of the best teams in the nation. Utah ended up ranked No. 12 in the nation last season.

Whittingham has had a lot of success recruiting Southern California. Utah is led on offense by first team All-Pac-12 quarterback Cameron Rising and second team All-Pac-12 cornerback Clark Phillips III on defense. Both are from Southern California.

"If you look at all the areas that we do recruit, the majority of players on our roster are from the Southern California area," Whittingham said. "We've been blessed with really good players. Put a bunch of guys in the NFL from our front seven through the years. It all rolls back to recruiting. Recruiting is really the lifeblood of your program. Eighty percent of your success or lack thereof is tied to recruiting. That's something that I've maintained for years and years. That's been really the key, is getting the right kind of guys into our system, then developing those guys."

Oregon has become a brand that recruits all over the nation. Ducks head coach Dan Lanning, in his first season as head coach, is confident that he has a good team, but he is not predicting championships. "We're going to be the best team we can possibly be in the year 2022," Lanning said. "Our goal, like I said, is to win every single game. That's our goal. We have the team and the ability to do it. Time will tell if we're able to fill that void and do those things that are necessary to be successful."

Lanning added, "Since 2010 there's been nine teams that have played for a national championship. Fortunate enough that Oregon has done that twice. Multiple conference championships have been won at this place. Obviously, we had 2.57 million viewers tune in every single week to watch our games, which is top 10 in the nation, best in our conference." The Ducks have carried the Pac-12 in football since 2009. They have won six conference championships.

The UCLA Bruins return starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a two-time All-Pac-12 pick at quarterback and star running back Zach Charbonnet. Charbonnet was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2021.

The Bruins had six players selected in the 2022 NFL draft, yet still have a good lineup capable of winning the conference championship. The Bruins have not won a conference championship since 1998. But the schedule is very favorable, with 8 of the 12 games at home, including Utah and USC. The toughest road game is at Oregon.

Bruin head coach Chip Kelly coached at Oregon from 2009-2012, where he went 46-7 and won three conference championships. But he was not interested in comparing his old team to his new team. "Teddy Roosevelt said comparison is the thief of joy," said Kelly. "I'm never going to compare this team to a team I coached 10 years ago. Had some special teams when I was there, special memories with special players."

The Bruins need to get better on defense to have a shot at winning. UCLA brought in Bill McGovern, a linebacker coach with the Chicago Bears, to run the defense. UCLA legend Ken Norton was brought back to UCLA to coach the linebackers and help with recruiting. Norton was an NFL defensive coordinator with the Las Vegas Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks and an NFL star linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

Stanford's David Shaw returns for another season as head coach of the Cardinal. He is 93-45 in 12 seasons at Stanford. Tanner McKee returns at quarterback. McKee is considered a possible first round pick in the 2023 NFL draft. Washington State's quarterback Cameron Ward is also being touted as a possible first round pick in the 2023 NFL draft. The Cougars and Ward will be tested in Week 2 at Wisconsin.

Arizona Wildcat head coach Jedd Fisch had a top 25 recruiting class in his first full season of recruiting and added a couple of key transfers, wide receiver Jacob Cowing from UTEP and quarterback Jayden de Laura from Washington State. The top 25 recruiting class was built on Southern California kids and Fisch sounds like he is just starting.

"We are a California-based recruiting program," Fisch said. "We have committed as much time and energy as possible to recruit Southern California. That is our goal moving forward. We have done a really great job with our coaching staff in recruiting the state of Arizona, California, and Hawaii. We will continue to do that and make Southern California a pipeline for the University of Arizona."

It will be an interesting 2022 football season in the Pac-12. Utah is the media favorite to win the Pac-12, followed by Oregon. USC will attempt to live up to Riley's expectations. UCLA will try to get to 10 wins and the conference championship game. With the 2024 departure of UCLA and USC, neither team will be welcomed on the road. Expect to hear a lot of "Beat LA Chants" this season on the road.


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