Welcome back to day 2 of our 99 things we are excited about for the 2022 college football season! The second thing I am excited to watch this year is Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans. My favorite team to hate is USC because I genuinely love to root against them. As strange as it sounds, I enjoy when they are good because it is easier to root against them. USC is not as obnoxious as Texas.
Part of this may be nostalgia with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush being dominant in the early 2000s. While USC may not have reached the same caliber under Mark Sanchez, John David Booty, or Matt Barkley they were good enough to still hate. The Cody Kessler years are where the Trojans started to take a turn for the worst. Sam Darnold was a good player but the team did not feel as dominant as they were in the early to mid 2000s. Between 2018 and 2021 the Trojans would start five different quarterbacks (Jack Sears, JT Daniels, Kedon Slovis, Jaxson Dart, and Matt Fink), none of which are currently on the roster.
Enter Lincoln Riley. Enter Caleb Williams. Enter Jordan Addison. Enter Mario Williams. By no means do I believe this team can win a National Championship this season but there is no reason they should not be in contention for the Pac-12 title. The current state of the Pac-12 is an absolute disaster. Outside of Utah and maybe Oregon the conference lacks true contenders. The influx in talent should give Riley the arsenal he needs to create a high powered offense on the west coast.
Keep your eyes on the early season matchup between USC and Fresno State. These two programs last met in 2019 with USC winning by a margin of 31-23. Fresno State also has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Jake Haener. Haener tossed 33 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards last season. This may not be the biggest matchup of the week but it will be a fun one for fans to watch. Fresno State was 26th in points per game and 20th in opponent points per game in 2021. In order for Riley to reach his first year expectations it will be important win this game convincingly. If he were to struggle against Fresno State, the optics would be less than ideal.
In order for Riley to have sustained success at USC we are going to need to see improvements on the defensive side of the ball. He has created a reputation of having a lack luster defense with the goal of outscoring opponents. While the Pac-12 may not have the explosive offenses many of the Big 12 teams have, he still needs to stop teams consistently. The Trojans were 103rd in opponent points per game last year so he is not starting from a great position.
The true test for Riley’s program will be on October 15th at Utah. The Utes are the reigning Pac-12 champions and return most of their offensive production from last season. USC may be able to score points but if they cannot stop Cameron Rising and Tavion Thomas we will get a traditional Big 12 shootout. If Riley were to beat Utah on the road it would set the program in fantastic position to reach the Pac-12 championship in his first season at the helm.
I am intrigued to see if he can bring attention in Los Angeles back to the USC program. The Trojans needed a splash hire and they landed it with Riley. The honeymoon phase will wear off quickly if he manages to only win 8 games this season. Fortunately for Riley he is making $11 million per season to live in beautiful southern California.