Head-turning speculation turned into reality on Sunday for college football. Lincoln Riley is indeed the head coach at USC, making a rare move from one national power to one potentially on the verge of resurrection.
The dynamic offensive mind, known as perhaps the premier quarterback developer in the sport, is already in Los Angeles ready to get to work.
Beyond the introductory press conference, set for Monday, the first orders of business are building his staff and hitting the recruiting trail to salvage a subpar USC commitment list in the class of 2022.
The Trojans have just eight public commitments at this time among senior high school football players. Most will end the process on December 15, the first day of the Early Signing Period, so Riley and his staff have to get to work immediately (beyond the transfer portal) to try and bring in additional talent. It won't be easy, though few have the tracker record the new USC leader does this time of year.
Beyond filling the staff, officially at least, there are potential priorities and methods for Riley to make the most of the next two weeks on the job.
Quarterbacks to Track
Six commitments to Lincoln Riley have announced intentions to back off of their OU commitments since the news went public, three in the 2022 class and three more in 2023 -- none more important than elite junior passer Malachi Nelson (of Los Alamitos, Calf.). Arguably the top recruit nationally in 2023, Nelson was the theoretical heir to Caleb Williams in Norman. The Sooners didn't have a 2022 QB on the commitment list, thanks in part to Williams' emergence and the uncertainty around Spencer Rattler's status.
The veteran QB took the next step in his career Monday, too, announcing intentions to enter the transfer portal. Casual college fans could link Riley to Rattler in a California reset, somewhat of a one-year rental for the Arizona native to repair his on-field reputation ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. But it would be foolish to think Riley's run at the position would be satisfying with the Rattler layup, especially with Williams seemingly considering all of his options with more eligibility at his back as a true freshman.
Either way the Trojans lack QB depth, to put it mildly. Junior Kedon Slovis, who has been both banged up and benched in 202, is an uncertainty to be on the 2022 roster. Freshman Jaxson Dart flashed plenty during his chances this season and fellow 2021 SI99 member Miller Moss is still early in his USC career as well. Attrition is often expected with coaching changes, so even a portal addition like Rattler may not be enough come kick off 2022.
USC had a 2022 high school recruit on board for more than a year in Devin Brown, a name to know for all who follow the sport. The Draper (Utah) Corner Canyon star moved from Arizona in order to work in a more wide-open, spread concept (like Riley's is famous for) and it paid off in him setting the Utah state record for passing yardage at 4,881 in leading the program to the state title game. His recruitment blew up at the same rate, with Ohio State, Ole Miss, Texas and others working the longtime Trojan verbal until he decommitted last week. Brown has been on record saying he'd like to play at USC, but was awaiting potential fit in the new hire -- something lining up well for Riley should Brown resurface as a Trojan priority.
Locking Down the Locals
From a macro perspective, the USC downfall pairs with the lack of elite California talent on the roster relative to programs competing for an winning national championships. It's not about volume, but the top 1% of recruits in the state, and more specifically the greater Los Angeles area. Entering the 2021 season, it was Bryce Young, D.J. Uiagalelei and Matt Corral atop Heisman forecasts. Ohio State's CJ Stroud broke into the conversation soon after. Each quarterback is native to Southern California with Young and Corral having been committed to USC at one point in their recruitment.
Other college football stars from the area backed it up again in 2021 like Chris Olave (Ohio State), Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), Xavier Worthy (Texas), David Lloyd (Utah), Zach Charbonnet (UCLA), Jermaine Burton (Georgia), Beaux Collins (Clemson), etc., begging the question as to why USC struggled to keep the elites at home.
Looking to the 2022 SI99 rankings, USC has just one member currently on board in New Jersey defensive back Jaeden Gould. California has the fourth-most members in the nation, bested by only Texas, Florida and Georgia. Of the seven, cornerback Domani Jackson and his Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei teammate David Bailey are undecided. Both are considering USC. Jackson was committed there for the majority of this year, though the Trojans appear on the outside looking in as of this writing. The elite cornerback is more focused on Alabama and Michigan while Bailey is looking at Stanford and Oregon in addition to the local school. Another Mater Dei standout, Raleek Brown, has long been committed to Riley at OU so if there is a forecast for a commitment flip to satisfy the local and national USC feel in recruiting, the three-down running back talent may be it. He's already hinted at it.
In the 2021 cycle, USC signed four SI99 recruits, including three from within state lines in Moss, linebacker Raesjon Davis and defensive lineman Korey Foreman. Six SI99 members from the state ended up elsewhere, with Collins, Worthy, Brock Bowers at Georgia and Tyler Buchner at Notre Dame among those flashing immediately for their respective programs as true freshmen -- the type of instant impact that gives a struggling coach the benefit of the doubt or gives a newly-hired coach validation for his ability to identify talent and close on the recruiting trail. It starts at QB and local, two areas in which Riley has become known for, so the expectation in L.A. should be quite high on both fronts.
Norman to LA?
Beyond Rattler, Raleek Brown or maybe Williams, there will likely be more OU ties to the 2022 USC roster. Sooner wide receiver Theo Wease also has intentions to hit the portal on Monday as speculation will only grow on Riley bringing in players he knows best with both the one-time transfer rule and the pandemic-laden extra year of eligibility all in play.
Among the three decommitments OU has suffered in the 2022 class over the last day or so, defensive lineman Derrick Moore is an All-America Game selection with national offers to his name, including USC under the old regime. Of course more attrition off of the talented 2021 OU roster is likely to be expected not only during bowl season, but potentially in and after the spring under the new regime.
Just like with traditional recruiting, the first year's win-loss record and general perception (or social media in general), it's too early to make any true judgements in Los Angeles. But there is also a strong batch of reasons for true optimism in the trek to bring back one of the pillars of the sport.