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Lincoln Riley to USC: Close to Worst-Case Scenario for Oregon

Oregon will no longer be the dominant team along the West Coast.

The college football world was shaken up as USC shocked the nation by hiring Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma to be the next Trojans head coach, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Pete Thamel. 

While the worst-case scenario for the Trojans coaching search for Oregon didn't pan out with Mario Cristobal being listed as a top candidate for the job, hiring Riley who has coached the Sooners to three College Football Playoff appearances in the prior five seasons is close. Additionally, Riley was a first-year offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops when the Sooners qualified for the 2015 College Football Playoff.

In short, Riley joining USC immediately makes him the best head coach in the Pac-12 and will make Oregon's quest to sign the conference's best recruiting class much more difficult.

While recruiting for Oklahoma, the Sooners signed the nation's No. 8 (2017), No. 9 (2018), No. 6 (2019) , No. 12 (2020) and No. 10 (2021) classes according to the 247 Sports composite ranking. 

Now add in being in the recruiting hotbed of Southern California and being the marquee brand within a state that's consistently a top-three producer of elite football talent year-in and year-out, it's likely a matter of time before USC has a consistent Top-10 football team nationally.

In fact, it could be as soon as next season. The current roster has loads of talent and already ran the Air Raid offense under Graham Harrell. Now, replace subpar coaching with one of the best offensive minds within college football.

The blueprint for Oregon becoming an elite power within college football has taken a huge step back with the Riley hire. For years it appeared the Ducks were following the Clemson blueprint of elite talent acquisition and beating up on a subpar conference thanks to overwhelming opponents with its talent disparity en route to College Football Playoff appearances.

After signing the conference's best recruiting classes the prior three cycles, Mario Cristobal's program has appeared set to dominate the conference for years, in-large part due to winning many recruiting battles for Southern California prospects.

But Clemson has had little competition within the ACC to win the conference with Florida State becoming a train wreck following Jimbo Fisher's departure. In the years prior, the winner of FSU-Clemson was routinely set to make a run at the National Championship.

Now with Riley at USC, Oregon seems more poised to battle it out with USC in Las Vegas more often than not for the Pac-12 Championship and in recruiting battles for the best players in California.

While Riley accepting USC's offer is best for the Pac-12, it hurts the chances of Oregon making the College Football Playoff in a given year tremendously. 

The only benefit is potential for more ranked opponents, especially if Riley can have USC in position to make the Pac-12 Championship between Oregon and USC a de-facto Playoff Play-In game. 

Cristobal and his staff have recruited players by pitching the opportunity to play in big, nationally televised games with the staff scheduling non-conference opponents such as Georgia, Michigan State and Ohio State. Any game against USC has been added to that list, but most prospects being given that pitch will also be recruited by the Trojans too. 

That type of non-conference scheduling was already going to reduce the Ducks' chance of being a playoff team. A loss during the first month of the season means Oregon would need to win-out to make the College Football Semifinals. 

Now that schedule could include defeating the Lincoln Riley Trojans up to twice a season. 

Oregon has ran the West Coast since blowing out USC in the Coliseum in 2019 and Cristobal being undefeated as the Ducks' head coach in Los Angeles (at USC twice, at UCLA, and in the 2020 Rose Bowl). 

With USC's home run hire, the status of the top team out west has gotten tremendously more difficult. 

Cristobal has faired well in big games as Oregon's head coach, defeating highly-ranked teams such as Washington (2018), Utah (2019), Wisconsin (2020 Rose Bowl), USC (2020 Pac-12 Championship) and Ohio State (2021). 

Oregon needs that trend to continue if the Ducks want to make the College Football Playoff with Lincoln Riley in the conference now. 

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