Despite a massive improvement leading to an 11-win season in 2022, second-year head coach Lincoln Riley is feeling the pressure of a less than stellar finish.
There will be no shortage of star power for USC when it takes the field for its annual spring football game next month. And even though the 2022 season ended with a collective thud, the Trojans are optimistic they can take the final steps needed to secure a trip to the BCS playoffs.
Head coach Lincoln Riley guided SC to 11-wins in his first season. Under normal circumstances that would warrant lots of love from your students and alum. But it’s how they finished the season that left a bad taste.
Pac-12 title game disaster
It was all there for the taking. USC was 11-1 and favored to beat Utah in the conference title game. A victory would put Riley’s Trojans into college football’s Final Four with the likes of Georgia and Michigan. Instead SC squandered an early two-touchdown lead and fell to Utah 44-27. The Trojans were denied the BCS playoffs and settled for the Cotton Bowl where more misery awaited.
Debacle in Dallas
If Trojan fans thought the Pac-12 title game meltdown was bad, it got even worse in the Cotton Bowl. USC lead Tulane by 45-30 with 4:07 left in the fourth quarter. SC quarterback Caleb Williams who was slowed in the Utah loss by a hamstring injury, Williams was 37-for-52 for 462 yards and a Cotton Bowl-record five touchdowns. He could only watch as the Green Wave recorded a safety and scored two touchdowns in the 247 seconds to steal the game.
Improvements on defense
Heisman winner Williams is back for his final season at Troy as are a number of weapons. It’s on the defensive side where Riley needs to improve. To help address that problem area, USC went back to the transfer portal. They got edge rusher Anthony Lucas, a former five-star recruit who barely played as a freshman at Texas A&M. If size counts for anything, he’s big. Try 6-6, 270.
There’s also inside linebacker Mason Cobb who had 96 tackles last season for Oklahoma State. Riley calls him the best inside linebacker in college football.
In the big picture, the Trojans (11-3) matched the biggest turnaround in school history despite the late losses. But college football, being in the business of what have you done for me lately, is unforgiving. Thus it will be imperative for Riley to take the next step in 2023