A year ago yesterday, Lincoln Riley had his introductory press conference as the new head coach at USC. That came one day after he shocked the college football world by leaving Oklahoma to take over a team in the midst of a 4-8 season. The Trojans now find themselves in the top four of the penultimate College Football Playoff standings. The turnaround Riley pulled off at USC has been nothing short of remarkable.
In Year 1 of his tenure, the 39-year-old head coach led the Trojans to an 11-1 record. The Trojans beat both of their rivals -- UCLA in a thriller and Notre Dame in a bruising beatdown. Their only loss came by one point on the road at Utah. They own the best record in the Pac-12 and have a chance to avenge that lone defeat on Friday in the conference title game. Riley is also on the precipice of having his fourth Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, as brilliant sophomore Caleb Williams has the award all but locked up.
When Riley took over, the consensus among college football experts I spoke with was that it would take him several years to build a contender at USC. The massive roster gaps and lack of depth left by the previous coaching staff would be too much to overcome. The defensive front, in particular, was a mess outside of star end Tuli Tuipulotu. One text I received from a staff member at a Big 12 school claimed the Trojans might make the Pac-12 title game in Year 1, but that would largely be due to the conference being incredibly weak. Turns out, the Pac-12 was far better than expected. USC made the title game anyway.
The moment he stepped on campus, Riley set about completely remaking USC from top to bottom.