Trojan transformation: Lincoln Riley’s remarkable fix at USC

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Lincoln Riley took over Southern California’s four-win soccer program one 12 months in the past this week, the coach stood on the highest rim of the Coliseum and boldly declared his Trojans ought to be competing for championships straight away.

Riley chuckled Tuesday when he was reminded of that exhilarating time in his life after his surprising departure from Oklahoma, however he has little interest in gloating about simply how proper he turned out to be.

“I really feel lots proper now like I did then,” Riley mentioned. “When you do sit again for a second and take into consideration the place we have been a 12 months in the past, and a few of the issues which have transpired for this crew and this system throughout that point, it’s enjoyable to consider. But it’s simply not the time and place proper now.”

Riley has delivered on his declaration with a swiftness that even surprises a few of the gamers who’ve turned USC (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) into the nation’s fourth-ranked crew with an opportunity at each the Pac-12 title and a College Football Playoff berth. The Trojans even gained each of their greatest rivalry matchups towards UCLA and Notre Dame prior to now two weeks, reclaiming the Victory Bell and the Jeweled Shillelagh.

It’s a surprising correction to a depressing decade-plus for the West Coast’s marquee program, which has gained only one convention crown since 2008 and has by no means performed within the CFP, which started in 2014.

USC can be in Las Vegas on Friday night time for the Pac-12 title sport towards No. 12 Utah, the one crew to beat Riley’s Trojans this season. One extra payback victory in a 12 months dubbed “a revenge tour” by star USC defensive finish Tuli Tuipulotu would punctuate this season with an exclamation level, even when it isn’t over but.

“It is a loopy story, however I believe we knew that we needed to flip the whole lot round, and we’ve been working ever since Lincoln Riley got here in,” mentioned Tuipulotu, the FBS chief with 12 1/2 sacks. “We knew it was going to occur if we saved working.”

Riley and Heisman Trophy favourite Caleb Williams are the faces of this turnaround as two former Sooners who moved to California and instantly hit it huge. But the coach and his gamers all say this flashy transformation occurred due to 12 months of laborious work and a fierce dedication to team-building.

“From spring ball to summer season exercises, I assumed we have been going to be a terrific crew,” mentioned Williams, the elusive quarterback with 3,712 yards passing and a school-record 44 whole touchdowns. “The exterior world goes to say what they need to say, and we’re 11-1 proper now, so clearly it doesn’t matter. We thought we have been a terrific crew, and we’ve proven that.”

USC restocked its roster with a bunch of expertise from the switch portal, notably at the offensive ability positions, however the bedrock of this hard-hitting crew is the gamers left behind after seven modestly profitable seasons below Clay Helton. That veteran core was damage and humbled after going 4-8 final 12 months below Helton and interim coach Donte Williams — however virtually no person left, and virtually everyone improved below the steerage of Riley’s employees.

“Some groups actually whooped us final 12 months and disrespected us, even in our residence stadium,” heart Brett Neilon mentioned. “I believe that made the bond even tighter between the blokes which might be left right here, and I believe it had a trickle-down impact to a few of the new guys. I really feel like final 12 months we had actually good expertise, and we have been simply getting beat. Coming again right here this 12 months, we’re making the wrongs proper.”

The offense was instantly reworked by Riley and Williams. The protection took longer after receiving a fraction of the expertise inflow. But coordinator Alex Grinch has constructed an opportunistic group with an FBS-leading turnover margin (plus-23, a full 9 higher than the second-place opponents) that may not be ascribed merely to luck.

No coach in USC’s 135-year soccer historical past has gained extra video games in his debut season than Riley, who has delivered on each promise and probably the most optimistic predictions for his success.

Anyone with an understanding of the dysfunction and chaos behind the scenes in USC’s soccer program over the earlier 12 seasons understands the magnitude of the accomplishments by Riley and athletic director Mike Bohn over the previous 12 months, however Riley has little interest in basking in his success.

“You simply go to work, and also you begin placing it collectively as quick as you’ll be able to, and begin constructing the tradition as quick as you’ll be able to,” Riley mentioned after USC completed the common season final Saturday by beating Notre Dame 38-27 in entrance of greater than 72,000 screaming Los Angeles followers.

“I can’t say, ‘Yes, I knew this was going to occur,’” Riley added. “But at the identical time, I don’t imagine in placing limits on what you’ll be able to accomplish, particularly when you get the correct folks within the constructing and everyone decides to be unselfish and work laborious for one another. I stood proper by what I advised you our expectations have been from Day One. Lots of people thought I used to be loopy, and that’s tremendous.”


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