Chris Fowler weighs in on Lincoln Riley's move from Oklahoma to USC
When Lincoln Riley turned in his Jordans for Nikes just hours after Bedlam, he shocked the larger college football world.
Riley went 55-10 in five seasons as the Sooners’ head coach, leading OU to four Big 12 championships and three Playoff appearances, and coaching up two different Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and No. 1 overall NFL Draft selections.
He has a roster that needs rebuilding—by his own admission—at Southern Cal, choosing that over a roster that was already pretty finely tuned to the way he wanted to play at Oklahoma.
In leaving the Sooners, he became the first coach to do so for another job since 1972 (Chuck Fairbanks, the New England Patriots), and the first to do so for another college job 1947.
“No offense intended to Norman, Oklahoma, but if you have the chance to be in LA and resurrect USC, I think he feels like he’s gone as far as he can at Oklahoma,” ESPN’s Chris Fowler said during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show this week. “They didn’t win a championship or win a Playoff game, but (with OU) headed to the SEC, it’s going to get even more challenging. I think he sees a chance to immediately inject life into the recruiting at USC, which has been kind of untapped for a while.”
And recruiting has experienced an immediate boom since Riley traded in the red clay for sandy beaches.
On Friday, USC gained a commitment from Mater Dei (Calif.) cornerback Domani Jackson, the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2022 class and the top prospect in the state of California for the cycle.
Shortly after Riley accepted the job, he flipped 5-star running back Raleek Brown from his Oklahoma commitment to USC and 5-star 2023 quarterback Malachi Nelson—the No. 2 overall prospect in his class and top California player—from OU to USC.
“I recruited this state for a long time,” Riley told reporters on Friday. “We’ve been able to have a little bit of success recruiting it at some of the previous stops. But I always remember a sense in … this part of the country that when SC was good, it was going to be tough to beat. When SC wasn’t good, you were maybe going to have a chance to sign kids that maybe deep down wanted to go to SC and maybe the program just wasn’t where it needed to be or maybe where they felt like it was good enough to go.
“I always had that sense through all the years, and certainly that was a factor in ultimately taking this job, feeling like you can build one of the elite rosters in the country here. I would say now having been here for a few weeks, it’s still very early, you feel that sense. I feel like players in this part of the country … I still feel that. That deep down, the majority of players around here, they want to play at USC.”
In the 2021 cycle, six of the top 10 recruits from the state went elsewhere. Nine of the top 10 recruits from the 2020 cycle went elsewhere. Only two of the top 10 players from the state chose USC in the 2019 class.
“They have not recruited the way they needed to (and) let guys go,” Fowler continued. “Just look at these California quarterbacks. Look at CJ Stroud, Bryce Young, they’re LA guys. They’re right there. … You’re not just losing guys to Oregon or somewhere else in the Pac-12. You’re losing them to schools across the country.”
Riley will look to change that.