Lincoln Riley says he can build the nation's best roster at USC
USC sells itself. And when the Trojans are atop the college football hierarchy, there are few programs like it.
That has been Lincoln Riley’s message since taking over as the program’s head coach. He’s been consistent with it. College football is better when USC is better, he says, and when USC is better it becomes a machine on the recruiting trail.
During an appearance on the Always College Football podcast with ESPN’s Greg McElroy recently, Riley reiterated that point again. He said he feels that, with the top-down alignment in USC leadership to compete with the elites of the sport, USC can build something special.
“I think the roster you can build here can be as good as anybody, anywhere, anytime,” he told McElroy.
Riley was asked about his previous trips to the College Football Playoff. He’s been three times as the Sooners’ head coach. All three trips ended in losses. OU lost in double-overtime to Georgia, 54-48, in Riley’s first year as the head coach; the Sooners had a 31-17 halftime lead in that game but were outscored 14-0 in the third quarter. In 2018, OU lost to Alabama 45-34. In 2019, the Sooners lost 63-28 to the eventual champs in LSU.
There was a clear talent difference when Riley’s Oklahoma teams lined up against the SEC. At USC, he doesn’t see that being an issue.
“I love the opportunity to build a roster that I think can be the nation’s best here,” he said. “That’s going to take time. We all understand that. That’s not a microwave process.”
But it’s a process that requires full-scale investment.
It requires the athletic department and larger university to think big. To, say, aim for a more premier conference with a heftier media rights payout.
Asked if he senses USC, from the top on down, is prepared to do everything necessary to compete with the Alabamas and Georgias of the sport, he said without question.
“There’s been zero hesitation to do so,” he said. “This is a program that’s very proud, and it should be. The history is as good as it gets in our sport. But it’s also been humbled. You feel that. You do. There are some things the program needed to do from a resource standpoint, from a facilities standpoint. The setting is right, the pieces are there, but you’ve got to continue to update and you’ve got to continue to adapt with the things that are changing in college football.
“There’s no university or football program that can benefit more from the recent changes in college football than USC. … This one’s just very unique. The elite academics here, the huge market, it’s just primed. I think everybody around here feels that. It’s very primed. Now, there’s a lot of work to be done, just because the setup’s there doesn’t mean it just happens. We’ve had a good stretch here. The first six months have been very positive on a number of fronts. The things are in place to get it done. Now it’s just work. The commitment and the alignment, you notice it right off the top. There’s a laser focus by everyone here to get this thing done.”
For his part, Riley has been on a tear on the recruiting trail. He locked up the nation’s best transfer class during the 2022 cycle—an influx of talent that makes USC a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 a year after going 4-8. Now, in 2023, Riley has the nation’s 13th-ranked high school recruiting class with plenty of room to continue growing.
You can see Riley’s full appearance with McElroy below: