Lincoln Riley says USC not yet done adding talent to roster
There were clear areas of emphasis for Lincoln Riley and his USC staff on the recruiting trail.
The Trojans signed two blue-chip cornerback prospects from the high school ranks, and added a pair of corners from the transfer portal as well. Between transfers and high school recruits, the Trojans added three new linebackers, three new running backs, and four new wideouts.
When everything added up, it was a top-10 overall signing class for Riley’s first go of it. The hope is that will be where USC lives moving forward, stacking top-10 classes on top-10 classes. But in terms of complexion, this one might be different from the rest going forward.
The Trojans only signed eight high school players. Thirteen of the 21 signees came from the transfer portal.
“I think this is a unique year and a unique situation that we’re at in terms of the roster. We as a staff felt like this was going to be the best way to address the things that needed to be addressed,” Riley told reporters on Wednesday. “I don’t know that I would want to put a number on it, but I would fully expect in the future that our class has a much higher percentage of high school players than this one currently does.“
Riley caught some flack Wednesday for an ESPN appearance during which he questioned whether there should be some guardrails in place going forward with the transfer portal. He used the phrase “guardrails” again when speaking with reporters at his signing day press conference.
For Riley to be the guy delivering that message struck a specific chord with a specific group of people, but it didn’t necessarily make the message wrong. The transfer market is fairly unregulated right now.
The first-year USC coach spoke to some of the difficulties that kind of unknown sandbox brings. It’s easier to evaluate fit and potential because you have college film. It’s much tougher to build relationships because of the timelines most transfer players operate on. Guys can leave at any point for any reason.
Makes roster building and planning tough. Every coach will tell you that.
But if that mechanism is available to a coach looking to set a new foundation at a new program, use it. Riley seems like the exact kind of coach for the moment, a recruiter who can pull every lever available to him.
“I’m just trying to build the best roster that we can at USC,” Riley said.
Riley was asked if there’s any attention paid to transfers potentially harming team chemistry. He said he has learned not to project. If there’s trust between coaches and players about what’s going on, things will work out.
“Our standpoint has been we’re going to be honest with all parties involved—whether it’s a current player on our roster or somebody that we’re recruiting—about what we’re doing, about future plans, try to be very transparent, but (express) that we’re not going to recruit or try to build our roster out of fear that people will leave.
“You can’t operate that way and we’re just not going to. We’re going to build the best roster we can with people that want to be here and believe in the vision and believe in this program.”
And the flow of USC players into the portal would seem to suggest that open line of communication is already present.
“I don’t know that there was one position on the team that we felt like we didn’t need to address,” Riley said. “And not all that means that has to happen for this year. We took some older guys in the transfer portal that will have shorter careers here at USC, we get that, but also there’s a future to look at as well.
“In this day and age … I think you’re constantly building all parts of your roster. You just never really get to a part where you’re like, ‘Alright, we’re set at o-line, we’re good there.’ I just don’t think that’ll happen much anymore.
As spring ball gets rolling, expect more attrition.
But Riley says they aren’t done adding.
“We still have a unique amount of flexibility,” he said.
Spring ball will be helpful in allowing a new staff to evaluate and form their own opinions about the players they have on their roster. And to that end, Riley sounds encouraged.
“I think we have a lot more answers than we have holes right now. I’ll put it that way,” he said. “But, also being realistic that we know there’s going to be another surge of people in the transfer portal after these spring balls across the country start to wrap up, and I believe we’re going to be in a position to continue to build this roster at that time as well.”
It was a quiet day on Wednesday. USC already enjoyed some fireworks beforehand. And it sure sounds like there may be more in the coming months.