November football arrives for USC with the Trojans still very much in the mix for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and still mathematically alive in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. In eight games, USC has but one loss on the season. And even that was by a single point on the road to a ranked team.

Lincoln Riley’s first year in Los Angeles has gone well.

Now comes closing time.

“It’s a great time of year to be right in the middle of it,” Riley said during his weekly appearance on the Trojans Live radio show. “Frankly, it’s where we expected to be. Here we are, we’ll see what we do.”

The Trojans sit ninth in both the AP Top 25 and the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Riley has been part of three teams who opened outside the top four in those first CFP rankings and still made the field. The way he tells his team: what you’ve done to this point puts you in a position to enjoy November success, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

Riley says teams eliminate themselves this time of year.

He doesn’t want the Trojans to do that.

“A lot of teams this time of year eliminate themselves,” he said. “They’ll crack. They’ll break. They’ll get tired of getting coached. They’ll get tired of doing the little things right. Majority of teams eliminate themselves and don’t even give themselves a chance and they might not even know it.

“We’ve got to be very self-aware of who we are right now, the things we’ve got to get better at, and be very real about what it’s going to take and what we can’t afford to miss out on.”

USC got back in the win column last weekend with a 45-37 victory of Arizona on the road. While the box-score-only checkers will drive by, see the margin, look at the Arizona record, and knock the Trojans for the one-score win, those following Riley’s group closely know that was a big game from a confidence standpoint.

The Trojans were missing key starters at a number of positions on both sides of the ball, several players who specifically would have had a large impact against a team like Arizona. And the Wildcats’ offense posed a stressful set of challenges for USC, as they’ve done for others throughout the Pac-12 slate.

USC survived. Now it gets a chance to keep climbing toward a Nov. 19 meeting with No. 12 UCLA.

“You do all that work throughout the year … to put yourself in a position where they are meaningful,” Riley said. “If you hadn’t done your job up to this point, they’re not quite as meaningful, there’s not quite as much riding on them. Our team has done that. We’ve put ourselves in a great position. We’re back home here now for the next couple weeks, obviously in the L.A. area for the next month, and we’ve got an awesome opportunity in front of us.

“We know the things we’re doing well and the areas we’re doing some really nice things. We’ve got to continue that. There’s still a lot to build on for this football team on all three sides. There’s still so much out there for us, not just in terms of what we can win but more in terms of like how much better we can get as a football team. We’re on a race against time. When you’re on that race, you don’t worry about, well, we’ve been going at it for this many months or we’ve been practicing this many straight days, blah, blah, blah. You’ve got to truly make the most of each day.”

When Riley was at Oklahoma, he won each of his 14 November games as a head coach. That featured wins over six ranked opponents that helped the Sooners to reach and win four straight Big 12 championships under his watch. Riley’s teams averaged 47 points a game across those 14. They won six times by five points or less.

Riley knows what this looks like and what it takes.

“I think the best teams get better this time of year. I do think a lot of teams get worse this time of year,” he said. “It’s human nature, it’s complacency, it’s getting tired of the same old thing, it’s bodies getting sore, it’s the monotony. It just happens. Everybody that hoot-and-hollered and (said) ‘rah rah rah’ before the season, ‘We’re gonna go do this,’ and, ‘We’re gonna go do that,’ yeah, go talk to me Week 9 and you don’t hear a peep.

“It’s only real for some. The more you’ve got in your locker room that’s real, the more leaders you have in there, the more coaches you have that have been through these and been a part of some successful runs, it helps.”