Keeping Bear Alexander important for the perception of USC football

By keeping defensive tackle Bear Alexander in the program, USC football shows that it is serious about building a championship defense
Stanford v USC
Stanford v USC / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

It was a crazy two days for the USC football program earlier this week. Tuesday, it was reported that starting defensive tackle Bear Alexander planned to enter the transfer portal after just one season as a Trojan. However, on Wednesday, Alexander confirmed that he was indeed committed to staying with USC, and on Thursday, he participated in one of the Trojans' spring practice sessions. That is a massive win for the perception of the program under Lincoln Riley.

On social media, Alexander posted that he wasn't "crystal clear" about the noise surrounding the reports of his intention to enter the portal but that he wanted to win a National Championship at USC. However, the Trojans aren't going to win any titles until they improve their defense.

In 2023, the Trojans ranked No. 114 out of 133 teams in the country in total defense by allowing an average of 432.8 yards per game. What's more, they were 117th in points allowed per game at 34.4.

Now, to be fair, that was with Alexander in the mix. He was credited with 48 tackles (6.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks after transferring in from Georgia. That was good for sixth on the team in total tackles and fourth in tackles for loss. But even though he isn't a savior, he is an important piece of the puzzle for the Trojans.

Putting together even a representative defense has been a challenge for head coach Lincoln Riley at USC. That's why keeping Alexander on the roster and out of the portal was so critical. And it appears that Riley and Co. jumped into action at the mention of Alexander potentially leaving.

According to the Orange County Register, Riley, defensive line coach Eric Henderson, and Alexander's family had a group call to discuss keeping the Texas native in L.A. Apparently, those efforts were successful.

According to Luca Evans, "On the call, the source said, Henderson laid out summer plans for Alexander, detailing training and a development process similar to how he had worked with former Rams great Aaron Donald. Large NIL offers likely laid elsewhere for Alexander were he to hit the portal; ultimately, the source said, Alexander chose to stay at USC and work with Henderson rather than absorb the backlash of transferring again."

This is a massive win for USC not only in terms of football but also in regard to perception. Riley has to start showing the fan base and, perhaps more importantly, the powers that be at USC that he is serious about putting together championship-caliber defenses to match the high-powered offenses he's known for.

However, finding a way to put those defenses in place opposite his offenses has been an issue for Riley. That problem dogged him at Oklahoma and it hasn't gotten any better at USC despite defensive coordinator shuffling.

Therefore, losing Alexander would have been yet another sign that defense is going to be the weak spot for his program. It would have told recruits and current players that the Trojans will continue to come up short in their efforts to amass talent on that side of the ball. It would have continued the talk among the fandom and the national talking heads that Riley and USC are only about offense and that USC will continue to be a one-sided program.

However, with Alexander still in the mix, Riley can point to his defensive line (which will include Texas A&M transfer Isaiah Raikes) as an area where he's amassing NFL talent on the defensive side of the football. Keeping that duo together gives everyone at USC hope that the program can turn to the page and start to address its greatest flaw.

In today's world of N.I.L. payments, recruiting your own roster often is as important as recruiting new players. That's what Riley and Co. did this week with Alexander and this recruiting win was massive because it showed that defense is a priority in Los Angeles after years of being an afterthought.