The 2022 preseason Coaches Poll has come out, and USC football debuts at No. 15 in the country. It's quite the turnaround from where they were last season; a 4-8 team that fired the head coach after a 1-1 start so they could prepare to build for the future.
The new head coach they landed is most certainly primed to get this team back on track, though, and his fellow head coaches seem to get the memo. Riley immediately came in and turned this roster all the way around. He scored two five-star transfers, and five four-star transfers to be the core of his No. 1-ranked transfer portal class in America.
So, while a 4-8 team can only go so far in just one year with a new coach due to the egregious cultural problems that had been going on with all three of USC's head coaches since Pete Carroll left, a top 15 season is most certainly plausible with the talent on the roster.
There are very wide-ranging expectations for this team. Some believe SC is going to the College Football Playoff. Some have them finishing under .500. Finding a nice, happy medium like this is the most likely situation. The nuanced take is often the best one, and the coaches around the country gave USC a fair ranking.
The reasons USC football can make this turnaround is very clear.
USC football has a top three QB in the game in Caleb Williams (some argue top two), the best wide receiver in the nation in Jordan Addison (who already has chemistry with Williams), four returning starters from their No. 1-rated offensive line in the country last year (PFF), an elite RB in Travis Dye, one of the best defensive linemen in the nation in Tuli Tuipulotu, and a top five head coach in college football with Lincoln Riley running the show.
The data on Riley suggests that the Trojans can absolutely take this type of leap. Riley has never finished outside the top 10 in a single season of his five-year head coaching career. Therefore, while he's taking over for a program with LOTS of work to be done, his wining pedigree eases many concerns.
Not to mention, he improved the last program he was at significantly as soon as he got there. For the first three College Football Playoffs, Oklahoma only made it once. After that, Riley took over, and immediately made each of the next three College Football Playoffs. So, not only did he take a team that didn't make the CFP before he got there to it right away in Year 1, but repeated that success twice after.
He's coached in so many big games that many forget he's not the grizzled vet he could pass as. And that's another element to this. Only 38 years old, he's only becoming better as a coach. He'll be sure to take another step this year, and the coaches he'll be up against this year seem to agree.