USC Football's turnaround could turn historic after Cotton Bowl

Lincoln Riley, USC Football, USC Trojans
Lincoln Riley, USC Football, USC Trojans / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC Football improved seven wins from where they were last season at 4-8. They went from 4-8 to 11-1. What changed? Well, SC finally hired an elite head football coach for the first time since Pete Carroll. He flipped the roster, developed a Heisman Trophy winner, drastically improved the culture of the program, and the rest may be history. It really may be history.

That's because USC earned a trip to the Cotton Bowl this bowl season. If they win that game, they will have improved eight wins from last year to this year. That would be the biggest improvement in USC history. SC once improved seven wins another time (1961 to 1962), but has never seen a +8 win improvement.

This turnaround very well may end up being that No. 1 turnaround in program history, and a lot of that is due to how strong of a turnaround SC saw on BOTH sides of the ball this year. Riley inherited a defense allowing 31.8 points per game (tied for 103rd in the nation), and improved it to a defense that now allows 27.9 points per game (81st in the country).

The defense has improved, and is even tied for third nationally in turnovers forced (28). It's also second in interceptions with 19, and tied for 15th in sacks (36). They're even tied for 10th with three defensive touchdowns. The offense has seen an even bigger improvement, and a MUCH bigger improvement.

Lincoln Riley took over a USC Football offense that was only scoring 28.7 points per game (tied for 65th).

Under Lincoln Riley's guidance, however, USC Football ended up averaging the third-most points in the country this season (41.1 points per game). SC ended up being fifth in the country in total offense (499.8 yards per game), and had the third-most yards per pass attempt (9.14 in the nation).

They were tied for first in the country with just six turnovers on the year, and one of those turnovers was a missed onside kick, so the offense only had five turnovers. The team as a whole got so much better, and even was first in the country with a +22 turnover margin. That's a +8 difference over the next-best teams. They took advantage of it too--posting a +101 points off turnover margin.

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Riley also coached up the Heisman Trophy winner at QB in Caleb Williams. As long as he plays, SC will most certainly be the favorite for the Cotton Bowl. If Riley ends up winning that game, he will already have gone down in USC history.