Lincoln Riley and the USC Football program did not win the Pac-12 Championship Game. It's okay to be disappointed. Losing Travis Dye and Andrew Vorhees late this season was MASSIVE, and then losing an entire leg on Caleb Williams was also MASSIVE. Don't believe that? Re-watch the game and notice how SC was up 17-3 until Williams' mobility was shot.
It was frustrating to see it have to end like that, and likely be punished in the CFP conversation for earning an extra game that SC had to play on a short week where health was clearly affected. That being said, perspective is necessary. A year ago, the Trojans were 4-8, and coming off of the worst year in program history.
They turned to Lincoln Riley, and he somehow brought the team from 4-8 to 11-1. Yes, that became 11-2, but it took Williams being under 50%, Dye being out, Vorhees being out, and Brett Neilon getting hurt in the game to do it. Remember, SC was up 17-3 in the second quarter, before Williams could no longer move.
All in all, going from 4-8 to 11-2, and being ranked in the top four coming into the Pac-12 Championship is an exponential turnaround that nobody else in the country had except for perhaps TCU. And even then, TCU didn't start from 4-8. SC is not only on schedule in their rebuild under Riley, but they're actually ahead of it.
Lincoln Riley knows that USC Football is ahead of schedule in their rebuild.
After USC Football's loss to Utah in Las Vegas, Lincoln Riley addressed the reality of his turnaround this season with the Trojans:
He's exactly right. In 12 months, SC improved by SEVEN wins to 11-1, and then showed up to the Pac-12 Championship Game with a top four ranking. They gave a voice to all the people who believe that SC shouldn't be punished in their quest for the CFP by having to play an extra game injured that Ohio State (who will likely be replacing them) didn't have to play, even with their loss.
There were viral columns by the biggest of the biggest college football writers making that case before the game even happened. That's how enamored the country is with this program again. USC is nationally relevant again, and it was supposed to be absurd to even think about being able to say that SC would be nationally relevant in just a year, when SC's 4-8 season ended 12 months ago.
Riley raised this team's offense from a group that was tied for 65th in the country with 28.7 points per game, to a unit that's now fourth in the country with 41.1 points per game. He's raised this defense from perhaps the worst defense in USC history to one that is second in the nation with 19 interceptions and tied for third in the nation with 28 overall turnovers forced.
He coached up who will likely win the Heisman Trophy for his efforts this season in Williams, which will be the eighth Heisman Trophy winner in SC history.
They will own sole possession of having the most Heisman winners in college football history, should Williams take home the trophy (which he should). Riley's right not to walk around like this is some funeral. It's actually far from that. It's proof that USC football has been re-born.