Believe it, Duck Fans: USC Is for Real

Darren Perkins Editorials

Two years ago, after the Ducks blew out USC in the Coliseum, I wrote an article warning Oregon fans to enjoy it while they could, because, at some point in the near future, the Trojans would correct course and once again become dominant.

At the time I wrote that, it was widely expected that Clay Helton would be fired after the 2019 season and possibly be replaced by then top-tier coaching legend Urban Meyer. Well, Helton ended up surviving another two years at Troy until he was mercifully let go to start the 2021 season after an inexcusable blowout loss to Stanford.

I wondered why USC had not fired Helton earlier, but now I think I understand the thinking of USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn. He had just been hired on November 11th of 2019, so he did not make the mistake of a rash decision in letting Helton go. He bided his time, learned the lay of the land in LA, and got to know the donor base and how things operated. He did this so that he could arm himself to do what he did this past December in not just settling for a good coach, but hiring the best available coach that money could buy — sure-fire winner, Lincoln Riley.

Make no mistake about it: USC has finally entered the modern world of big-time college football. This started by hiring an outstanding outsider of an AD in Bohn, defying their long-outdated practice of hiring a flawed “USC man” (such as the way-out-of-his-element Lynn Swan). USC has pumped money into their facilities, invigorated their donor base, modernized the Coliseum, and finally caught up to what it takes to win in the modern world of big-time college football.

Top talent will be flowing to the Trojans.

I am touching on this topic today because, throughout various sports websites and forums, social media, talk radio, and television, I have sensed a large percentage of the Oregon fanbase who do not believe that the Trojans are for real. And I believe this to be in serious error.

Make no mistake about it: USC is for real.

It is no longer a matter of will they be great again, it is only a matter of when. Now, I’m not saying they are going to make the CFP in 2022, but after looking at their 2022 schedule, I believe eight or nine wins, possibly even ten, is not a far-fetched proposition. And come 2023, all bets are off. The Trojans will be competing for Pac-12 championships. Is there anything about the “strength” of the Pac-12 to suggest otherwise?

This is not an “I’ll believe it when I see it” type of scenario, like when Steve Sarkisian was hired. This is imminent danger. The Trojans’ newfound success is already happening, as they are landing big-time recruits and transfers in addition to the massive “buzz” surrounding the hiring of Riley. Riley is an “it” coach, and he will be very successful with the Trojans.

No doubt, local high-school talents such as the next CJ Stroud (Ohio State) or the Heisman-winning Bryce Young (Alabama) are now way more likely to stay in SoCal for college than to venture across the country. Skill position players will be abundant, and USC’s lack of talent along the lines of scrimmage will quickly dissipate. They will now have the coaching to match the Southern California talent pool.

Oregon countered the Lincoln Riley hire with a fast-rising star in Dan Lanning.

Here are four of the most common themes I hear from the USC doubters:

1) Riley rode the coattails of Bob Stoops

No, he didn’t. Riley was highly successful with the Sooners for five full years. That is enough time to prove you are not riding the success of your predecessor. By contrast, Oregon’s coattail-riding Mark Helfrich had a ton of success in his first two seasons before the wheels began to come off in year three, followed by the full-on nuclear meltdown in year four.

Riley’s five-year record at Oklahoma was 55-10, while in his final five years, Stoops went 51-14. After a lackluster and unranked 8-5 season in 2014, Stoops hired Riley as his OC, which elevated the Sooners to two top-5 finishes in Stoops’ final two seasons. Perhaps a correlation?

Riley did not ride the coattails of Stoops, he helped to sew them on.

2) Dismissive comments, such as: “I’ll believe it when I see it”; “They gotta’ prove it on the field”; “So much hype, so little achievement”; “Wake me if they ever get good”; Etc., etc., etc. … 

Riley did prove it on the field at Oklahoma, and I, for one, believe he will recruit at a higher level at USC. When you marry those two thoughts together, a high level of success should follow. Get over it, people, this is not your 2010s USC program. They hired a real AD, a real coach, and have a real big-money investment in the program. 

Lincoln Riley will make USC and the Pac-12 better.

3) Riley is a good coach, but he can only get to the College Football Playoff. He can’t win once he gets there. 

Ah, so he “only” gets to the Playoff. Really think about what is being said here. How often does a Pac-12 team “only” get to the CFP? Yep. And, “only” getting to the CFP from the Big-12 is more than enough to win the Pac-12 in most years.

4) Riley can only win Heismans. He has zero wins in the Playoff. 

Another “only” scenario. Last I checked, winning Heismans is a good thing. Again, let us think about what is being said here. How often does a Pac-12 school win the Heisman? Yep. Riley has coached two Heisman winners and one second-place finisher. Believe it or not, this is something that recruits notice. There is a good chance that the best-of-the-best quarterback recruits will give USC serious consideration year in and year out. Especially those in Southern California.

For Heaven’s sake, people, in five years Riley “only” had three trips to the CFP and two Heisman winners. That is not shoulder-shrugging material. That is actually pretty damn awesome. Give the guy a little credit. 

While the return of USC’s success brings a level of excitement to the Pac-12 conference, raises its profile, and raises its revenue stream, it also brings about a sense of foreboding for Oregon fans. The Ducks now have one more giant hurdle to clear to win the Pac-12 and make the CFP. But, fortunately, unlike when the Pete Caroll-era Trojans dominated the 2000s, the Oregon program is now in a much stronger place, which will allow it to stand toe-to-toe with college football’s elite. Even against a USC program firing on all cylinders.

Best be prepared for the storm brewing in Southern California, or you can choose to underestimate them at your own peril.

Darren Perkins
Spokane, WA
Top photo credit: Twitter

Andrew Mueller, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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