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USC Football: Lincoln Riley Has Completed Construction of the Trojans' War Machine

Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans Football

Riley has wasted little time in beefing up the Trojans' roster through the transfer portal

On Feb. 1, new USC head coach Lincoln Riley completed construction on his month-long build of the war machine he plans to bring to battle on the college football gridiron in 2022. The final nail to be hammered was the addition of former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams to the roster, replacing the outgoing Kedon Slovis (Pittsburgh) and Jaxson Dart (Ole Miss).

While it may have been tough for Trojans fans initially to see the mass exodus at the quarterback position, it's a moot point now with Williams in the fold. Even better, Williams' arrival means that one highly regarded quarterback recruit (he was No. 7 overall, No. 2 QB in 2021 class per 247Sports) will take over the offense with another potentially waiting in the wings. Malachi Nelson, currently the No. 2 overall prospect in the class of 2023, was Riley's first recruiting win after coming to USC, flipping the five-star SoCal (Los Alamitos) product shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles.

As for the present, Williams' decision also means that 2022 is no longer a rebuilding year for the Men of Troy. Instead, it's a "roll the dice and see where they land" year with serious potential. This is a team that could win a New Year’s Six bowl, even crack the College Football Playoff.

But before we put the cart before the horse, let’s take a closer look at the reasoning behind the rosy outlook. For starters, here are just some of the other names Riley has added to the roster via the transfer portal: RB Travis Dye (Oregon), WR Brenden Rice (Colorado), WR Mario Williams (Oklahoma), LB Shane Lee (Alabama), LB Romello Height (Auburn), DL Tyrone Taleni (Kansas State), and now Caleb Williams. So while Riley and his staff didn't make much noise on the traditional recruiting trail this cycle (USC's class is ranked No. 65 by 247Sports), they were hard at work improving the roster via the portal.

So, what is realistic for USC? Most fans will automatically think this is a national championship-caliber team out of the gate, especially with Williams now on board. But a cautionary tale for these expectations might be Georgia football. Sure, Kirby Smart came in and pretty much immediately made the Bulldogs a contender and they came thisclose to beating Alabama in the national championship game (before falling in overtime) in just his second season (2017). But the real payoff came this past season when Georgia finally ended its long title drought and did so by avenging an earlier loss in the SEC Championship Game to the Crimson Tide. It also was made possible by four straight recruiting classes (2018-21) that ranked fourth or higher in the nation, including a pair of No. 1s.

Stacking highly regarded recruiting classes on top of one another to build up the roster feels like a more realistic path for USC than going from zero to hero. The transfer portal and proper coaching make all things possible in today's game, but things tend to thin out at the top and then you run into problems with depth and being able to maintain a high level of play over a three-game period – Pac-12 Championship Game, College Football Playoff semifinal and national championship – likely against the steepest competition that you have faced that season. There are always exceptions, but chances are that will happen in the Pac-12 title game, compared to being one of the final four teams deemed worthy enough to compete for a national championship.

How quickly USC returns to national prominence remains to be seen, but it sure seems like Riley has already started to restore the Trojans' reputation and his team has yet to take the field. Based on Riley's track record alone, opponents already have an idea of what kind of offensive onslaught is coming their way. Forget studying USC's game film from this past season. Teams would be better off watching Oklahoma's offense, which averaged 39 points and 450 yards per game last season, much of that with Williams at the helm, as a true freshman. Former offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s Pyrrhic Air Raid system will no longer be the thing holding the Trojans back. Individual talents will no longer be wasted.

This is a team with talent and with ability. The Trojans are by no means a finished product, but they should be a preseason Top 25 team, and don't be surprised if their name comes up in conversations about playoff contenders. Realistically, it feels that growing pains should be expected this fall with 2023 targeted for the real breakthrough. But maybe Riley wants to lull teams into a false sense of security, get them thinking to themselves "maybe they will be good, but they're not THAT good yet." Maybe Riley wants people to think he's still building. Time will tell, but at least it will be time well spent rather than time wasted. Riley's recently completed war machine will see to that. You can catch a live-fire test this spring.

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.