So, one or two things have changed with the USC Trojans since we were here last year. By one or two, I mean the entire roster, coaching staff, national profile, expectations, not to mention the entire demeanor around campus. Done are the days of just hoping for a conference title, though those will become the minimum expectation for the various classes from here on in. To quote the great Cary Elwes as Jonas in the hit film "Twister," fittingly set and filmed in Oklahoma, "Today we're gonna make history, so stick around. 'Cause the days of sniffing the dirt are over."
With an opening like that, USC had better have done something impressive, right? Well, unless you've been living under a rock or were completely checked out this past offseason, USC hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma, and along with him came the top transfer in the portal, quarterback Caleb Williams. They also convinced a number of other players to flip their commitments from various schools to USC, both in this class and future ones.
As a result, many other players chose USC in the transfer market, and they landed the No. 2 recruiting class in that respect, according to 247Sports' rankings, oddly enough beat out by former USC coach Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss with a class bolstered by exiting USC stud quarterback Jaxson Dart. Dart left after it became apparent that Williams was USC's primary target and his likely landing spot.
Obviously the expectations are high for USC, and a Pac-12 title is well within grasp, if not likely given the seismic shift in the coaching landscape that Riley's hire set off — not that there weren't going to be massive changes anyhow with the number of blue-chip programs looking for a head coach. Riley was the first and loudest domino to fall, and now he has to set about reforming what the expectation is around USC. Spring practice report will be coming later this week, so for now let's take a look at three reasons for optimism.
1. Lincoln Riley
The most obvious reason for optimism at USC is the new head coach. Riley raises the level of what is expected, and he brings with him an absurd list of accomplishments that allows him to connect with players of the highest levels. No longer will USC be added to top 5 lists as a courtesy to the school with higher-ranked recruits, now they're bound to be seriously considering the school. He also brings his record with coaching and producing quarterbacks ready to take over at the next level. With two Heisman-winning quarterbacks to his name, Riley is going to return USC to being QBU.
Riley also brings his on-field acumen. You don't win by just being a good recruiter; you become a prolific recruiter by winning on the field. Riley brought that skill with him to USC, and it should immediately translate to the on-field product. No longer will USC be fumbling around looking clueless on offense. No longer will USC insist on having a non-mobile quarterback. From here on out, USC will not only look competent on offense, but it's also going to look downright unstoppable.
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2. Caleb Williams
The dangerous skill set Williams brings with him is going to change USC's offense overnight. This is a guy who can legit beat you at three different levels — with his accuracy, legs, and his arm strength. He can spread the ball anywhere it needs to be and at any level. It's not something he struggles with, either. He's been doing this since high school. His system in high school saw him throwing from sideline to sideline, as well as up over the top in their breadbasket. I'm not saying they're the same player, but the ability to do what he can do is found in players like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Williams has that talent.
One of the best things that Williams brings with him is a complete understanding of what Riley is going to ask of him. One of the things transfer quarterbacks can struggle with is learning the new offense. That will not be an issue for Williams, as Riley was not only his primary recruiter on two occasions, he was also his coach at Oklahoma. This means USC should be able to hit the ground running with Williams connecting with his new receivers over spring practice and the summer.
3. Did we mention their transfer class?
It's not just Williams that USC has going for itself. Oregon running back Travis Dye transferred to USC. Linebackers Romello Height and Shane Lee come over from the SEC. Stanford running back Austin Jones joins Dye in a completely new look USC backfield. Cornerback Latrell McCutchin comes over from Oklahoma along with Mekhi Blackmon from Colorado, they'll help the secondary. Defensive lineman Tyrone Taleni transferred in from Kansas State.
The amount of talent USC has at wide receiver also ballooned this offseason. The most notable name to transfer to USC was Jerry Rice's son Brenden Rice joining from Colorado and Mario Williams joining his quarterback from Oklahoma. The Trojans also got another conference veteran in Terell Bynum from Washington. Given the addition of Dye and Jones, the USC offense is going to look vastly different from itself in 2021. Words cannot express how good of a thing this is for all involved.
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— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.