USC football: Is Lincoln Riley's seat heating up ahead of the 2024 season?

Nov 18, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley during the first
Nov 18, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley during the first / Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

Year one of Lincoln Riley felt like a positive sign of things to come for USC football. The Trojans fielded the Heisman Trophy winner and went 11-3 overall and 8-1 in Pac-12 play. They were in playoff contention all year which was a nice bounce-back from the 4-8 campaign under Clay Helton a year earlier.

To say expectations were sky-high for 2023 with Caleb Williams returning would have been a massive understatement. Every USC fan expected a playoff berth from this team.

Heck, the reason Riley was brought to USC was to win titles and return the Trojans back to the top of college football. That's why it was such a big deal when they poached him from Oklahoma where he went 55-10 over five seasons, winning three Big 12 titles and making the playoff multiple times.

Unfortunately, 2023 did not play out as expected. The Trojans struggled mightily and the defense couldn't stop anyone or anything. Alex Grinch ended up getting fired, but not before it was too late as USC finished the year just 8-5. Fortunately, Riley was able to poach D'Anton Lynn from UCLA after he turned the Bruins' defense completely around from No. 87 in 2022 to No. 11 in 2023.

So at least he fixed one issue.

But now Williams is gone -- and so is star running back MarShawn Lloyd -- and the offense is going to have to rely on new guys to lead the way. Are Miller Moss and Quinten Joyner ready to carry that load and turn the Trojans around in a hurry all while joining a new conference with a tough schedule that includes LSU, Michigan, Penn State, Washington, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Notre Dame?

Just how warm is the seat for Riley heading into the 2024 season with all of these question marks?

Seeing as USC spent a pretty penny to get Riley to the West Coast, I don't think we can quite call his seat "hot" or even "warm" just yet. If anything, it's "lukewarm" with the threat of becoming toastier throughout the season if he's not able to win 9-10 games and truly compete in the Big Ten.

USC didn't spend what it did on Riley just to win 7-8 games every year and finish in the middle of the pack. No, the Trojans brought him in to win championships because he was contending for them every single year at Oklahoma -- he never lost more than two games in a single season with the Sooners (he's done that twice in two years at USC).

I get that it takes time to adjust to a new culture and new school completely, but Riley needs to show that he can compete at a national title level at USC or he might be hoping for some NFL offers.