USC football: Lincoln Riley has a lot to prove in 2024

UCLA v USC / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

USC football went out and poached Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma after the 2021 season which, at the time, looked like one of the biggest power moves the sport had seen in years.

Riley was 55-10 at Oklahoma with four Big 12 titles and three berths in the College Football Playoff where his Sooners went 0-3 with some classic games. He could never seem to get over that hump and win a playoff game, but he seemed to have no problem getting there.

And in year one at USC, it felt like he brought that winning culture with him as he turned the Trojans around from a 4-8 team to 11-3 with a berth in the conference title game -- and subsequent loss.

USC missed out on the playoff and lost in the Cotton Bowl, going from 11-1 to start the year to 11-3 which was a disappointing finish, especially since the Trojans fielded the Heisman Trophy winner. Losing twice to Utah in one season and having that be the difference between making and missing the playoff was crushing.

Caleb Williams came back in 2023 and everyone expected a 'national title or bust' season but the Trojans fell way short of expectations and finished 8-5. Disappointing? No, nightmare scenario.

The Trojans now enter the 2024 season with Miller Moss as the projected starting quarterback and UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava backing him up. Williams isn't walking through the Coliseum tunnel to save the day.

Riley needs to prove that the 2023 season was an extreme outlier and hopefully the shedding of Alex Grinch will help the program improve. But if he has yet another disappointing season that ends in anything less than 9-10 wins, there are going to be talks about change in Los Angeles.

Lincoln has a lot to prove.