Lincoln Riley Talks USC’s Big Ten Move, Finances and Recruiting for New Conference

It’s hard to imagine more change in just a few months than what’s happened on the USC campus.

After years of disappointing performance by the football team under former coach Clay Helton, fan apathy inarguably set in at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The first step in restoring USC to its former glory was bringing in a new head coach, and Athletic Director Mike Bohn delivered, prying Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma.

Since his arrival, Riley’s turned over essentially the entire roster, dealt with the explosion of NIL agreements, and learned that he’ll be competing in the Big 10 in just a few years.

At Friday’s Pac-12 media day, he sat down to discuss the Trojans upcoming move for the first time.

Los Angeles, CA – November 29: USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley speaks during a news conference to announce him as USC’s new football coach at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Monday, Nov 29, 2021. Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

According to a report in The Athletic, Riley said he wasn’t surprised when he learned about the decision, considering how quickly things are changing across the college football landscape:

“We’ve had those discussions openly, and I think everybody’s been aware of all the things that are changing in college football,” Riley told The Athletic before his trip to the podium to end the day. “So you never know when or exactly how those things are going to happen. But am I shocked it happened? No.”

He also discussed the financial benefits for the program, saying he supported the change and that the increase revenue from the Big 10 would be reinvested:

“I’m behind it. The finances are obvious. What does that go back into? It’s going to go back into facilities. It’s going to go back into services for athletes. It’s going to do so many great things. This program always had really good resources — now you combine that with what that may have and it’s pretty promising.”

New rivalry games could also emerge from playing in a different conference, and the Pac-12 and Big 10 already have a history with historic Rose Bowl matchups:

“Some of the different potential rivalry games it’s going to create, high-profile games, and I think one great example is the Rose Bowl is one of the most-watched games year in and year out, and not that the venue is going to be the Rose Bowl every time, but you’re going to be able to create those multiple times per year, which I think is pretty cool.”

Perhaps most interestingly, Riley explained that recruiting will likely have to change when moving to the Big 10.

Teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State are known for attracting particularly big, skilled linemen on both sides of the ball.

Since the Pete Caroll era, USC has struggled to maintain consistent production from those positions, something that Riley acknowledges will have to change quickly:

“It’s something, we think about who we’re recruiting, how we’re evaluating, it’s definitely something to consider,” Riley said. “Because you’re thinking about bringing in what you envision is the very best, and to be able to have advantages over your competition. There are some things we are looking at in terms of potentially our approach shifting a bit to be ready for when that time comes. Because those future Big Ten teams are recruiting them now.”

Name, image and likeness rules also came up with recent reports that prized recruit Malachi Nelson was visiting Texas A&M, with Riley pointing out that enforcement is often inconsistent and changes can be frustrating:

“It’s all still so new,” Riley said. “It’s a really difficult question to answer because you have rules and the rules are extremely clear and they’re not being enforced. Assuming at some point, either the rules will change or the rules will be enforced. One of the two is going to happen, hopefully sooner rather than later, and once that happens it’ll be easier to say. You’ve got these schools who are very outward with their collectives, all of a sudden they start enforcing the rules, there’s going to be some nervous people. Then the schools that aren’t doing it, if all of sudden they say it’s OK and they’re not going to enforce it, then schools are probably going to have to step up and get more aggressive. It’s just hard to say. It’s like right now everybody’s got to decide what side of the fence are you on, and I think everybody’s in wait-and-see mode. Some type of change is coming, we’ve just got to see what it is.”

While the Trojans are a few years away from joining the Big 10, it’s telling that Riley already thinking about having to change his approach to fit into the challenges of a new conference.

Expectations for the 2022 season are already extremely high, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to fix USC football both immediately and down the road.

Written by Ian Miller

Ian Miller is a former award watching high school actor, ice cream expert and long suffering Dodgers fan. He spends most of his time golfing, eating as much pizza as humanly possible, reading about World War I history, and trying to get the remote back from his dog. Follow him on Twitter.

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