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The 2022 USC football season was undoubtedly a successful one.
Head coach Lincoln Riley used the transfer portal to immediately rebuild a USC team that went 4-8 in 2021.
Caleb Williams won the Heisman Trophy going away, and the Trojans stormed to an 11-1 regular season record.
But that’s when it all fell apart.
USC faced Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game, and after Williams sustained a hamstring injury, couldn’t get anything going on offense.
That wasn’t their only concern either, as the Trojans defense gave up big play after big play in the second half.
Needing only a win to advance to the College Football Playoff, USC wound up slipping to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. While still a major New Year’s Six bowl, it was a disappointing result.
The opponent, Tulane, had an outstanding season, but lacked the name recognition of larger programs.
With little at stake, Trojans fans were concerned about a potential letdown. And oh boy, did they get a letdown.
USC seemed to be cruising to a win, with a field goal giving them a 45-30 lead with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
FBS teams were 1,162-1 in similar situations over the past five seasons. They’re now 1,162-2.
USC’s defense gave up a touchdown in less than 30 seconds. With a spectacularly bad special teams play and poor play calling, they were back on the field just a minute later.
Anyone watching knew it was inevitable they would give up the game winning score. And they did.
Yet, according to Lincoln Riley, the architect of that embarrassing defensive collapse will apparently be back for 2023.
USC to Retain Alex Grinch
Riley spoke to reporters Tuesday and revealed he doesn’t intend to make any changes at defensive coordinator.
Despite the tremendous progress in year one with Riley, this might be tough for USC fans to take.
The Trojans defense, despite the 11-1 record, was exceptionally bad all season.
The FEI advanced metrics system rated the USC defense 107th in FBS. Army, Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion all ranked higher, just as a few examples.
While it’s unfair to place all the blame on Grinch, it’s still hard to defend the performance.
Significant numbers of defensive players transferred when the new coaching staff took over. But there was still plenty of talent on the roster and several high profile incoming transfers.
The defense underperformed regardless.
That said, it’s understandable Riley would want to give him another shot. Grinch will have the chance to work with incoming recruits and have more time to make changes heading into 2023.
But there’s no doubt it’s still a risky move. Caleb Williams is almost sure to leave after next season, and saddling him with a disastrously bad defense could lead to further disappointments in his final opportunity to win a title.
For Lincoln Riley and USC however, that seems to be a chance worth taking.