Caleb Williams gets to work after move from Oklahoma to USC

Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA Today Network
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LOS ANGELES — Caleb Williams missed the entrance to work on the first day at USC. He jogged out of the John McKay Center and headed the wrong way down McClintock Avenue before he got pointed to the right door for practice at Howard Jones Field.

Sure, the quarterback with Heisman Trophy buzz is still getting used to his new home, even though he’s been in town for a month now.

Williams will have plenty of time to learn all the routes on and off the field before the Trojans get to the first game of the Lincoln Riley era in about five months.

Williams and Riley went to work for the first practice of spring football in a remarkable rebuilding project at the West Coast’s most storied college football program.

The former five-star recruit who followed his head coach from Norman to Los Angeles is excited by the opportunities presented in rebuilding a team that has undergone a comprehensive facelift after winning only four games last season.

“It’s a great day to be out here in sunny Southern California,” Williams said. “It’s just a little weird, because you have new colors, new logos and all those things. But it’s been really, really fun.”

After seizing the starting job at Oklahoma midway through his exciting freshman season, Williams is starting over on the West Coast with a wealth of endorsement deals and ample uncertainty. But it isn’t a completely fresh start, and that’s important to Williams.

Riley is here, as are former Sooners receiver Mario Williams and several key assistants and support personnel from Oklahoma. Williams also was already friendly with several Trojans – including his probable backup at USC, Miller Moss – from workouts and camps.

“I know a lot of guys out here already, because I come out here and train all the time,” Williams said. “A bunch of guys that were highly recruited athletes. But it is a pretty unique roster (at USC). We’ve got a lot of transfers, and that’s pretty unique to USC’s history. They’ve always been able to get whoever they wanted by recruitment, things like that.”

Riley also appeared to be thrilled to get to work after his stunning move to USC. The head coach participated actively in individual workouts with his new players, even filling the role of a defensive back during passing drills.

“It’s the hottest first spring practice in my life, for sure,” Riley said of the 80-degree temperatures. “But it was amazing. … I’ve been waiting 100 days for this, man. The way the players are responding, the way the staff is coming together, it energizes me. It excites me. I was so ready for this day to be here.”

Riley and Williams were joined by the full complement of newcomers to USC, including touted running backs Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford). Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch are teaching schemes to their new players, but they’re also spending much of spring building the team bonds and togetherness they’ll need in the fall.

USC could have well over two dozen transfer players on its roster by September, since Riley expects to add more transfers after spring ball shakes out at other schools.

“The main goal right now is learning how to practice, learning how to do things in a championship manner, learning how to come together as a team,” Riley said. “By the time we kick off the first game, this is going to be the most unique roster in the history of the school and one of the most unique rosters in the history of the sport. (There’s) a challenge there for us to really bond, so we’ve got to do that and establish our culture and identity. The other things are important, but that’s going to be the most important.”

Williams knows how to get to practice now, but he’s taking his time to learn his way around USC. When asked what had surprised him about campus so far, Williams laughed.

“Even from the garage to the facility, you’ve got to do a lot of walking,” Williams said. “I probably should get a scooter. It’s a lot of walking. You’ve got to have good time management.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.