Lincoln Riley feels momentum gathering for USC in spring

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LOS ANGELES – For a coach charged with the monumental task of raising a prestigious college football program from its lowest depths in three decades, Lincoln Riley looked quite content after Southern California’s spring game.

Running out of the historic Coliseum tunnel in front of a cheering home crowd for the first time on a sun-kissed Saturday in Los Angeles left Riley even more confident he’s leading the Trojans in the right direction.

“If you’re in this city and you don’t feel the momentum around this program, you’re not paying attention,” Riley said.

Coaches frequently attempt to speak such feelings into existence, but the renewed excitement at USC isn’t just coach-speak. The Trojans went through their scrimmage in front of 33,427 fans – the largest crowd to attend the spring game since the school began keeping track in the 1990s.

A vast fan base is clearly renewing its passion for a program that mostly gave angst to its faithful in the past half-decade. USC’s success in recruiting and in the transfer market also have skyrocketed since Riley’s hiring less than five months ago, headlined by the arrival of Heisman Trophy hopeful Caleb Williams as the Trojans’ top quarterback.

In another sign of the renewed interest around USC, the spring game was broadcast nationally on ESPN. But winning is the most important step, and Riley believes the Trojans will be ready to do much more of it in his debut season.

“Today was a great example of the progress that’s been made in a really short time,” Riley said. “I thought the day was really representative of how the entire spring has gone.”

Many fans traveled downtown to the Coliseum to get their first look at Williams, the Oklahoma transfer with a smooth release and impressive poise in the pocket. The sophomore completed every pass he threw in the first half of the spring game, including two touchdown passes to Mario Williams, another ex-Sooner who followed Riley to the West Coast.

Caleb Williams’ talents are obvious, but he intends to supplement them by being a vocal leader for a roster with many players who just met this spring. He’s eager to take on a central role in what’s certain to be a year full of unique challenges, and he isn’t daunted by the pressure of following the Heisman winners whose jersey numbers are honored in the Coliseum’s famed Peristyle end.

“I don’t really get nervous,” Williams said with a smile. “It was really cool. Hopefully we get to pack it out really soon. Coming out here and getting in front of the fans, having ESPN and all that, showing the public what we’re going to be – we’re not even close to what we actually are going to be, so it’s awesome.”

A huge chunk of the Trojans’ current roster arrived at the school after Riley, who conducted a thorough overhaul of a wildly imbalanced talent pool left behind by Clay Helton‘s staff. USC will have more new players than holdovers at its skill positions, and the defense has undergone a thorough overhaul.

The roster changes have only just begun, too. The Trojans intend to sign a healthy second crop of transfers in the next few weeks while spring football ends across the country, bolstering their depth chart across the board.

“I don’t know that there’s one position that we’re so anemic that we can’t go and compete right now,” Riley said. “We just need a little bit everywhere, if that makes sense.”

The fans and recruits in attendance might not have paid much attention to the perfect weather and the Coliseum’s clear views from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, but they saw what Riley is building on the field.

The regular season starts Sept. 3 when Rice visits the Coliseum, and former Alabama linebacker Shane Lee thinks the Trojans will be ready to impress even more fans.

“We’ve put in a lot of work, and it’s amazing to see the progress since I got here,” Lee said. “We’re bringing in guys that fit our culture and our scheme. I’m excited to see where it’s going.”

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

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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.