Plaschke: Heat on Lincoln Riley and USC to earn a CFP spot

You have a multi-million dollar coach who lives in a mansion.

You have a charismatic quarterback with a ton of endorsements.

They’re filled with high-priced free agents who came here to reap the rewards of Hollywood.

Unsurprisingly, they’ve become Los Angeles’ favorite professional football team, rich and boisterous, and seemingly on course to become the star of SoFi Stadium this winter.

The rams? think again The chargers? Nice try.

It’s the USC Trojans, of course, college football’s merry band of opportunists who are going into this season with stars in their eyes and a target on their back.

Anything less than a place in the College Football Playoffs just won’t cut it.

Even that might not be enough, just listen to the man who started this whole riot.

At Friday’s Pac-12 media day, I asked new USC coach Lincoln Riley about his expectations for the season.

“To win the championship,” he said.

The Championship. This season. win it OK!

The CFP title game is January 9th at SoFi Stadium, so yeah, this is an incredibly high and dramatic bar set by a 38-year-old guy who came here from Oklahoma eight months ago and promptly finished 4th -8 team was in the hottest goal of the game.

“We didn’t come here to play for second place, we’re not wired that way,” Riley said. “We came here to win championships, to win them now and to win them for a long time.”

The nation’s top 20 children have transferred to USC from other schools. At least that many have been pushed out of the program. The money is flowing, the promises are rising, the program has been turned on its head, and you know what that means.

The pressure starts now. The honeymoon ends here. Even before the first summer training sweat, things get hot.

“The reality is that without pressure, you probably don’t have the same opportunities as others,” Riley said, adding, “The chance is anything is possible if you do it well. This is one of those places. This is one of those programs. Honestly, this is one of those cities where the sky is the absolute limit if you do well here. I think it’s there for our football team.”

So much, so fast, so unnerving. Has there ever been a team in this city that received more deserved attention than this one in preseason? Has there ever been a college team anywhere that goes into a season with undeserved bragging rights?

Do you want to win? No, they win better. All of this, and they’ve yet to take an official snap.

“I want to reiterate that we didn’t come here to play for second place,” Riley said.

It’s good that college athletes are finally getting paid. It’s fair that collegiate athletes can finally switch and be eligible immediately. College athletes have long been the backbone of this billion dollar industry and deserve to be compensated for it. Whatever they get, they deserve it.

Still, it’s a little unsettling when this confluence of changes takes place in such dramatic fashion in a place where drama has always been rooted in tradition. Never before have USC fans been asked to cheer for so many total strangers. Never before has it been so clear that these strangers are only here for the money and the football.

Fittingly, the two players that USC first brought to represent the university in commemoration of Pac-12 media day are likely still struggling to navigate campus. They were quarterback Caleb Williams and linebacker Shane Lee, two highly acclaimed transfers from Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively.

Said Lee, “Our focus is on getting the culture right.”

Said Williams, “USC is blue blood, simple as that. Teams … have tough moments, that’s what USC had. We are here to try and reverse that.”

Williams is at the heart of the Trojans’ rebuild and the best example of the new era. He’s an Oklahoma transfer who already has multiple endorsement deals despite only starting eight collegiate games.

I asked what he would consider a successful season.

“Win every game,” he said.

His main target will be Jordan Addison, a transfer from Pittsburgh who was voted the best wide receiver in the country last season and will now be the best dressed. When Addison showed up, he asked about Carson Palmer’s retired No. 3 jersey. This put Palmer in an impossible position. He could never say no, even if he wanted to say no. Regrettably, with Palmer’s very public blessing, USC gave the boy the number.

No, that’s not the same as former athletic director Mike Garrett, who gave Darnell Bing his number 20 in 2005. It was Bing’s senior season, and Garrett saw it as a reward for his dedicated service.

In Addison’s case, it feels more like a recruitment tool. He will play here for a year and go to the NFL. The jersey giveaway feels like a bang on the Trojan tradition.

Imagine the increased pressure on Addison. He drops a ball in a Heisman Trophy jersey? The audience won’t be thrilled.

USC has another great transfer wide receiver in Oklahoma’s Mario Williams and a great transfer running back in Oregon’s Travis Dye. You should score 50 points per game. The problem is they might give up 60.

Riley doesn’t really defend herself. The numbers 54, 45, and 63 represent the points scored by opponents in three of his four bowl games in Oklahoma.

He hopes transfers like Lee, Arizona State’s Eric Gentry, Colorado’s Mekhi Blackmon and Auburn’s Romello Height will help change that narrative.

But nobody knows. No one has seen this converted team in action. In reality, they’re one of college football’s most unknown greats.

You have to win anyway. big win. Win often. Win this championship.

“My expectations are extremely high,” Riley said. “I mean, again, this is a place where it just kicks off.”

This is also kind of a boo-at-it place. Kudos to the trojans for choosing to do this, but understand one thing.

It gets very ugly, very quickly, if they don’t get there. Plaschke: Heat on Lincoln Riley and USC to earn a CFP spot

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