Lincoln Riley Ranks High In Big Ten “Pressure Rankings.” How Critical Is Year 3?

Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into his 3rd season as the USC Football coach, it is no secret that there is a lot of pressure on Lincoln Riley to succeed. After exploding onto the scene in Year 1 with 11 wins and another Heisman Trophy winner, Year 2 was a huge disappointment with a regular season record of 7-5.

After overhauling the entire defensive staff, Lincoln Riley will look to get back on track, but unfortunately, Year 3 resembles more of Year 1.5, and there will still certainly be more growing pains.

Jesse Simonton of just recently came out with his Big Ten “Pressure Rankings” heading into the 2024 season. He slotted Lincoln Riley in the number 2 spot, behind Ohio State head coach Ryan Day.

Lincoln Riley Has 2nd Most Pressure In Big Ten

From a fan perspective, this spot makes a lot of sense. Year 3 is typically the year where your first recruiting class is stepping in as starters and your culture and system should be firmly established. The head coach has had two years to tear down and rebuild anything the last regime left and now the “right” system should be fully in place.

This would certainly be the case if the staff as a whole and general system were going into Year 3, but they are not.

While the defensive staff is seen as a massive upgrade over the past regime, none of the new coaches have worked together. There will be growing pains. The success of the Trojans’ 2024 season will be how quickly the program can work through those growing pains.

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You also have to look at the staff changes in the Athletic Department. Former AD Mike Bohn resigned after Riley’s first season. Brandon Sosna, who many credit for actually making the Riley hire happen, left shortly after the hire was finalized for the Detroit Lions (he is now the Washington Commanders VP of Football Operations).

Coaches have to deal with this all the time, this is nothing new. But just wanted to lay out the context of what a roller coaster the first two years of the Lincoln Riley era has been.

So while year 3 may not be College Football Playoff or bust, it is certainly still a pressure-filled year and Riley must exhibit that the program has stability and is on the path to dominance.

To me, that means a 9-win season, big-time defensive growth, and securing a top-15 2025 recruiting class.

Is it September yet?