Lincoln Riley Talks Recruiting: Does USC Still Have A Southern California Pipeline?

During media availability via Zoom on Thursday, USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley spoke about the state of recruiting within the program and the value he emphasizes on local talent versus national. Here is the full transcript of Coach Riley’s answer:

Antonio Morales:

Hey Lincoln, this is a bit, uh, on recruiting. Obviously the years before you got here, the program’s brand had taken some hits on the recruiting trail. Um, where is that now? Obviously, it can’t be rebuilt overnight, but where is that now in terms of like where you want it to be? Can it get better? Um, has it been tougher than you thought? Just where do you think things are locally recruiting?

Lincoln Riley:

Is that locally or just in general?



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Lincoln Riley:

Um, no, I don’t think it’s been, I don’t think it’s been tougher than what I expected. I mean, I, you know, yeah, there’s two parts of it. I mean, you knew you were rebuilding something. I mean, somebody told me the other day, it’s kind of interesting, I think this is right. Um, I’m sure y’all fact-check me, but in the last 15 years of USC football, um, there’s been a better record through eight games than where we currently sit six and two, only one time, which is last year, which is amazing.

Um, so yeah, there’s definitely I think, a rebuild. And I think there is a, um, there’s a process that, that we’re right in the middle of and have made, you know, like I said the other night, I think we’ve made great progress on, but we’d still clearly have a lot of work to do. We know that and embrace that and expected that. And that’s, that’s part of it.

Um, the brand though, and the USC degree, what it means, how much people watch it, how much people care about it is still incredibly high.

And um, as far as, you know, recruiting, whether it be national or local, I mean, to me it’s kind of all in the same. It’s how do you build the best roster you can of the guys that are available to go recruit. Um, ’cause at the end of the day, you go win the national championship and you have a roster mixed from all over the country, nobody’s gonna say, oh, well, you know, that’s great you won the national championship, but you don’t have a bunch of, you don’t have 80% local guys.

The flip side is you don’t have a good year. They’re not gonna say, well, at least he has a bunch of California kids on this team. I mean, you clearly have to do a great job locally. Um, but like I told you guys when I got here, it’s about getting the right guys. Um, and I think in my evaluation of the program, when we got here and started looking at the roster, I think there were a lot of players from the state of California that, in my opinion, should not be on the USC roster for one reason or another.

And so hiding behind the curtain of, well, at least we’re recruiting California kids, I don’t think does the program any good. It’s, yeah, we want to get California kids, we want to get local kids, we want them to be the right kids, the right kind of kids, right kind of students, right kind of players that fit within what we’re building.

Not ones that go against the grain of what we’re building. And, uh, so yeah, I think the brand is there. Um, I think as we continue to have success, you feel these shock waves of success, typically a little bit after. And, we’ve had a good uptick in recruiting, but I mean, it’s, it’s not always immediate. Those things kind of happen as you go. ‘Cause it’s the, you know, you think about the senior in high school that’s, you know, he’s experienced four and eight and he is experienced, you know, the kind of a little bit of a resurgence. He’s seen a little bit of both.

Whereas the kid that’s the freshman in high school, the sophomore in high school right now, you know, hopefully, all his memories of USC as he comes up are all positive, you know, and he’s seen winning and he’s seen big games and he’s seen, you know, nationally relevant games and the Coliseum full and the guys winning wars and like what USC football should be.

And, uh, so yeah, long-winded answer. Uh, but I think we’re, I think the recruiting has been as expected and I think as we continue to have success, I think as we get this facility built, which is severely needed, obviously, and we continue to trend, and we get into the big 10. I mean, I think all those things are just gonna continue to make it better and better. So, um, I just don’t, I don’t think you start winning to the level that we have and, and change it without that.

And I think the exciting thing here is I just, I still think we’re in just the beginning stages of this, from a recruiting standpoint and, you know, on what it can be. And that’s what’s fun. So I think we can go toe to toe with anybody right now, and I don’t even think we’re at our best yet. I think we’ll get our best. We’re gonna be pretty tough to beat.

What Does This All Mean?

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame
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There is a lot to unpack here, and like most things, some positives to Lincoln Riley’s openness, and also some negatives.

Once this response was released yesterday (Thursday), a lot of anger and frustrations erupted throughout Trojans Twitter. Most people calling out the fact that it’s sad and embarrassing that USC and Coach Riley can’t get the best prospects in So Cal to stay home. A lot of folks referred to the past and the pipeline that SC had created between Mater Dei and other elite So Cal high schools. It was unheard of for those players to go anywhere else if USC wanted them.

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USC was always option number one when it came to the local crop. That has very clearly changed.

Currently, USC’s 2024 recruiting class ranks 19th, according to 247 Sports. The Trojans will undoubtedly move up in the rankings as Initial Signing Day on December 20th approaches, but where there are levels of concern and bewilderment are that of the 16 current commits, only 5 of them are from So Cal, and not one from Mater Dei (one commit from St. John Bosco).

The other level of this is that when Lincoln Riley was first hired, he emphasized the talent that was in their own backyard, and spoke on the importance of building that pipeline back up.

So has that line of thinking changed? Has it been more difficult to keep kids home than expected? Has this coaching staff, specifically on the defensive side, hindered the local recruiting efforts?

I don’t think the thinking has changed. Riley understands that it is not only important for the standards of USC Football to create a hotbed of So Cal recruiting, but he also understands that a vast majority of the best talent in the nation resides right here.

So has it been more difficult? This is more of a hunch than necessarily backed by data, but I don’t think that anyone would deny that the state of college football, and just the state of higher education is much different today than it was 20 years ago. The culture and the way kids grow up are much different today than it was 20 years ago. There was no social media 20 years ago. As a kid in LA, if you flipped on the TV, you watched SC at the Coli. That’s what you knew, and that is what you strived to become.

Today, there are so many options, and all of those options are served directly to your pocket, on your phone. The USC brand is still powerful, but it is no longer going to recruit itself. There needs to be more of an offering, it needs to be displayed to the world, not just in each individual’s living room.

Has the coaching staff hindered recruiting? I think it’s pretty safe to say that defensive performance (currently ranked 104th in total team defense) is not persuading any top defensive talent to commit. This was most evident when Dakoda Fields flipped his commitment from USC to Oregon, citing that Oregon gave him the best opportunity to get to the NFL.

Lincoln Riley has proven that he can recruit and get top transfers on the offensive side of the ball. The defense is beginning to look like a different story. It’s also hard to recruit one side of the ball when your DC is pretty much a sitting duck.

If, and this is a big if, Coach Riley moves quickly in moving on from Grinch in the offseason, and bringing in a top DC, defensive recruiting will begin to take care of itself.

Overall, Riley and his staff have a lot of work to do in regaining the eye of the top So Cal recruits. It all starts with winning and creating excellence as a standard. These next 4 games are going to be paramount in setting up the future of the program. A 10-2 finish and a PAC12 birth will mean a lot of big names sign those intent letters on December 20th. An 8-4 finish? It’s going to be a rough offseason.

What do you think Trojans fans?