USC’s spring football game gives first glimpse of the Lincoln Riley era
The last time USC took the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a 35-31 loss to BYU that saw the stands half empty at the final whistle. Compared to that, Saturday’s scene was a complete 180 – sunny, 70 degrees, a new coach, a new quarterback and a new sense of excitement.
Lines wrapped around food trucks and merchandise tables, crowds gathered for photo ops with Traveler, and a sea of cardinals and gold flooded the Colosseum gates as the fans have been eagerly awaiting a first look at the lincoln riley time at USC.
“It’s just the beginning – it’s just a step,” Riley said.
“We’re really excited about our progress and having the opportunity to show it to our fans, and really show it to the whole country with a national broadcast, has been a big step for us, but there’s a lot of room left. big steps to take.
The stands may not have been completely full for Saturday’s spring game – a scrimmage between attack and defense – they rivaled anything the Colosseum saw towards the end of last season. The scrimmage was even televised on ESPN, the only spring game to be televised on the flagship sports channel (defending national champion Georgia’s spring game was pushed back to ESPN 2).
Impact of floodlights on USC’s spring football game
“I think this is an important and symbolic decision on ESPN’s part,” said Jeff Fellenzerassociate professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“It really sends the message that this program deserves attention.”
When Riley left Oklahoma to become USC’s 30th head coach, a sense of hope spread through Trojan Nation, while rocking the rest of the college football world. USC had apparently snatched one of the nation’s finest offensive minds from a blue blooded program — one that Riley had led to four conference titles, three college football playoff berths and a 55-10 record overall .
From there, Riley was also able to make some high profile trades including All Pac-12 running back Travis Dye from Oregon and Heisman favorite Caleb Williams from Oklahoma.
“It was great to come out here in front of a few fans and have ESPN,” Williams said of her first time at the Coliseum.
“We’re showing the public what we’re going to be, although we’re not even close to what we’re actually going to be.”
With the offense in the cardinal home shirt and the defense in white, the spring game gave Troy fans a taste of what Riley’s offense is capable of. Although it was a game shortened to two 15 minute quarters and the defense started with a 21-0 lead, the first and second string offenses were able to rally and win by a final score of 34-30. Although by the number of fans in the stands – officially 33,427, making it the largest crowd to attend a spring game (the last pre-pandemic spring game attracted around 2,000 people) – the score of the match seemed to take a back seat to the general atmosphere of the Colosseum.
The excitement of the USC spring football game recalls the days of Pete Carroll
It’s a level of hype and excitement not seen since the early 2000s under head coach Pete Carroll, according to Fellenzer.
“At that time it was difficult to find a good seat in the Colosseum,” Fellenzer said.
As a Heisman Trophy voter with more than three decades of experience in sports management and news media, Fellenzer said this new era under Riley looks like a whole different animal, with the importance of the portal transfer and name, image and likeness (NIL) offers.
“This hiring of Lincoln Riley happened at the same time that we’re going through a period where it’s really the college version of free agency,” Fellenzer said. “You have a big deal for a big name and a much-loved coach, and that’s sparking the movement among players to want to come and play for the coach.”
But more than contracts and big names, the one constant every player mentioned in the post-game press conference is the “culture” under Riley. It’s something hard to describe, even for the players, but could still be felt by everyone at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
“If you’re in this town and you’re not feeling the momentum of this program,” Riley said, “you’re not paying attention.”
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