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Heading into the 2022 Conference Championship Weekend, everything seemed to be going well for USC football. In their first year under head coach Lincoln Riley, the Trojans were just one win away from making the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history, and a week later, Caleb Williams would win the Heisman Trophy.

It’s funny how quickly things can change.

Williams played through pain in that Pac-12 championship game, but USC couldn’t match Utah’s physicality and lost. Although Williams won the biggest individual prize in college football, USC lost the Cotton Bowl to Tulane a month later as its promising season ended with back-to-back losses.

In 2023, Riley started his sophomore season 6-0 before Notre Dame brought them back down to earth with a 48-20 loss in South Bend. USC finished the year just 8-5 after being ranked fifth nationally at one point.

Paul Finebaum explains the end for Lincoln Riley at USC

Paul Finebaum is a nationally known speaker on the subject of college football. Although he is from the Southeast, he is not afraid to voice his opinions on national issues related to college football.

As a guest at WJOX in Birmingham McElroy and Cubelic in the morning On Monday, Finebaum dropped the bombshell when he said he believed Riley’s end at USC was coming sooner rather than later.

“When you look at the reality, the number of players that are letting Lincoln Riley down in Southern California is staggering,” Finebaum said. “I always thought he was a really good coach. Especially on offense. But I don’t think anyone sees him to that extent today. Frankly, I think he’s going to leave Southern California at the end of the season.”

“The question is whether he fails or decides to look elsewhere. But I don’t think he’s going to succeed out there. I think the train has left the station.”

To quote an old college football voice who called the West Coast home: “Whoa, Nellie.”

Is it a Lincoln-Riley problem or a USC problem?

It’s easy to say from history that Riley has a bad defense. At Oklahoma, his teams were built to score more points, but they sometimes struggled with Baylor and Kansas State, who were their equal up front.

In his first year at USC, he was gifted one of the best offensive lines in the country and nearly made the College Football Playoff. Once he did that, you saw a 2023 team that let Caleb Williams improvise more and make his running game much more inconsistent.

Are the departures USC has struggled with and recent recruiting back-commitments a Riley problem or a USC problem?

While the head coach is the one who has to answer for it, when USC trails in NIL play — as they seemed to be doing every year in the old Pac 12 and now the Big Ten, lower than Oregon — it’s much more of an organizational problem than simply a head coach’s, although Riley has certainly shown weaknesses.

2,100 miles northeast of the Southern California campus, you’ll find the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus on Notre Dame’s campus, but you won’t find anyone feeling sorry for its biggest rival.

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