By Don Wanlass
Pete Carroll, John McKay, John Robinson and Howard Jones: move over. Add Lincoln Riley to the list of USC football coaching greats.
It may be only his first year on the job, but turning around the Trojans after last season’s 4-8 debacle is close to miraculous.
Riley has the Trojans at 10-1 heading into the Nov. 26 Notre Dame game after a 48-45 win over UCLA Nov. 19 in an epic crosstown rivalry game.
The win over UCLA puts the Trojans in the Pac 12 Championship game in Las Vegas Dec. 2 with a chance that a win there will put them in the College Football Playoff.
Carroll, McKay, Robinson and Jones didn’t have to turn around a 4-8 team like Riley has done. Granted, those coaches didn’t have the transfer portal that allowed Riley to totally reshape the roster, but Riley had to go out and recruit those players and then mold them into a championship team, which isn’t easy.
It helps that Riley brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him from Oklahoma. Williams put himself into the running for the Heisman Trophy with his performance against the Bruins.
He completed 32 of 43 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns. He ran the ball eight times for 33 yards and another touchdown. His 503 yards of total offense is a record for a USC-UCLA game.
On the season he has thrown for 3,480 yards and 33 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He also has run for seven touchdowns.
Williams had some help against UCLA. Wide receiver Jordan Addison returned to the lineup and caught 11 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. And Austin Jones stepped up in place of injured running back Travis Dye to gain 120 yards in 21 carries with two scores and catch another four passes for 57 yards.
Williams, Addison and Jones — and Dye, for that matter — are all transfer students who played in major college programs last year. They have transformed USC’s offense into a juggernaut that has scored 40 or more points in nine of 11 games and the last five consecutively.
Riley now needs to focus on finding defensive players so the Trojans don’t have to outscore their opponents every week.
One thing the Trojans defense does well is turn the ball over. They forced four turnovers against the Bruins, including three interceptions from Dorian Thompson-Robinson. They now have 25 turnovers in 11 games. Offensively, the Trojans have turned the ball over only four times all season.
Thompson-Robinson had another strong game leading the Bruins, throwing for 309 yards and four touchdowns, and running for 81 yards and two more scores.
But the Trojans used two first-half interceptions to get back in the game after the Bruins jumped off to a 14-0 start.
Now the Trojans face their other archrival, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who have their own first-year coach in Marcus Freeman. Freeman has led Notre Dame to an 8-3 record, good enough for a No. 13 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Notre Dame upset Clemson 35-14 Nov. 5, but was upset themselves by Marshall back in September, struggled to beat Cal a week later and lost to Stanford in October.
Still, the Irish are always ready for USC and the Trojans can’t have a let down if they want to make the playoffs.
The Bruins, meanwhile, wrap up their regular season Nov. 26 against Cal with hopes of drawing a decent bowl assignment when those are handed out Dec. 4.
With two winning seasons in a row, Bruins coach Chip Kelly has turned the program around, but he has some rebuilding to do for next season with both Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet moving on after their senior seasons.
WORLD CUP FEVER: After all that build up, the best the U.S. men could do in their World Cup opener was tie Wales, 1-1.
Now the U.S. faces its toughest opening round match Nov. 25 against England, which won its opener, 6-2 over Iran.
The U.S., which has the second youngest roster in the 32-team tournament, played well in the opener considering the youth and inexperience. But a penalty kick in the 82nd minute by Wales star Gareth Bale, who joined the Los Angeles Football Club this summer, allowed Wales to tie the game after Tim Weah scored in the 36th minute of the game on an outstanding pass from Christian Pulisic.
Pico Rivera’s Cristian Roldan never got off the bench in the opener.
The tie puts added pressure on the U.S. team if it is going to advance to the knockout round of 16 teams.
England is a better team and while Iran got blown out by England, it is liable to put up a much better fight against the U.S. Nov. 29, especially considering the ideological differences between the two countries.
Iran considers its 1998 win over the U.S. has its greatest international soccer win ever.
The U.S. team probably will advance with a loss to England and a win over Iran, but a win over England would do wonders for the psyche of the U.S. team as well as its place in the group standings,
THAT ANTHONY DAVIS: After winning only two of their first 12 games, the Lakers suddenly find themselves on a three-game winning streak and it’s mostly because of Anthony Davis.
With LeBron James sidelined by a strained abductor muscle, Davis has taken over the offense, scoring at least 30 points and having at least 17 rebounds in the three wins.
The win over the San Antonio Spurs, Nov. 20 might have been the team’s best overall game of the season. Seven players scored in double figures and the team made 12 of 34 three pointers.
With James out, Lonnie Walker IV and Austin Reeves have stepped up offensively. Walker had 25 points in the Nov. 13 win over the Brooklyn Nets and is averaging almost 19 points a game during the winning streak. Reeves is averaging 17 points a game during the streak.
The Lakers now hit the road for a three-game stretch that includes the Suns Nov. 22 (the streak could well be over by the time you read this), but it has been nice to see Davis stepping up his game.
The Lakers will need that to continue if they have any hopes of making the playoffs this year.
The Western Conference is tightly bunched together early in the season. The Clippers have the fourth best record in the conference at 11-7, but are only half a game behind the 12-7 Utah Jazz, who they beat Nov. 21.
Kawhi Leonard is back in the lineup, although playing limited minutes, but Paul George sat out the win against Utah with a hamstring issue.