While his former employer's team continues to circle the drain under Billy Napier at Florida, ESPN's Dan Mullen seems to be loving his new gig as a college football analyst. He is pretty good at it, but may be catching some hellfire from the Trojan Family the Sunday before Thanksgiving. After seeing the USC Trojans lose at home to the UCLA Bruins 38-20 on Saturday, he so put Lincoln Riley on blast.
After going 11-3 a year ago in his first season leading USC, Lincoln Riley's team went 7-5 on the year and 5-4 in Pac-12 play, losers of their last three regular-season games. They had Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams back for his junior season. With all that hype, all we were left with was a bad defense, some sideline tears and a ton of unanswered questions at the podium. What a total disaster!
And with UCLA head coach Chip Kelly supposedly on the hot seat, despite improving to 7-4 on the season with Ethan Garbers as his starting quarterback for now, make it make sense?! I would not have put Riley on the hot seat myself, but Mullen sure did. While I may see through Riley's recruiting-heavy, Air Raid schtick, you have to remember Mike Bohn hired him, not athletic director Jennifer Cohen.
Mullen may be like Kelly in that recruiting is not his forte, but him calling out an offensive-minded head coach is odd. Honestly, we should be putting Riley on blast for his botch job of a 2023 season at USC.
Riley would get hired the instant he was let go, but we have to wonder if wonder boy will ever evolve.
Dan Mullen has Lincoln Riley on hot seat, not Chip Kelly after USC-UCLA
While I can sort of understand why UCLA may be looking to move off Kelly, I still think the Bruins are in a far better spot to transition to the Big Ten than the Trojans are. This has everything to to with Riley trying to run a suped-up Air Raid in a conference that is defined by defense and running it in the mud. Kelly would actually flourish coaching the Bruins in the Big Ten, whereas Riley will need to adjust here.
I think the best thing Riley can do is stop being an offensive-minded coach and embrace being the CEO-type. If he has the self-awareness to hire two hotshot coordinators, preferably ones with Big Ten ties, I will stand corrected in my belief that he will never win a national title until he makes major wholesale changes to his operation. Otherwise, he is just Kliff Kingsbury who got lucky at Oklahoma.
What I would do if I were Cohen is tell Riley to hire the best defensive mind possible, as well as get a new play-caller who runs something a bit more pro-style. Admittedly, Riley likes to run the ball a ton in this offense, but getting bulkier in the trenches will help USC get back to being big and physical like they were under Pete Carroll. Obviously, Carroll was at USC when the Pac-10 was down as a whole.
Frankly, everything USC does as a football operation now has to be viewed under the lens of trying to win conference games in a league that features Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. I would argue that USC is the program worst off of the four leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024. UCLA already plays Big Ten football, whereas Oregon and Washington know how to win big games in the elements.
I would not put Riley on the hot seat right now, but let it be known this season was not acceptable.