Die: Heat up Lincoln Riley and USC to earn CFP seat

They have a millionaire coach who lives in a mansion.

They have a charismatic protector with tons of endorsements.

They are loaded with high-priced free agents who have come here for a chance to reap the rewards of Hollywood.

It’s no wonder they’ve become LA’s most popular pro football team, rich and rowdy, and it looks like this winter SoFi Stadium Star.

Sheep? Think again. Charging device? Nice try.

This, of course, USK Trojansa fun gang of college football adventurers who enter this season with stars in their eyes and a target in their backs.

Anything less than a place in the college football playoffs just won’t do.

Even that may not be enough, just listen to the person who started all this noise.

Friday at Pac-12 media day I asked the new USC Coach Lincoln Riley for his expectations from this season.

“To win the championship,” he said.

Championship. This season. Win. GOOD!

The CFP title match will take place at SoFi Stadium on January 1st. 9, so yes, that’s an incredibly high and dramatic bar set by a 38-year-old dude who moved in from Oklahoma eight months ago and quickly turned a 4-8 team into the most popular direction of the game.

“We didn’t come here to play second, that’s not how we’re made,” Riley said. “We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and win them for a long time.”

The top 20 kids in the country moved to USC from other schools. At least as many have been squeezed out of the program. Money is flowing, promises are rising, the program has turned on its helmet, and you know what that means.

The pressure starts now. The honeymoon ends here. Even before the first summer training sweat, the heat continues.

“The reality is that if there is no pressure, then you probably don’t have the same opportunities as others,” Riley said, adding: “The opportunity is that if you do it well, anything is possible. This is one of those places. This is one of those programs. Frankly, this is one of those cities in which, if you get along well, there is no limit to perfection. I think it’s for our football team.”

So much, so fast, so unnerving. Has there ever been a team in this city that deserves closer attention before the start of the season than this one? Has there ever been a college team that entered the season with a lot of undeserved swagger?

Should they win? Well, it would be better if they won. All this and they have yet to take an official shot.

“I would reiterate that we did not come here to play for second place,” Riley said.

It’s good that college athletes are finally getting paid. It’s only fair that college athletes can finally transfer and become eligible right away. College athletes have long been the backbone of this billion dollar industry and deserve to be compensated for it. Whatever they get, they deserve it.

However, it’s a bit unsettling when this merging of change comes about in such a dramatic way in a place where drama has always been rooted in tradition. Never before have USC fans been asked to cheer on so many complete strangers. It has never been so clear that these strangers are only here for money and football.

Fittingly, for the first time in memory, the two players USC brought to Pac-12 Media Day to represent the university probably still can’t find their way on campus. They were defender Caleb Williams as well as Midfielder Shane Leetwo highly publicized transfers from Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively.

Li said, “We’re focused on the right culture.”

Williams said: “USC is blue blood, that’s all. Teams… there are difficult moments, that’s what USC had. We’re here to try and change that.”

Williams is the centerpiece of the Trojan reconstruction and the best example of the new era. He’s a transfer from Oklahoma who’s already several endorsements despite the fact that he only started eight college games.

I asked him what he considers a successful season.

“Win every game,” he said.

His main target will be Jordan Addison, the Pittsburgh transfer who was voted the nation’s best wide receiver last season and will now be best dressed. When Addison showed up, he asked for Carson Palmer’s retirement number. 3 shirts. This puts Palmer in a stalemate. He could never say no, even if he wanted to say no. So, with Palmer’s public blessing, the University of Southern California unfortunately gave the kid a number.

No, it’s not the same as former athletic director Mike Garrett gave Darnell Byng his first place. 20 in 2005. It was Bing’s senior season, and Garrett considered it a reward for his dedicated service.

In Addison’s case, it’s more like a recruiting tool. He will play here for one year and go to the NFL. The distribution of T-shirts looks like a direct blow to the Trojan tradition.

Imagine the pressure on Addison. Does he throw the ball in a Heisman Trophy jersey? The crowd won’t be happy.

USC has another great wide receiver in Oklahoma’s Mario Williams, as well as a great transfer in Oregon’s Travis Dye. They must score 50 points per game. The problem is that they can refuse 60.

Riley isn’t really defensive. The numbers 54, 45 and 63 represent points scored by opponents in three of his four bowl games in Oklahoma.

He hopes transfers like Lee, Arizona State’s Eric Gentry, Colorado’s Mekhi Blackmon and Auburn’s Romello Hite will help change that narrative.

But nobody knows. No one has seen this reconstructed team in action. In fact, it is one of the most unknown figures in college football.

They must win anyway. Win big. Win often. win this championship.

“My expectations are extremely high,” Riley said. “I mean, again, this is a place for those who want to.”

It’s also a boo-to-it place. Kudos to the Trojans for doing this, but understand one thing.

It will get very ugly, very quickly, if they don’t get there.