Pac-12 Media Day: Amid conference realignment drama, Lincoln Riley and USC focused on 2022 season

Riley acknowledged the topic on everyone’s mind but tried to keep the focus on winning this fall.

A photo of head coach Lincoln Riley in a suit and tie sitting at a podium at Pac-12 Media Day. A USC football helmet is on the left side of the table, and a Pac-12 helmet is on the right. A "Pac-12 Conference" logo covers the front of the table.

When Lincoln Riley stepped to the podium for his first Pac-12 Media Day as USC’s head football coach, conference realignment was obviously a hot topic of question.

A little over seven months after Riley stunningly left Oklahoma for Los Angeles, USC pulled an equally-stunning move when the Trojans announced plans to abandon their nearly-century-old relationship with the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten. With the move set to take place in 2024, Riley will have just two seasons in the Pac-12 at USC.

The new coach was not afraid to joke about this during his opening press conference.

“It’s great to be here at my first Pac-12 Media Day,” Riley said. “My first of two, I guess.”

However, despite all of the realignment talk, Riley tried to keep the focus on his current group of Trojans, who are set to kick off the 2022 season in a little over a month.

“Obviously I’ve been asked once or twice today about the conference realignment,” Riley said. “Obviously we’re aware of it. It’s certainly an impact, mostly in recruiting right now. But certainly would like to keep the focus as much as we possibly can on the Pac-12 Conference, our team this year, all the great players, potentially great teams in this conference. I think there’s a ton of excitement, and rightfully so.

“Very much looking forward to being a part of this. There’s a lot of schools in this league that I very much respect, a lot of coaches I very much respect and look forward to competing against.”

With regard to the 2022 team, expectations are quite high. Following an influx of transfers headlined by sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams, who followed Riley to USC from Oklahoma, and junior wide receiver Jordan Addison, who won the Biletnikoff Award last season at Pitt, USC is expected to have one of the top offenses in the country this fall. (Williams was one of two USC players representing the Trojans at Media Day, along with Alabama linebacker transfer Shane Lee.)

When asked about those expectations, Riley certainly did not shy away from them.

“Not my place to say whether [the expectations are] fair or not,” Riley said. “Before even one of these players had come in, I mean, you don’t come to USC and you don’t come to Los Angeles to do things small. You got to set your sights big.”

Further, Riley did not think that the pressure on USC to meet those high expectations would take a toll on his team.

“The reality is if there’s no pressure, then you probably don’t have the same opportunities as others do,” he said. “You’ve got to see the opportunity in it. The opportunity is, 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 that if you do it well here, the sky’s the absolute limit. I believe it’s there for our football team.”

When asked about his expectations for this season, Riley did not hold back.

“To win a championship,” he said. “The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn’t come here to play for second. We are not wired that way. We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”

USC’s championship quest will begin this Friday, when the Trojans open up their first Fall Camp of the Riley era.