Episode Description

Ty and Dan welcome Ryan Abraham from USCFootball.com and the Peristyle Podcast back to the show to recap Lincoln Riley’s first year at USC. How should the Trojans be graded after an exciting 11-win season, led by a pyrotechnic offense and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Caleb Williams? What made the USC defense such a liability and is Alex Grinch the guy who can fix it? Plus, what has the last year been like to cover USC football amid the high profile coaching chance and impending move to the Big Ten?

Episode Clip

Could USC’s defense be poised for a huge leap forward in 2023?

Welcome to The Solid Verbal.
Welcome back to The Solid Verbal, boys and girls. My name is Ty Hildenbrandt. That fine
gentleman as always over there, the heart of the Midwest first day of spring. No, as
we record this, no March the 20th, sir. Welcome back. How are you? I mean, I’m in the shadow
of like 13 degree weather, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve entered into a new season, but all
the same, Ty. It’s been a productive morning. I got my
cold shower in. I’m always amped to have on Ryan Abraham
just because it ties me back to my homeland of Southern
California. So life is good. Ty. What we’re starting to do
here on the show now because we’ve turned the corner into
the the spring season for most anyway. Mm hmm. We’re starting
to do some debriefs on year one coaches, most notable of which
is probably Lincoln Riley. Had a really good year. 11-0
regular season for USC. Of course, lost the Pac-12 game, lost the Cotton Bowl to Tulane,
but a lot to build on moving forward. And I think a lot of reason to be excited about
2023 and beyond, not just in this final season of the Pac-12, but as we move ahead now to
’24 and start talking about all things Big Ten. USC has been a very, very lively topic
of discussion here, at least in our parts, in our little corner of the college football universe.
So we’re pleased as you said to bring back Ryan Abraham longtime friend of the Verbal
We haven’t had Ryan on in a while
So it’ll be good to catch up with him
Of course of USCFootball.com and the Peristyle Podcast just to get his input on how we would grade out Lincoln Riley
Where are the areas that they need to get better?
Where are the areas that you know, he had some concerns?
Last season and and what things look like as we move ahead now into the new season ahead
I’m excited about this
You know, a lot of people tell me and I’m sure they tell you the same thing. How lucky
are you? You get to watch college football for a living. This is your life. This is your
livelihood. Let me tell you about Ryan Abraham. Ryan Abraham covers college football for a
living and plays beach volleyball year round, Ty. That’s a whole different world.
Yes. And by the way, you mentioned Lincoln Riley being the most notable of post year
one debriefs we may be able to do. My question bank about Mario Cristobal might disagree
on our future Miami episode. Most successful perhaps year one coach. No, I think either
way notable, successful, whatever adjective you want to use that unexpected change from
going from Oklahoma to USC, I think makes Lincoln Riley the most notable name on our
our list of post year one debrief.
So no, I’m totally with you
and quite excited to speak with Ryan.
We’re gonna talk with Ryan Abraham here momentarily.
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and build towards the new season ahead in 2023.
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Thank you to one and all who are watching us
out there now, Dan.
– Yeah, I have nothing to add.
I just wanna get my questions answered.
– Joining us now, long time friend of the Verbal,
you know him from uscfootball.com,
from the Peristyle Podcast, the one, the only,
Ryan Abraham.
Sir, how you doing?
– I’m doing okay.
How are you guys doing?
– We’re doing all right.
It’s great to have you back.
It’s been a long time, man.
How you been?
– It’s been a while.
– I know, whenever I listen to you guys show
and thinking back to when we both started podcasting,
which I believe was 2008.
– Yeah.
– It’s many, many years doing this podcast thing.
So it’s kind of fun and see it grow.
And now everybody has a podcast,
but we were doing it back in the day
when it was before it was cool.
– Before it was cool.
You know, man, well, it’s great to talk to you as always.
Look, we brought you on for a year one debrief
of USC under Lincoln Riley,
but I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least recognize
the incredible year it must have been for you
as a USC content guy,
because this was sort of the year that USC
became the villain, the “villain,” right?
Because they poached Lincoln Riley,
Lincoln Riley then poaches players
from some of the teams across the country,
and then they all make off in this big getaway car
to the Big Ten.
Do you feel dirty covering USC now?
Where are you at with this?
– Yeah, Ty, I feel pretty good.
I mean, there was,
It was sort of like seven years of squeaky clean,
Clay Helton, really nothing going on, fans not excited.
And we just, it didn’t matter what we do.
You guys create content all the time.
If USC signed a five-star player,
everyone on our message boards or on Twitter would say,
“Well, it doesn’t matter, Clay Helton’s the coach.”
It was years and years of that.
And then it started in that September,
after losing to Stanford, and they fired Clay Helton.
And then fans started to go,
“Oh, maybe the administration actually cares.”
And then, like you mentioned, there was just sort of been this whirlwind of, of
positive news around the program, which we’ve been covering crazy drop everything
news around USC for a long time, but usually it was on the negative side.
There are actually some things that were.
That most people would consider positive.
Um, you know, hiring Lincoln Riley, you know, being able to, uh, go a lot, you
know, win 11 games in the regular season when Heisman Trophy sneaking out to the
Big Ten. I mean, that’s some crazy stuff that’s been going on, but it has generated some juice
in the fan base. And like you said, maybe, you know, being more of a national villain,
I think that was the biggest issue through all of this is USC wasn’t nationally relevant. Like
you didn’t need to talk about USC. Why haven’t I been on your show was USC didn’t really matter
in college football. And now for one reason or another, they do again. And so that that’s been,
that’s been good to cover. So let me start with the obvious question. I would presume it’s
relatively easy for you. I think it’s relatively easy for Dan and I, but you’re the guru people
want to hear from you from A through F. If you are grading year one under Lincoln Riley,
what, what is the grade? I’m going to say a question. I would say, I mean, I would probably go
like an A- or so. I mean, just, I don’t want to undersell how bad they were the year before,
you know, they were 4-8 to turn around and win 11 games. You beat both rivals, UCLA and,
and Notre Dame. The schedule wasn’t as hard. They lose to Utah twice. They lose in a bowl game.
But they won a Heisman Trophy. That’s a thing that you talk about year in and year out. You
don’t win 11 games often. You don’t win Heisman Trophies often. To do that in one year, I think
it’s a pretty big improvement. They definitely need help on the defensive side of the ball.
The special teams were pretty bad too. But I would just say overall, taking over a team that was
really in the doldrums. And if you hired someone that was like a really good power five coach,
but maybe not the level of Lincoln Riley and we all thought like, hey, eight, nine games,
that would be a great turnaround. So you’ve sort of changed the, I don’t want to like change the
bar later on, but you know, 4-8 to 11 wins Heisman trophy. I’m going to go like a minus
or so. That’s good. Yeah. Yeah. Unquestionably a wildly successful year one, considering where
that program was. And even if the talent wasn’t horrible in that 4-8 season, it was
clear that the culture was off, the motivation was off, and this was not a team that could
get up to play even medium-sized games. What to you now after year one, is there anything
clearer about Lincoln Riley’s vision for the program? Obviously, it’s get as many good
players, win as many games, and figure it out as we go initially. But whether it comes
to recruiting strategy, whether it comes to coach hiring strategy, whether it comes to
scheme strategy. Do you have a clearer picture now as you assess? I know you’ve spent more
time now with Lincoln Riley than you did originally. What is the vision for the next two to three
years as they make the transition to the Big Ten?
Yeah, Dan. We actually had a couple months ago a sit down with maybe seven or eight of
us that are local beat reporters. And it was like two hours of just talking with Lincoln
and Riley in a room and it was really insightful.
And I feel like the message that he was portraying
and I’m not, coaches say whatever they want all the time,
but the message that we were getting out of this was,
hey man, when I took over, there were so many problems.
And I get it, I think Mike Bohn, the athletic director
did the same thing when he took over at USC,
there were so many problems and you gotta start fixing
the little ones first and some of that low hanging fruit.
And the message he was conveying to us was,
I really just needed to get things going
in the right direction.
And obviously they were able to do that.
And now you can kind of focus on some of the more,
you know, he can, as a head coach,
instead of just looking at the offense,
can look on the defensive side of the ball more
and kind of spread his time out a little bit more.
But he, you know, he was talking about
all the different little things that you need to fix.
And this wasn’t right, and that wasn’t right,
from nutrition to wherever it was.
And now they’ve built some sort of base.
And he didn’t make any changes on the coaching staff.
And some of that was, you know,
hey, now we’ve all been in the system before.
And last year, everyone coming in, it was new to everybody.
You were either, if you were on the team before,
it’s a whole new program.
If you weren’t on the team before, now you’re on, you know,
it’s, and then the staff was new and everything was,
it was new to everybody.
And now there’s at least a bunch of players
that have been there before
and coaches that have kind of gone through it.
And they know the expectations
of what everyone is looking for.
I feel now the new players coming in, you kind of learn from the players that
were there last year, that that’s kind of what he was, you know, you know,
talking about it made sense, you know, that they needed to kind of build,
get some sort of continuity from last year.
I know a lot of fans wanted to see defensive coaching changes and things like
that. But Riley was sort of like, okay, we’re going to go with what we have.
We’re going to get some better players in here and, you know,
and kind of build on what they established last year. I think it’s going to be,
you know, the proof will be in the pudding
’cause it’s a tougher schedule and all of that to build on.
And you already won 11 games
and you already won a Heisman.
So I mean, the expectation levels have risen.
But I feel like that’s where they’re sort of going with Dan
is they needed to kind of build that,
just the foundation of this house
and then kind of build on top of it from there.
We’ll see how successful he’ll be,
but that’s kind of what the message has been this offseason.
– So you mentioned the defense
and the struggles on the defense.
Obviously, it was quite clear to anybody
who watched this USC team that they largely had to outscore teams rather than shut down
other teams in order to come away with those 11 wins. They hit the portal hard once again
on both sides of the ball. No surprise. When you look back at the season, was it an Alex
Grinch thing as a lot of USC fans will point to that it’s a scheme thing that they’re not
utilizing players correctly and you know they’re not teaching players correctly. Is it a talent
Is it a, you know, an everything thing?
How do you diagnose what exactly went wrong for what down the stretch was a pretty woeful
defense?
It was.
And I think the tough part, Dan, was if you look at the prior year, they were really bad
on defense too.
So that’s been the one kind of constant.
And I feel like, you know, bringing in the guys they brought in on offense to bring in
like a Biletnikoff Award winner and to bring in the eventual Heisman Trophy
winner, Caleb Williams. I think that made a big difference. And you had a, you know,
Lincoln Riley can coach offense. So I feel like you fix things on the offense quickly.
And it’s probably easier to do that, too. The defensive side. I think they tried to do some
things, but they weren’t really bringing in established starters or all American type
of players on the defensive side. So I think they tried to do that a little bit more. I
I feel it’s more of a combination of kind of everything.
You know, we got to watch one spring practice so far.
They took spring break, but the one practice we watched,
they did a lot of tackling drills,
like right in front of us,
like the 20 minute portion we got,
they did a lot of tackling right in front of the media.
So I think that’s something
they’re trying to push out there.
Like, “Hey, we tackle in practice, we’re trying to do this.”
But yeah, I feel like it’s more of a combination
of everything.
And you know, the fact that Lincoln Riley
is sticking with that staff,
he has confidence in Alex Grinch
that they can deliver and they’ve, you know, he’s had some good defenses in the
past, a lot of, you know, criticism as well.
So you’re sort of like, if you’re trusted in Lincoln, rather you’re kind of
rolling with his decision, but if we’re seeing the same sort of tackling issues
and, you know, giving up, uh, first downs on third and longs and all that, then
you’re going to have to, you know, take a look at something else, but the, I feel
like that they feel pretty confident that they’re going to make the defense.
Significantly better, uh, in 2023, that’s just the kind of vibe I get, but like I
get, you know, we’re up to wait and see, but I feel like they
feel like they’ve made the enough moves that this can be,
you know, an elite offense again, but also a good defense.
And if you have that, then you should be able to win a lot of
games.
What’s your biggest question for Alex Grinch? If you had him on
your show, like what, what, what answers do you want from him
directly on how he’s going to fix what was wrong last season?
Because as you said, it’s probably a collection of
factors, but in looking at the efficiency numbers that Dan and I look at frequently,
it’s kind of a car crash. They were all bad. So where do you start with that?
Other than turnovers.
Other than turnovers and I think starting field position on defense, everything else is in
the deep red. What would you want to pin him down and get from him, Ryan?
Yeah, the turnovers were a big, you know, that was what kind of kept the defense afloat. And
to be fair, like Alex Grinch came on my show, when you talk to him, I don’t know if there’s
anyone that’s going to be more honest?
Uh, USC fans hated when we would interview Clay Helton and you might lose
the like Oregon State or something.
And the first thing he would talk about is how hard they played and how proud he
was.
And they just wanted to like, they were just want to jump off a building.
You’re like, what are you talking about?
Alex Grinch will come up and say, we were God awful.
Like that was awful.
We needed to tackle better.
So he’s, I think he’s really sort of upfront about when they have, you know,
the deficiencies and how bad they’ve been sometimes when they’re really
bad. We don’t get to talk to Alex Grinch, so we don’t get to hear that. But I think he’s been
pretty honest about most of his assessments of what’s going on. And the tackling has certainly
been an issue. And sometimes when you hear from Lincoln Riley and he’ll say, “Players were in
the right position and they didn’t make the tackle,” to me, that’s more of a saying like,
“Hey, I think we had a good scheme. We just didn’t have the right guys making plays.”
I look at it, I mean, when we see college football, you know, there’s so much offense
going on. The wide receivers are great. You always have three, four great wide receivers.
I think when you become an elite team, it’s that defensive pass rush is really good. You got these
elite, you know, guys that are just coming off the edge and making sacks. And they had Tuli Tuipulotu
to lead the nation in sacks, but outside of that, they didn’t really have anybody. And I feel like
they got to get better there. And for years, they’ve just underperformed, I think, at the
linebacker spot. They’ve had good players in the secondary, but just not getting that
kind of production that you want out of the linebackers. They got a couple young guys
in this year. They bring in Mason Cobb from Oklahoma State, who is a kind of tackling
machine. So they’re trying to assess that. But to me, it’s a lot of the front seven.
You got to get a better edge pass rush and just get better play out of the linebackers.
I feel like they’ve had some talent. They just don’t seem to be able to bring it there.
One of the things it’s interesting you bring that up. One of the things I looked at before
we started recording is where USC under Lincoln Riley is recruiting on defense and SC famously
and it’s not just a Pete Carroll thing. You look at Lane, Sark even Clay Helton went across
the country looking for big defensive talent up front and we got some great individual
performances but it’s it’s been a USC unit the defensive line the front seven that hasn’t
you know, has sort of fallen off in these last 15-20 years.
And under Lincoln Riley, they haven’t necessarily had the
recruiting success on defense.
And certainly you mentioned hitting the portal and that’s
that’s a vision for where USC can go on defense.
But how do you, I mean you use the word assess, but how do you,
how do you assess what this staff has done on the trail?
I looked it up.
It was, I think one blue chip defensive lineman in these past
two classes, whereas, you know, you look at the new Big Ten teams
going to be facing, you’re talking, you know, five, six, seven, eight guys, Oregon in the last couple
of years is, you know, six, seven guys, blue chip defensive linemen. Uh, do you see this, uh, you
know, ticking in an upwards direction these next couple of years? And should that be a piece of
concern or is it just going to be, you know, all systems go to the portal on defense?
I, you know, I think Lincoln Riley’s vision was to not have to utilize the portal as much,
even in year two, you know, and I feel like they were recruiting last year for the class of 2023
on the potential. And I think now they’re looking for 2024 is, it’s usually like the year before,
like, hey, you know, this team did win 11 games and they were in the Pac-12 championship and all
that. You know, it was a big turnaround and I feel like they’re getting a little bit more momentum
in 2024, but they didn’t have as successful of a, you know, a recruiting class for 2023
as you would have liked, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They brought in
some really studs on the offensive side, but you know, they get Tackett Curtis, the linebacker
out of Louisiana that they’re in love with and they really love him. But, you know, the big
defensive linemen like an Anthony Lucas, who was a five-star recruit, but you know, transfers in
from Texas A&M, they want to get those guys kind of out of high school and sort of develop them.
So I feel like their focus is now on 2024, trying to get those guys into the program,
the elite defensive players from high school because they haven’t, like you mentioned,
they just haven’t been able to land some of those guys, you know, in the last couple of years. And
you know, if they have more success on defense this year, like Lincoln Riley’s talked about,
and you know what they’re really focused on, I think they will be able to have more success.
I guess the fallback though, is if you can’t, then there’s guys that are willing to
come to LA for whatever reason and try, you know, try their hand at playing for USC. But
I think the focus, they would love to get that success on that from high school,
but they didn’t.
They did pretty well in 2023 on offense, just not on the defensive side.
So they’ll try to win 24.
And if not, like I said, like you guys mentioned, it’ll be probably more
you know, hitting the portal as hard as you can.
Ryan, USC had the top rated offense per the SP+ last season as you mentioned earlier
Look, we know Lincoln Riley can coach offense. If there’s anything Lincoln Riley can do its coach offense.
So maybe not a great surprise, but I’m… wears the hell out of a visor, Ty
Yeah, wears a hell out of a visor.
And clearly is enjoying the warm weather of Southern California. So all these things I think we know to be true
But I’m curious from your standpoint, Ryan
how much of what we saw last season from that offense was clever play design and clever schematics versus an
exceptional talent, a Heisman caliber talent in Caleb Williams
Running around behind the line creating hero plays, playing hero ball
Yeah, I think if you just looked at the 2022 USC offense in a vacuum, you could say, “This
was Caleb Williams.
He just went off.”
He lost top receivers from time to time, and other guys would fill in.
You’ve seen multiple guys have huge receiving games where a guy like Kyle Ford, who’s not
even with the program anymore, has a monster game, and then he doesn’t do anything for
a while or Brendan Rice, who’s the transfer from Colorado, has like a huge game here and
doesn’t show up there.
He sort of was able to do it with no matter who was out there at the wide receiver spot
or if they had running backs banged up.
But looking at the whole track record, I think Lincoln Riley has proven that he’s probably
a big part of why all of this is working.
You know, the fact that he’s had as many Heisman winners and Heisman finalists as he’s had,
with guys that have different skill sets,
I think it shows a lot.
And for him to come in and all the things
that he did have to fix when he was at USC,
that wasn’t just things were on the field,
off the field, whatever it was,
that perception, and there was a lot of problems
that he had on his sheet.
He said he had like six pages of notes or whatever,
I forgot what it was,
it was some crazy amount of notes
where he normally has like one or two pages
of things to focus on.
It was like a lot.
But I think he did a good job of, you know, putting the guys in a,
in a good place and allowing a guy like Caleb Williams that has so much talent
to, you know, look for the first couple of reads.
And if things do break down or if the offensive line isn’t playing as well as
they, they should be, he’s able to go off, off script and,
and make some sort of play down feeling.
The last time you saw something like that, when Sam Donald was at USC,
I really felt like that was an offense that just,
The place never really worked and Sam Darnold just sort of took off and made
things happen.
I feel like the plays had a good chance of working and if they didn’t, Caleb
Williams could go off and make things happen.
So it’s a little bit different.
I think with Darnold, it was just more about, he was just special and he made
everything work.
I feel like you had, it’s sort of like, you know, doubling down when you have 11
and the dealer has a six, like the play might work, but also, you know, hopefully
the dealer bus and Caleb just makes a play.
What needs to get better on offense?
You know, I think this year it’s going to be on the offensive line.
They, one of the things that Lincoln Riley didn’t realize was how, you know,
good of a veteran group he had last year.
So losing a guy like Andrew Voorhees and Brett Nilon, uh, they bring back
Justin Dietich, which helps, but they had some really good veteran leadership,
uh, on that, that offensive line.
And they didn’t have a lot of depth.
They didn’t have great high school recruiting from the linemen.
Like you had mentioned, you know, for the last few years.
Now this year they bring in like five freshmen and they brought in three more
transfers. So they’re going to have some guys that they’re going to move around
for some more veteran leadership,
but they’re going to have to make that work because it’s a different looking
line, a lot different than it was last year. And even though when,
when guys got banged up last year, late in the season,
the offensive line struggled and I think you needed to see Caleb Williams kind of
do more with his legs when they were, when they were all together,
it was actually a pretty well-performing offensive line.
So to get back to that stage or so,
at least you’re not going to take a step back on the offensive line.
I think that’s going to be the biggest aspect of it, making these guys work.
They bring in some talent, a couple of guys from Florida,
started from Washington State, you know, where are those guys going to play?
But you got to make them all work together.
Like the cliche is, you know, it’s like five fingers on a hand.
So getting those guys to kind of all play together and protect Caleb Williams
means he’s a proven guy. He won the Heisman Trophy.
So just don’t let him get sacked all the time and you’re probably going to be OK.
– Sure.
Who do you anticipate being the names on offense?
Obviously losing a couple big ones,
Travis Dye and Jordan Addison,
to the next level and running out of eligibility.
Who do you expect to be the players
that take on that workload
as the offense takes the next step?
– You know, I like what Austin Jones was able to do.
He’s gonna be a senior this year,
the transfer from Stanford,
but there’s a lot of people high on MarShawn Lloyd,
the transfer in from South Carolina,
And Raleek Brown showed a lot of flash last year as a five-star freshman running
back.
So I’m not sure how we’re going to do on the running back spot, but I think you’re
going to see kind of a combination of those guys.
And a guy like Taj Washington, who transferred in a couple years ago from
Memphis, he would have flashes of some really great games.
We saw Brendan Rice have a monster bowl game.
Dorian Singer, he was the number two receiver at Arizona in the Pac-12 last year,
transferring in from Arizona.
And they love the Zachariah Branch, the five-star freshmen coming in.
So I, again, I feel like there’s going to be, you know, some good spots at the wide
receiver spot at running back.
They didn’t really do a lot at tight end.
So we’re going to see kind of what they can do on there, but Lake McRee should be
back healthy.
And he’s someone that they, people feel have a lot of upside, but I think it’s just
going to be more of kind of a spreading it around. I don’t know if they’re going to establish
like a clear number one guy like we had Addison when he was healthy last year. I think he
was that guy, but if they can keep spreading around and keep defenses kind of guessing
I you know, that’s probably the way they’re going to go. I think the one change is going
to be they’re probably going to try to get you know, the tight ends involved or they
just you know, they would get a occasional touchdown here or there, but they just weren’t
a consistent part of the offense last year. I’m wondering where is Lincoln Riley’s head?
is the USC programs had in terms of the Big Ten.
And obviously, you don’t just build for what you want to be,
but you build for who you’re playing against as well.
And it looks like the top of the Big Ten is going to be a very different style
than what the the Pac-12 has offered USC these past few years,
whether it’s, you know, I guess, new-look, Wisconsin, but Ohio State,
Michigan, Penn State, right?
This is these are a lot of teams that put a lot of players
into the NFL along the trenches.
Is there any eye towards future opponents of USC in terms of where
recruiting is focused, where the offense or defensive scheme is focused?
Is there that eye yet?
You know, it’s interesting.
They, you know, most of the focus is on now, obviously, but we’ve heard,
we’ve heard that every once in a while.
Like you’d see someone like, you know, in the Big Ten, they just maybe would
drop that as like, sort of like a hint of what’s to come.
And I think it’s sort of where you’ve alluded to is that they have to get better in the
trenches and it’s just going to be a different style of football most of the way across the
Big Ten.
And no one’s come out and just said, “Hey, we really need to do this because of Big Ten
purposes.”
I think you want to do that anyway just to be a, if you want to be a nationally competitive
program not just nationally relevant like they’ve become, you need to get better in
the trenches.
that’s where a lot of the focus is that they’ve been able to get skill guys and
you know, you can, you know, Clay Helton brought in great skill guys, but to get
elite, you know, linemen on both sides of the ball, I think the team has to be,
you know, performing at another level.
And I feel like that’s where the focus is going to be going forward.
And, uh, it’s been little hints though, Dan about people kind of mentioned in
that, but I, I don’t have any doubt from the people you talk to behind the scenes
that they know that that’s something that if you want to be competitive in a
a conference like that.
And then going on and trying to be competitive
in the College Football Playoffs,
which USC’s never made before,
you gotta be better on the lines.
There’s just no question about it.
– Ryan, how excited are you to visit Chicago in the winter?
(laughing)
Ryan’s from Big Ten country, he’s from PA.
– Yeah, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts,
when I went to high school. – Yeah, I’m sorry, yeah, yeah.
– I came out here to get away from all that.
– Yeah. (laughing)
– USC fans get a little dose of that
when they go to South Bend,
well, they mostly go to Chicago,
but that’s in October.
I mean, if they’re going to be a Minneapolis trip in November,
like that could be–
It’s icy, yeah.
I think the question is going to be,
we don’t know what this schedule is going to be like,
what the Big Ten is going to want to do.
But if you want some sort of mutually beneficial–
Notre Dame and USC, they make it so Notre Dame comes
to Los Angeles in November and USC goes to South Bend
in October.
If you’re from Minnesota, you’d probably
rather be in LA in November if you could.
And so maybe USC has more November home games than normal
and maybe more road games in September, October.
I’m curious to see what they do with all that.
But yeah, if you’re in Wisconsin,
you wanna come to Southern California,
it probably makes sense if you’d rather do it in November
than September when it’s warm where you are too.
So I’m curious to see how it is,
but there’s gonna be a lot of trips.
I gotta, you gotta increase the travel budget now.
(laughing)
Because it’s gonna be a little bit different doing that.
– What’s the reaction been among the USC base?
because of the USC people, USC fans,
super fans that I know here in PA, they’re thrilled.
They love it.
But my hunch is that people who are in California
maybe feel differently,
maybe because of weather considerations
or I don’t know, more travel.
Like nobody could tell the temperature
of the fan base better than you.
Where are people at with this?
– It’s funny, in the beginning, it was pretty 50/50.
And I thought there would be overwhelming enthusiasm
about this.
And then it sort of shifted.
And I feel like there’s a lot of USC fans
that feel like the Pac-12 never had their back
when the Reggie Bush sanctions
and all that stuff was going on.
And they felt like they were, you know,
carrying the torch for the conference for years
and weren’t, you know, didn’t really get anything out of it.
And now they’re sort of like,
“Hey, look, now we’re taking off to do this.”
I think because it’s such a football focus,
that’s why a lot of the fans are on board.
I think more so than UCLA fans that I talked to,
that USC fans for the most part are kind of happy about the way this is going.
I feel like though, if you’re a fan of, you know, like the, the volleyball
teams and stuff, like, man, it’s good.
I think it’s going to be tough, you know?
And, uh, you know, but I think the focus for the football fans has been mostly
positive after kind of an initial of like, there’s, there’s, there’s old
school fans that don’t want to lose the rivalries with like, uh, Cal and
Stanford, you know, and even, you know, like, you know, the stuff with like
Utah or Oregon or Washington, there’s just a lot of history there that the fans don’t
really want to get rid of.
But they’re excited about playing some of the brands, I think, in the Big Ten as well.
The fact that UCLA will be there, I think it’s not like a Texas A&M thing where you’re
kind of getting split up.
At least you have your dance partner for it.
And the question would be, it would be better if there was sort of a West Coast pod, like
if an Oregon and Washington were involved.
but there’s also the USC fans that really hate Oregon
for all the success that they’ve had recently
and they’d rather leave them behind.
So there’s kind of, you know, it’s sort of a mixed bag.
But for the most, to answer your question,
the most part, I think most of the fans
are really happy about this after initially
maybe being more of a coin flip kind of thing.
– Where are you at?
Does it make you sad?
Yeah, let’s hear the Ryan Abraham.
Yeah, where are you at?
– Well, I mean, I do the podcast of champions too.
Like David Woods and I, so he’s a UCLA guy.
We’ve, that’s probably six or seven years
we’ve done a Pac-12 podcast.
And I’ve loved it.
Like it’s helped me cover USC because all the players, all the teams that USC
plays, I now have more deep, intimate knowledge of, and I got to talk to
reporters from those markets and I don’t want to see that split up, but obviously
something’s going to have to change with, with all of that.
So as a college football fan and just as a, you know, just, you know, doing my job,
I think it’s, I’m kind of sad about it.
You know, I don’t want to see the West coast sort of break up.
Uh, like it is, but I think, you know, as a business person, like it’s, you know,
I’m going to lose something on the Pac-12 side, but my main business is USC.
And I, I feel like just from what’s happened in the last year and a half.
It’s probably going to be a good thing for business, you know, playing
Michigan and Ohio state and Wisconsin and Penn State all the time.
I feel like it’s going to be, you know, positive there.
So college football changes a lot.
I, you know, I love the tradition of it.
So it kind of makes me, it definitely makes me sad to see something like that
change. But going forward, I mean, I feel like it’s going to be, you know, a benefit
for usafootball.com and everything, but it’s not something I would have picked, I guess
you could say.
Yeah, that’s fair. That’s fair.
Which Big Ten destination should expect the biggest iNFLux of traveling Trojan fans? Where
is the enthusiasm? Where’s the road enthusiasm? Is it the Big House? Is it the Shoe? Is it
Penn State, is it Wisconsin?
Who should expect the interlopers from LA?
– Oh, that’s a good one.
I would say, I mean, I think Columbus as far as like,
how, you know, USC fans remember like when Matt Barkley
and Joe McKnight went there and what, 2009 or whatever.
And it’s not as hard to get to as some of the other spots.
Like, no offense, Todd, you know, Penn State,
not exactly. – Sure, oh my God.
Penn State is the worst in America to get to
as far as I’m concerned. – I am so affronted, Ryan.
– How dare you?
– And he also agrees, by the way.
– But I think, for me personally,
I’ve never been to the big house.
I would love to do that.
I wanna go check that out.
But there’s just this USC, Ohio State thing.
I don’t know how they’re gonna pair everything up.
I feel like USC and Ohio State
are gonna get paired up somehow.
That’s gonna have to be a thing.
And the fact that Ohio State canceled
their Washington game for 2024,
My guess is they’re coming to the Coliseum in 2024.
And that’ll be a crazy year.
USC starts with LSU and Las Vegas,
potentially has like, and there’s Notre Dame,
and then you might have Ohio State in the Coliseum.
But I feel like the Columbus one will be a big one.
Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State’s big.
As far as just like environment,
like going to Madison I think is gonna be amazing.
But I think it’ll be hard not to say
Ohio State at this point.
– I wanna finish this out
just staying in your backyard in LA. And this is since you mentioned that you spent, you
know, a good chunk of time with Lincoln Riley. I don’t know how to phrase this correctly,
but is Lincoln Riley sort of getting more comfortable in his own skin as the USC coach
as you know, a Southern California resident, you know, he doesn’t have the history out
West, you know, the entirety of his time as a coach has been, you know, Midwest, East Coast
Does he seem to be adapting, I would say,
to a pretty different way of living out West?
– Yeah, I think as far as his adaptation goes,
I feel like he sort of embraced it early.
I mean, he’s got young kids and a wife,
and they’re like, “Oh, we have the ocean and Disneyland.”
And they’re pretty, I think they’re like buying,
it’s like you’re on vacation, you know?
And a bunch of the coaches, I talked to Benny Wiley,
the strength and conditioning coach sometime,
He posts on his Instagram all the time about like,
live where people go on vacation.
It’s like, okay, that makes sense.
And, but for Lincoln, I think he’s,
one, this is now his second time being a head coach.
And I think the first time when he was in Oklahoma,
obviously you get to learn from,
one of the greats of all time in Bob Stoops.
It was a pretty closed program.
And I talked to media members that were covering,
there just wasn’t a lot of access.
You never talked to assistant coaches
And USC was kind of the other opposite, you know, opposite end of that.
And I feel like he’s adapted what he would normally do to, you know, kind of
USC’s ways where there’s more, we get to talk to more assistant coaches.
You can watch a little bit more practice.
It’s still more closed than it was before, but it’s, I think he’s adapted that to,
Hey, we’re in Los Angeles.
You’re not, we’re not the only game in town.
There’s, you know, Caleb Williams won the Heisman trophy.
He’s probably not top 15 sports stars in the city.
Right?
Like, I don’t know, like, would you say, you know, he’s not bigger than LeBron
James or Leonard or things like that.
So like it’s, that’s different.
So I think he’s adapted to sort of the differences of being in a major pro
sports town, uh, you know, where Mike Trout is walking around versus, you
know, where you’re in normal Oklahoma.
But I think the thing that he embraced the most was.
You have, he can go to a restaurant and he’s just a guy like everyone’s dropping,
you know, like coming over and you’ll get that.
But I feel like he feels like he can be more of a human being
in Los Angeles where it’s you’re not under this microscope.
I don’t think he’s the most comfortable just being in the spotlight all the time.
I think he’s handled it pretty well, but he can go about him and his family
can go about living their lives and
not feel like everyone that’s going to come up to you and want to say something.
I think Caleb Williams had a thing before he won the Heisman.
He was like out to dinner at some nice restaurant and there’s like Rihanna’s
in there, so no one’s coming over to him to say hi.
They’re going over to that.
So I think that’s one thing that they’ve kind of adapted to
fairly quickly because it’s, you are,
it’s just a much bigger pond,
so you’re not the hugest fish in a small pond.
People still know who you are,
but it’s not gonna be the same as if you were,
you’re not an A-list celebrity here like you would be
and maybe more of a college town.
– On the flip side, how has USC adapted to Lincoln Riley
and Lincoln Riley’s, what I assume to be expectations
and visions of a major national football program.
I think the last time you were on, we talked about it
where it’s USC has a tough time competing
with hiring analysts, hiring recruiting personnel,
hiring nutrition, overhauling facilities,
just because the cost of construction in LA,
the price of the cost of living in LA,
if Texas A&M is gonna pay a staffer $60,000,
you just can’t get away with that at USC,
It’s not competitive given the cost of living in L.A.
Has there been investment either?
Thanks to boosters, thanks to administration, thanks to the anticipation
of Big Ten money.
Are there dollars pouring into the USC program to compete behind the scenes
with Georgia, Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Oregon,
all of these places that are able to have these huge, huge,
you know, program infrastructure budgets?
Yeah, there’s definitely been an increase in their budgets in the athletic department. I think
when Mike Bohn took over a few years ago, and there was a lot of criticism about why aren’t you
firing Clay Helton today, a lot of it was they needed to build that sort of infrastructure
behind the scenes to make a soft landing for any coach that you would bring in. They were basically
saying like, “Hey, we could fire Clay Helton today, but you’re not hiring Lincoln Riley. You’re going
going to get somebody else. And, you know, to their credit, like they did take a
little time to kind of build up behind the scenes. And when they did make a
hire, it was big and it was Lincoln Riley. So I, you know, there was talk about,
you know, facilities. Um, they’ve always, like you said, Dan, there’s sort of
always been behind, uh, the curve there. Like even when Pete Carroll was around,
I remember talking to their strength and conditioning coach, Chris Carlisle, and
they literally had the worst weight room. I mean, you would go in there and it was
crazy. Chris Carlisle was in a basically a closet with Reggie
Bush doing like bench presses right outside of his door. And
they’re like, you know, number one in the country. And he told
me at the time, he’s like, you know, hey, we need better
weight room. And he said, the administration told them that
we’ll go win a Pac-12 championship. Then they did.
And I said, we’ll go win a national championship. And they
did. He said, well, you already won. You don’t really need that.
And it was sort of like that’s sort of been the attitude for
years of you, we can make do we don’t need to do what everyone
else is doing. But college football is changing. I think
you have to keep up with the Joneses, will they ever get to a
budget like a Georgia and Alabama? I don’t know that. But
I think they’re definitely putting more resources into it.
They’re, they’ve been behind on the NIL stuff for sure. And I’m
curious to see where that kind of goes. Because, you know,
they’re, they’re more selling what you could do when you get
to USC. And maybe that all changes now. But they’re, they’re
not having programs where, you know, like we see a Texas A&M or
Tennessee that are really organized and, you know, funneling money in,
and for these players, if you’re Caleb Williams, you’re going to do well.
He gets a lot of great deals, but you know, it’s,
LA is more of a star driven town. If you’re the, you know, the,
the starting center, are you really going to get the,
get the same kind of stuff?
So that’s where I think maybe you got to look at for USC needs to get better.
And they’ve had a few collective startup just in the last several months,
but I feel with the administration, they’re putting money into it.
The NAL thing is more of a, as a, I don’t know. I mean,
they could get left far behind in that or it could, you know,
that whole landscape could change and they could catch up,
but it’s, that’s one area I would take a look at that.
I’m not sure that they know exactly what they’re doing with right now.
Right. Ryan, what are you watching for this spring?
I think really mostly on the defensive side of the ball,
if any schematic changes are happening you know,
what the defensive personnel looks like, what we get to watch, uh,
that the whole point, if you want to get to that next level, like, you know,
they were this close to winning a Pac-12 championship.
They could have potentially made the playoff and all that,
but if they don’t have a much improved defense,
I don’t think any of that matters.
So I, I feel like now the schedule is tougher.
You got Oregon and Washington back on the schedule.
So if they’re not going to skate through that,
like they’re going to have to have a better defense to,
to win the Pac-12 this year. So that’s,
that’s what I definitely want to watch for. How they,
how much better can they get that when you talk to the guys that,
I mean, just Lincoln Riley had a lot of confidence that there’s,
there’s going to be a much improved defensive team.
So that’s kind of what I want to see if they can do that,
then they have a real chance of actually making some more national noise this
year.
So as we get into spring football, then we get into summer,
we get into USC final season, fully out West in the Pac-10, 12,
whatever. Uh, we have Big Ten in 2024.
And that also means aside from Ryan Abraham and all of the,
the LA interlopers to the Midwest and East coast,
We are going to have fan bases that are not used to coming to Southern California
end up, you know, following their team in for a UCLA or USC.
And I guess we can be specific about USC here.
Where should they be staying?
What should they be doing?
You know, downtown LA might be a little bit different than suburban
Maryland or New Jersey or Minneapolis.
You know, what would you recommend to those coming out for a USC game?
How should they make, make it a weekend?
That it’s so funny.
because I mean, you’re familiar with the area.
And when people come out for the Rose Bowl,
or you’re like, oh, I’m staying in Pasadena,
is that’s where everyone’s staying?
Like, no, you’re not the one staying in Pasadena.
Or like, oh, I’m in Newport Beach, how close is that?
Okay, that’s not very–
– It’s a day trip, yeah.
– Yeah, I mean, I’m a beach guy, you know,
I’m a South Bay guy.
I think if you’re somewhere like in the Manhattan Beach,
Hermosa Beach area, you’re gonna enjoy yourself,
you’re gonna have a good time.
know, if you’re on the coast, like in Santa Monica or Venice,
like there’s some cool stuff you can do. So it depends. I would
love you reach out to me, you know, let me know like, what are
you interested in? But like, you’re like, you’re not staying
in like downtown Los Angeles, most likely like, oh, I’m right
near the convention center. Like, okay, that’s probably not
that fun. Right? I’m more, I would focus more on the beaches.
Dad, I love when you’re gonna come to Southern California,
stay near the beach. There’s a lot of cool stuff. It’s hard to
go wrong with like a Santa Monica or Manhattan Beach,
something like that. But just be aware this is not like I’m not going to jump
on a train and get to wherever I need to go. Like you could literally be staying
like an hour and a half away from where you need to be. And people don’t even
realize that most of the time.
Yeah. And I would also add eat Mexican food. Yes, that’s the move because most
likely from where you’re coming, the Mexican food will be nowhere near as
good as if you’re going to UCLA game, if you’re going to USC game, make it a
point to search out the best tacos or whatever in LA.
That’s I think the simplest move.
Go stay somewhere near water if you can and seek out tacos.
– Yeah, you’re the taco expert,
but there’s so many good ones.
If you’re gonna be downtown,
there’s that whole district down there.
There’s a lot of cool, and it’s funny,
LA’s a big burger place, which you’re probably coming
from somewhere that has great burgers,
but there’s just a lot of kind of cool burgers here.
Obviously, you know, sushi, a lot of different kind of Asian cuisine you can get, but tough
to beat, you know, the Mexican.
You can just stumble upon a random hole in the wall Mexican place.
It could be, you know, out of this world.
So I would definitely go with that recommendation too.
Ryan Abraham, Peristyle Podcast, USCfootball.com is just one of the originals, is an icon,
is a legend.
You know, if you happen to be down in the South Bay, you’ll probably run into him somewhere
because that’s just how it works.
Ryan, thank you so much for your time.
Dan, I thank you guys very much.
It’s always a pleasure.
Great to be on again. Thank you.
All right.
Very good.
Good to catch up with Ryan, man.
Simply the best.
We haven’t talked to Ryan in God knows how long.
It is always a pleasure.
It is.
It is a moment for us as longtime podcasters to also talk to another
longtime podcaster because he’s got the gear.
He sounds good.
He’s always willing to come on.
He knows the medium.
Yep.
Ryan Abraham.
Go to us.
Yeah.
Why does, why does he have the gear?
Why does he have the know-how?
Because you gave it to him for free, Ty.
You’re giving away.
You would have figured that he’s a smart.
Oh, I know.
He just, I think he has like a, like an engineering background.
I mean, he’d be fine.
Clearly he’d be perfectly fine.
We have traded tips though.
Yeah.
Over the years.
And it’s always good to have him on to get his insight on USC because nobody is
quite as plugged in as him.
Um, we’re going to do more of this now, as we said at the top, it is the reason for
the season, right? We can’t build towards 2023. We can’t really start talking about
spring football, at least with some of these first year coaches until we do the debrief
on the year that was so an A minus for USC. We’re going to note that we’ll put that somewhere
and we’re going to continue getting grades on some of these first year coaches as we
forge ahead. Look, we’ve got like six months, six months of time to kill. Yeah, maybe not
Not even six months of time to kill before we start talking about week one.
So let’s do it responsibly.
Let’s get our heads in a good spot.
Let’s figure out what went right, what went wrong in the year that was for a lot of these
guys and you’re one of their new stops.
And let’s just keep moving, man.
Keep the legs moving.
Can I be so forward to ask, Ty?
What is your opinion on the state of the USC program?
And we record this March 20th midday.
Yeah, I mean, I think A- is the right answer.
And I even kind of alluded to that
when I asked the question to Ryan,
I felt weird asking him the question,
but people want to hear from the guru, the USC guru.
What do you think about USC?
If it’s not an A, it’s an A minus,
because as he mentioned, for whatever reason,
and it feels odd to say it,
USC was not really in that national conversation
with Clay Helton,
not as often as they should have been anyway.
So the fact that Lincoln Riley storms into town,
fact that he brings some of the best players from around college football into LA that
they have an 11-1 season for a long time down the stretch.
They were part of that national conversation and could have very well gotten into the playoff
if things had maybe shaken out a little bit differently.
Obviously Caleb Williams wins the Heisman Trophy.
That’s a pretty big deal at USC really anywhere around college football.
The defense stank.
The defense was not good.
The defense needs to get better.
I don’t know where you start to try and fix things there,
but just by virtue of like, I think,
rebuilding the culture as quickly as he did
and making USC fans and members of the USC program
believe to the extent that they have, that’s a huge dub.
It’s a huge dub.
It can’t be any lower than an A-.
– Yeah, I think USC is one of the most fascinating programs
in the country moving forward,
not just because of the conference shift to the Big Ten,
but because of Lincoln Riley’s name,
because of his ability to attract quarterbacks.
They have that quarterback of the future now
locally in Malachi Nelson, who was the class of the jewel of the class of 2023. So that’s
not going to be a question to me. I think they’re just going to continually put out
no matter, you know, which defense they’re playing against. If it’s, you know, Ohio State,
Michigan, Wisconsin, I think they’re going to score a lot of points in the Big Ten. It’s
going to be to me, national recruiting and defense and coaching staff. And obviously,
Lincoln Riley showed a lot of loyalty towards Alex Grinch, which points to the fact that
Lincoln Raleigh likely felt as Ryan pointed out that the roster was not in a
terrific place on defense and so they were just doing the best with what they
had and what they could bring in quickly and so if USC is successful in the Big
Ten if they become a perennial playoff team what does it look like when you go
into Texas when you go into Florida to find you know the next Leonard Williams
when you you know try to find the next Brian Cushing out of New Jersey are they
in those living rooms are they you know into December recruiting these guys that
at huge programs nationally when Alabama or Georgia or Ohio State is USC in that
final three, that final two. How long does it take to get there? Pete Carroll was
in that position and to a lesser extent, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkeesian. But
what is what is the Lincoln Riley recruiting profile look like as the
program’s profile has to be raised in the Big Ten? That to me is going to be
fascinating.
Right in solidverbal@gmail.com. Let us know your thoughts. We’re also on social
media. Don’t forget to follow. Don’t forget to subscribe out on YouTube. And of course,
subscribe to the podcast. Join the ongoing conversation at Verballers.com V. E. R. B.
A. L. L. E. R. S. dot com. That’s where you can get access to thePpatreon and all the bonus
stuff Dan and I do in the span of a week. And last but certainly not least, we send
out a weekly roundup of college football news. Not a whole lot of news right now if I’m being
dead honest with you, Dan, but we find maybe a Pac-12 TV deal the next week or two.
We find stuff to talk about on quick slants.
It’s the newsletter quickslants.solidverbal.com.
Dan another team next episode.
Yeah.
Yes, absolutely for that guy over there.
My good friend Dan Rubenstein. For myself
Ty Hildenbrandt. stay warm.
My friends.
I am trying and always stay solid.
Peace.

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