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Alexander: Lincoln Riley’s Rapid Rebuild has USC thinking big

LOS ANGELES – It is a roster makeover maybe unprecedented in college football history, in not only the numbers and the quickness but the sheer star power involved. The eight months between Lincoln Riley’s hiring at USC – itself speedy and stunning – and this past Friday’s first day of fall camp have been a whirlwind, as defensive coordinator Alex Grinch acknowledged the other day.

“It started on a plane flight (from Oklahoma to L.A.) in late November,” he said. “And you’re rippin’ and runnin’ from there, and trying to in every way, shape and form maximize your roster and your potential for the ’22 season. So that’s everything we’ve done up to this point, through that lens. And what that creates is the importance behind every single workout, every day, every meeting.

“And then it all leads up to this.”

Let’s call the process Riley’s Rapid Rebuild, and it could put some of those home improvement shows on TV to shame. Aided immensely by the transfer portal, the new Trojans staff reloaded quickly with an eye toward the marker the boss laid down shortly after he got here.

“Like I said in my opening press conference, before even one of these players had come in, 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,” Riley said at Pac-12 media day two Fridays ago.

“We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”

The College Football Playoff championship game is in Inglewood this January. But no pressure.

The stated goal and the talent plucked from the portal to help USC get there – including freshmen All-Americans at quarterback (Caleb Williams), wide receiver (Mario Williams, both from Oklahoma) and linebacker (Eric Gentry from Arizona State), the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s best receiver in Jordan Addison (from Pitt), former Pac-12 opponents in running backs Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford) and SEC archrivals Romello Height (Auburn) and Shane Lee (Alabama) on the defensive side – has to be heartening to the Trojan faithful.

After all, they’d grumbled for years, and the discontent reached critical mass as the Clay Helton era approached its end. The fear, assuredly, was that they’d have voted with their wallets if athletic director Mike Bohn hadn’t moved boldly.

Instead, the alumni are happy, former players are coming around again, and one of the loudest gripes of the fan base is being addressed. Discipline and accountability seemed to be missing in recent seasons, and Riley and his staff made it a priority to change that. “Discipline over default” is the team motto, and the coaches aren’t hesitant to back it up.

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