How USC’s Lincoln Riley’s hot start affects Nebraska’s Urban Meyer

How USC’s Lincoln Riley’s hot start affects Nebraska’s Urban Meyer

Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer stands on the field before an NFL football game.

Former Ohio State and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer is once again drawing from a desperate college football fan base — this time from Nebraska. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

The biggest headlines of the day Saturday morning were written in America’s heartland before a minute of football was played, when an unfortunate confluence of events left a massive crowd of Nebraska fans feeding the hungry ego of the most controversial and iconic former head coach in college football.

“We want Urban!” they sang towards the smug and smiling Urban Meyerwho had his back to the adoring crowd on the set of Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff pregame show in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Like everything that happens in sports these days, some of this scene was simply made for TV. Even the Fox crew took on the Big Red faithful, who came into Saturday’s meeting with arch-rival Oklahoma still reeling from their team’s loss to Clay Helton’s Georgia Southern Eagles a week earlier. The result prompted the immediate firing of Nebraska alum Scott Frost.

But some of the love shown by Meyer, the former national championship-winning coach at Florida and Ohio State, was also very real. they. Do. Would like. Urban. Despite all his past problems – and the inevitable baggage that comes with it.

Why?

If you were confused, it should have started to make more sense as the rest of Saturday’s slate unfolded — especially as it ended, with Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans No. Bulldogs – 42-17 in front of a national audience.

In his third game under Riley, USC was cold in his accuracy, and of course that’s exactly what he paid for last November when he took care of Riley from Oklahoma in the dead of night.

The Trojans, who travel to play their Oregon State counterpart next Saturday, looked to get better from week two to three. Like Stanford, the game was never in doubt – USC jumped out to a 21-3 lead by scoring on its first three drives – but this time there was no let-up in the second half. The Trojans have now won the turnover battle 10-0.

Three weeks into this season, the judgments of elite coaches – and, therefore, whether they are worth the astronomical investment – are no longer clear.

USC is proof that no matter what happens from here in 2022, the right head coaching hire can paint a fresh and new path after one strategic season. Watching Riley’s team at 3-0, you have to squint to see 4-8 in the rearview mirror.

On Saturday, there were many examples to the contrary. Once again, Notre Dame struggled under first-year coach Marcus Freeman. If California quarterback Jack Plummer hadn’t caught a Hail Mary pass in the Notre Dame end, the Fighting Irish would have headed into overtime against the Golden Bears. Instead, Notre Dame was held on 24-17. That’s how Freeman won his first game as the program’s head coach after three losses to start his tenure, including one at home to Marshall, which lost Saturday to Bowling Green.

“It’s hard to win football games,” a relieved Freeman said afterward.

So far, USC hasn’t looked tough. That moment will come, but it has come much faster at Louisiana State, which lost its first start under Brian Kelly to Florida State, and at Florida, where Billy Napier’s Gators had a South Florida field goal from a terrible trip to overtime Saturday.

No such fear has entered the atmosphere among USC fans yet.

“My Saturday nights are much better now,” tweeted Fox radio host Colin Cowherd, an ardent follower of the Trojans. “So happy #FightOn.”

It should be noted that his tweet came in the first quarter. That’s how quickly the game was over against a respectable Fresno State team that beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl last season.

Riley’s return to the Trojans, as insignificant as it probably looks from afar, could be a toxin disguised as an elixir for a program in the state of Nebraska.

Sure, Nebraska and USC are characterized as traditional blue bloods that fell on hard times in the 2010s. As of June, they also left their conference to join the Big Ten, albeit ten years apart. The commonalities end there, truly.

Ironically, a year after the Trojans fired Clay Helton for an embarrassing two-game losing streak, the Huskers said goodbye to Scott Frost because he lost Helton, who is now the coach at Georgia Southern.

Nebraska could buy Frost out for $7.5 million on Oct. 1 but was so desperate to move on that he agreed to pay him $15 million early last week.

For a number of reasons – chief among them proximity to talented recruits – Nebraska is unlikely to rebuild as quickly as USC has under Riley. Everyone knows this, and that’s why the Cornhuskers won’t be able to poach a can’t-lose coach from a major program like the Trojans did.

Frost, the native son, was the one who rented the town and moved. The desperation for relevance – a feeling USC fans now feel every Saturday – has only increased. And Urban Meyer — despite getting less than a full season in his disastrous tenure at the helm of the Jacksonville Jaguars and questions about his handling of domestic violence allegations involving his Ohio State team — is the clearest path through the city. ears of corn.

Nebraska has other interesting options to pursue. Intriguing, not intoxicating.

Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, in a much quieter way than Riley, has revived his program in one season. The Huskies rolled past No. 11 Michigan State 39-28 on Saturday night in Seattle.

Lance Leipold of Kansas, who has won in every coaching job he has held, has the Jayhawks 3-0 for the first time since 2009 after impressive road wins in West Virginia and Houston.

These types of traditional candidates could be great hires for Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts, but a crowd won’t sing lightly.

Because Nebraska won’t be appealing to a guy like Lincoln Riley, who has already done it, the school will be pressured to consider a guy like Urban Meyer to achieve the same effect.

Pac-12 reset

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., right, throws a touchdown pass against Michigan State

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., right, throws a touchdown pass to Michigan State defensive back Chester Kimbrough on Saturday. (Stephen Brashear/Associated Press)

​​​​The Pac-12 championship race got a lot more interesting Saturday when Washington knocked around Michigan State and beat No. 25 Oregon No. 12 Brigham Young 41-20.

The Huskies, led by Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr., look capable of competing with Utah and USC. DeBoer, who came from Fresno State, deserves a lot of credit for bringing that offense back to life after years of boring, predictable play.

Dan Lanning got his first big win as Oregon coach just two weeks removed from a blowout win against Georgia. Auburn transfer quarterback Bo Nix may have played his best college game.

Add in Washington State, which improved to 3-0 and has that Wisconsin win in its back pocket, and this is the best the top of the Pac-12 has looked as a whole since 2016.

UCLA’s verdict is still out

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles for two yards against South Alabama

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles for two yards against South Alabama during the third quarter Saturday at the Rose Bowl. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA sure looks like it’s in trouble after needing a last second field goal to beat South Alabama. After all, this is year five for Chip Kelly.

The Bruins will need to clean up their execution. The game wouldn’t be so close if it weren’t for the laughable needless errors.

We’ll find out if Kelly deserves a sixth season when the Bruins play Washington, Utah and Oregon in a row. As of right now, it looks like a 0-3 stretch.

But first, the Bruins face a formidable Colorado team.

Trainer next out

Colorado coach Karl Dorrell watches from the sidelines as his team plays Air Force on Sept. 10

Colorado coach Karl Dorrell watches from the sidelines as his team plays Air Force on Sept. 10 (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

UCLA fans remember how nice Karl Dorrell is. They also remember that was not enough.

Colorado lost to Minnesota on Saturday 49-7 and is now 0-3. Dorrell’s exterior appears to have been discontinued.

The same can be said for Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins after Mississippi beat the Yellow Jackets 42-0 in Atlanta.

Auburn coach Bryan Harsin’s days are probably numbered, too, after Penn State dominated the Tigers 41-12.

Future Big Ten Ratings

1. Ohio State

2. Michigan

3. USC

4. Penn State

5. Minnesota (up 2)

6. Wisconsin (up 3)

7. Michigan State (down 2)

8. Maryland (up 2)

9. UCLA (down 1)

10. Purdue (down 4)

11. Rogers

12. Iowa (up 1)

13. Indiana (down 1)

14. Illinois

15. North West

16. Nebraska

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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