Welcome back to the third installment in our Offseason Market Watch series. If you missed the previous stages, check out the summary of UW’s offseason so far, and the rest of the teams in the Pacific Northwest.
With all due respect to Oregon and Washington, USC is the school with the biggest year-over-year change to the program trajectory. Clay Helton held his job for about three times longer than most thought he deserved. When he finally got the boot midseason, it seemed like USC might be in a tough spot as it tried to hire his replacement. The oft-connected Urban Meyers wasn’t available at the time. Matt Campbell, Luke Fickell, and James Franklin were all solid candidates, but didn’t work out for one reason or another. Suddenly, the Trojans reeled in their big fish in Riley, a truly national name. Although he never got Oklahoma over the hump to win a National Championship, Riley dominated the Big 12 and was in the CFP mix every year. From where USC (and the Pac-12) has been for the last decade, that track record would be a huge win. For his staff, Riley brought DC Alex Grinch (who has Pac-12 experience at WSU) and Texas A&M OL coach Josh Henson, though the offense will be Riley’s.
The change started to pay dividends right away on the talent acquisition side. Riley added multiple receivers and running backs who are starting caliber in the Pac, including Oklahoma WR Mario Williams and Oregon RB Travis Dye. Both QBs from last year, Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart, have moved on, but nobody will mind if they add Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams, as many expect. In total, Riley has added 12 players through the transfer portal and counting. The recruiting trajectory has been similar- the Trojans had a small and unimpressive class, but have received four commitments from top-100 recruits since Riley took over.
Riley is not a perfect coach. For all his strengths as a recruiter and offensive game plan designer, he has lost some games to more tactical coaches (like Matt Campbell and Dave Aranda) due to sluggish in-game adjustments. USC is very familiar to losing games to less physically gifted opponents. Riley should make those examples less frequent, but I doubt they will disappear altogether. The bottom line is that Riley will raise the profile of USC. If I had to bet, I would guess he will make a CFP in the next 5 years, but is unlikely to win a title at USC. That’s a big step up for the program.
Market Status- Stock way up. (+3,000)
With Chip Kelly at a contractual crossroads at the end of the 2021 season, many expected significant transition in Westwood. Instead, Kelly stayed put after his name circulated in several other coaching searches. The Bruins will have two new coordinators, but the positive on-field trend from 2021 has a chance to continue. The embattled Jerry Azzinaro is out as DC and the team has not yet hired a replacement. Depending on who they find to run a defense that has not matched Kelly’s offense would be a major step forward for UCLA. Interestingly, Jimmy Lake’s name has come up in that search.
The same theme of coming close to a big change before settling back to the status quo took place in the transfer portal. It looked like UCLA had gained UCF standout QB Dillon Gabriel before Caleb Williams left Oklahoma and Gabriel landed in Norman. Instead, Dorian Thompson-Robinson will return at UCLA as a proven, above-average Pac-12 starter. Perhaps the most important news is that star RB Zach Charbonnet will be back for 2022, which gives them an offensive identity. They have lost 12 players to the transfer portal and gained six. There has been talent coming and going, but it’s not clear that they’re significantly better or worse off as a result. It looks like the incoming players are likely to give a similar level of performance and depth as the ones who have left. UCLA also signed a solid recruiting class with five blue-chip prospects. On the other hand, only one of those five is a defender and none made it into the top 150 of the 247 consensus, so the class isn’t the type that will change the direction of the program.
Market Status – Holding steady, with a chance to trend up slightly with the right DC hire. (+10,000)
The Cardinal are one of the few teams that bring back an identical coaching staff from 2021. For a team that collapsed with a seven-game losing streak to end the season, is that so desirable? On the plus side, Tanner McKee and most of the top pass catchers return to an offense that showed potential last year. The top two rushers- Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat- are both in the transfer portal, and starting FB Houston Heimuli left for BYU. Perhaps more encouragingly, it seems like David Shaw has recommitted to building the type of crushing defense that served as the foundation for Stanford’s most recent run of success. Stanford received a transfer commitment from Oklahoma starting safety Patrick Fields, who also won or was nominated for seemingly every possible academic or leadership award. Stanford has also signed the top recruiting class in the conference, headlined by two blue chip defensive linemen and a blue chip linebacker.
Market Status –Holding steady to trending slightly up, but it might be two years before the results show on the field. (+40,000)
Justin Wilcox has been at Cal for five seasons and finished within one game of .500 each year. While it feels like Wilcox started hot and has cooled off, the results are much more stable than the narrative. Last year, the Bears went 5-7. They were a little below average on offense and a little above average on defense. The incoming recruiting class looks fittingly middle of the pack, rated eighth in the Pac-12 with twelve of thirteen commits rated as 3-stars. DL Xavier Carlton and LB Jackson Sirmon provide defensive depth through the transfer portal, but neither is going to put them over the top to become one of the top defenses in the conference. Offensively, Chase Garbers will be handing off to Damien Moore and passing to Kekoa Crawford for the 12th straight season. Is there reason to think the results will be drastically different?
Market Status – Holding steady. Given the institutional challenges Cal has faced, stability is a solid accomplishment for Wilcox. (+40,000)