Only a matter of time til a head coach opts out of a bowl game

College football programs have always experienced ups and downs, but in the era of the transfer portal, the volatility has reached new heights. The USC Trojans are a prime example of this unpredictability. Just a year ago, they were one of the hottest programs in the country. However, by the end of 2023, they found themselves in a completely different situation.

The Trojans’ 42-28 win over No. 15 Louisville was a significant victory, especially considering the absence of star quarterback Caleb Williams. It felt like a necessary win for a team that had been struggling. Head coach Lincoln Riley had a tough year, primarily due to the struggles of his defense. The team finished with a disappointing 7-5 record, leading to the departure of columnists and players alike.

In fact, a total of 17 members of the Trojans entered the transfer portal, highlighting the impact of the transfer portal era on college football programs. The success of Riley’s offense, led by sophomore quarterback Miller Moss, in the Holiday Bowl was crucial for the team’s morale going into the offseason and spring ball.

The difference between a 7-6 and an 8-5 record may seem insignificant, but it holds great importance for young players who are conscious of their personal “brands.” In today’s social media-driven world, followers can become monetizable assets, and players want to be seen as influential figures. Perception plays a significant role, regardless of the roster turnover that occurs before the start of the next season.

Moss’s impressive performance in the Holiday Bowl, throwing for 372 yards and six touchdowns, showcased Riley’s ability to develop quarterbacks. However, it also created a dilemma for Riley. With Moss’s outstanding performance, it raises questions about his projection as the starter for USC in the following season. This uncertainty can make it challenging for Riley to attract talented players from the transfer portal, as they may prefer a program with a clear starting quarterback position.

Bowl games, in general, can be considered charades, especially for teams facing potential mass exodus. While these games provide financial benefits, they often don’t alter the overall perception of a program. For Riley, ending the season on a high note slightly reduced the criticism he faced, but it also led to a quarterback controversy and continued skepticism towards the defense.

In conclusion, the USC Trojans’ journey from being a highly-regarded program to facing transfer portal challenges exemplifies the volatility of college football programs in the transfer portal era. The importance of perception and the impact of individual player performances in bowl games can significantly influence the trajectory of a program. As the transfer portal continues to shape college football, coaches will need to navigate these challenges to maintain stability and success.

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