Bear Alexander was expected to be the next man up on a Georgia defensive front that has been a consistent conveyor belt of talent in recent seasons. Instead, he’s heading to Southern California to play for the USC Trojans.
Bear Alexander’s Commitment Highlights a Broader, Brighter Future for USC
After entering the transfer portal as the biggest and brightest star in the spring window, Alexander committed to USC late Sunday night. After narrowing his potential options down to six programs, Alexander chose the Trojans over Texas, Penn State, Oregon, Miami (FL), and Colorado.
Alexander rose to national prominence with a standout performance in the College Football National Championship Game. Entering the game with one tackle for loss and a sack on his true freshman résumé, the apparent next great Bulldog defensive lineman blew up TCU’s offense, registering two TFLs and a sack — doubling his season production.
Expected to be a prominent force on a Georgia defensive front that lost Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, and Jalen Carter to successive NFL Draft classes, Alexander provided the shock of the spring transfer portal window when he indicated his intention to leave Athens. He immediately became the jewel of the portal, with double-digit offers from across the nation.
Alexander, a Texas native who was once committed to Texas A&M as he emerged from IMG Academy as a four-star recruit in the 2022 recruiting cycle, was considered by many to be leaning toward the Longhorns to capture the 6’3″, 315-pound defensive tackle.
However, rumors linking the former four-star recruit to Southern California picked up quickly after his guardian, Tony Jones, attended the USC Spring Game. Social media detectives quickly observed that multiple USC staffers, including USC Executive Director of Recruiting Annie Hanson and Director of Player Relations Gavin Morris, followed Alexander on Twitter.
Alexander confirmed his decision to join USC ahead of the 2023 college football season with a video where he simply states, “I’m thinking of staying on the West Coast” before giving the traditional USC battle cry of “Fight On!”
However, his official quotes in the wake of his commitment highlight why a player, playing at the pinnacle of college football, fresh off a national title, entered the transfer portal and headed to Southern California.
“I mean, it’s Lincoln Riley,” Alexander told ESPN. “Just watching their production from last year, they lost two games, barely lost to Utah … if Caleb [Williams] wasn’t hurt, they would have definitely been in that. It’s Lincoln Riley, and I’m excited to go play for that guy.”
Lincoln Riley Building Something Special at USC
For a while now, Riley has been known as a college football kingmaker at the quarterback position. He rejuvenated and reinvigorated Jalen Hurts — now the highest-paid player in the NFL. Riley also took Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield and made them Heisman Trophy winners. Caleb Williams added another to Riley’s coaching Heisman résumé in 2022.
Such is Riley’s ability to coach and conjure brilliance from college football’s most important position, Williams followed him from Oklahoma to USC when the former Texas Tech quarterback swapped Norman for Southern California. Yet, Riley’s influence goes beyond simply being a QB whisperer.
He’s building USC back into a CFB powerhouse, returning them to college football relevancy. The Trojans have ebbed and flowed throughout their history. For every Pete Carroll or John McKay, there’s a Clay Helton or Paul Hackett that sours the narrative of one of the most storied programs in college football history.
In the blink of an eye, Riley has made USC fans forget about the latter part of Helton’s tenure with the Trojans. While the 11-3 campaign that he produced in his first season with the program might not match the unprecedented success enjoyed under Carroll, the excitement and expectation that once burned inside the LA Memorial Coliseum is burning once again.
This isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, one-time thing for USC under Riley. The former Oklahoma head coach is building something truly special in Southern California. While Georgia’s potential for a historic “Threepeat” makes them a program naturally slapped with the “dynasty” label, it is actually Riley’s USC team that is shaping up to be the next great powerhouse of college football.
Alexander earmarking Riley as the reason why he chose to come to USC is one example of how the head coach is making the Trojans the ultimate destination for players when they enter the transfer portal.
Historically, revolutions seek to overthrow dynasties. However, as the transfer portal revolutionizes college football, it’s helping Riley create one at USC. Alexander is the headline-maker of the spring transfer portal, but he’s just the latest in a long line of offseason acquisitions that are transforming the USC starting lineup for the 2023 season and beyond.
Alexander will shuffle into a first-team defensive front that is likely to be exclusively made up of transfers as USC seeks to strengthen their weakness from last fall. Jack Sullivan, Kyon Barrs, and Anthony Lucas all left Power Five programs to play for Riley and USC. Another two transfers – Jamil Muhammad and Mason Cobb — will make up the front seven.
On offense, two potential starting offensive linemen — Michael Tarquin and Jarrett Kingston — and the entire projected starting WR trio of Mario Williams, Brenden Rice, and Dorian Singer all started their CFB journey somewhere other than Southern California. WR Williams, similar to QB Williams, followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC.
Like most transfers, Alexander entered the portal to maximize his potential of playing in the NFL. He held a situational role as a freshman at Georgia and sought to showcase that he can be more than that. However, there’s more than just personal goals and glory behind the migration of top-tier talent to USC.
“We’ve been very honest with these transfers about what we’re building, how we’re building it, what’s expected from this end, what those guys are walking into,” Riley said about the expectation, the level set, for incoming transfers while answering media questions following the conclusion of USC Spring Camp.
“It helps being able to get these transfers on campus and let them interact with our guys. We try and pair them up with guys that know what we’re about and know what we’re trying to bring in, in terms of the character and type of guys in the locker room that really see the individual opportunity, but they really want to be a part of what we’re building here.”
USC Winning on the Recruiting Trail Under Riley
It isn’t just the college football transfer portal where USC is proving to be an attractive destination for young players. Riley’s influence on the Trojans’ recruiting capability is palpable. The program ranked eighth nationally in the 2023 recruiting cycle, ensnaring as many five-star recruits in one class as they had in the previous four classes combined.
When QB Williams departs for the NFL in 12 months’ time with another Heisman Trophy potentially on his college résumé, Malachi Nelson will be well positioned for a seamless transition under the quarterback kingmaker. The other two five-star recruits in the class were considered the top player at their position — with WR Zachariah Branch a potential impact maker.
Fellow five-star tight end, Duce Robinson, is a case study in the belief in what is being built at USC. Georgia and head coach Kirby Smart went head-to-head with Riley and the Trojans in pursuit of the game-changing TE prospect who carries a CFN Fusion grade of 99.403 as one of the top players in the class. The reigning national champions ultimately couldn’t compete.
“Coach Lincoln Riley’s offense and what he does is special,” Robinson explained. “They are such an explosive offense, and it’s something I believe I can really thrive in. They are going to get guys in space, they are going to find ways to get their guys the ball and let them do what they do best.”
With his exciting offense and reputation for developing quarterbacks to a Heisman Trophy level, Riley has made USC an attractive place for players to want to spend their college football career.
The pieces are in place to create sustained on-field success. As more and more high-profile players make the pilgrimage to Southern California, the program has the potential to become a consistent contender for conference and national titles.
Following the Alabama Path To Creating a CFB Dynasty
Why do the best high school players go to Alabama? It’s because of the consistent success that the Crimson Tide has achieved and because they want to play for Nick Saban. It’s the genesis of a dynasty, a genesis that is halfway there for USC now that they have Riley making the program an attractive destination for players.
There was an Alabama-esque quality about another addition to USC this offseason.
Tuscaloosa has long been the rehabilitation home for college football coaches whose careers might have strayed away from success. They come to the Crimson Tide, they nurse under the wing of one of the most successful coaches in CFB history, and when the time is right, they fly the nest — repaired, rejuvenated, reborn.
Kliff Kingsbury’s hire as a senior offensive analyst for the Trojans bears all the hallmarks of the Saban rehabilitation scheme.
Yet, it’s not the Alabama head coach who is repairing the wings of the former Arizona Cardinals head coach. It’s Riley who has returned Kingsbury to the college coaching ranks and is nursing his wounds. He might be the first, but he won’t be the last.
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It’s just another component of something special being built at USC under Riley. There was always a consensus that he would only leave Oklahoma for the NFL. When he joined the Trojans following the 2021 season, many considered that he was bolting before the Sooners joined a more competitive SEC.
At the time, Riley elaborated on his reasons for choosing the Trojans over Oklahoma — or any NFL opportunity that might have come his way — during an appearance on the Move The Sticks podcast with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks.
“One of the things I evaluated in this opportunity is I think we can build one of the best rosters in the country. I don’t think. I know we can…My confidence level that we can build a roster that will be as good as anybody in the country is very high. It’s because of the people here, and the opportunities here, and I think that’s something that can happen very quickly.”
The opinion has proven prophetic. The capture of Alexander, the biggest fish in the transfer portal pond, is just the most recent example of Riley being able to bring the best players to USC.
It has happened quickly, but it might only be the start of something even bigger, something more special, for the Trojans.