USC sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

USC football heads into a new era under the helm of Lincoln Riley. The squad has 14 transfers, including their starting quarterback Caleb Williams, who recently played for Oklahoma. He noted how the players want to improve from the 4-8 overall record from last season.

“We’ve been working our tails off this summer and spring also,” Williams said. “Guys want to change and guys want to work.”

Linebacker Shane Lee recognizes the past triumphs of the Trojans.

“You look at the walls, you look at the trophies and you’re like “wow, this is [USC].” It’s the same thing as Alabama, this is the same as Oklahoma,” Lee said. “If you know the bare minimum of college football, some programs are gonna stick out and this is one of them.”

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The wide receiver corps has a bevy of new faces, including former Pittsburg star Jordan Addison, former Colorado starter Brenden Rice, and Terrell Bynum who returned home after a stint at Washington.

USC senior linebacker Shane Lee (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

“I think that’s a really intriguing group,” head coach Riley said. “We have some neat skill positions, have some guys that can stretch the field, make a lot of plays, give us some versatility.”

During his freshman year in Oklahoma, Williams competed in 11 games and completed 64.5 percent of his passes. Ultimately, he earned 1,912 passing yards for 21 touchdowns; Williams also made 79 carries for 442 yards and six touchdowns. His signal calling propelled the Sooners to an 11-2 overall record and a 47-32 victory over the Oregon Ducks in the Alamo Bowl.

Riley noted how Williams has elite athletic skills and arm talent.

“I think it’s important for everybody to remember, he’s still young in his career,” Riley said. “[Williams] has played half of a college football season. He played it in a major university under a lot of scrutiny, played in some big games.”

When it came to the offensive line, Riley brought in coaches Josh Henson, Shaun Nua, and Roy Manning to manage the players. The transfer portal helped bring new players to the defensive line, including Romello Height and Palmdale native Solomon Byrd.

USC head coach Lincoln Riley (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

“We were a little bit more aggressive there immediately in the portal to try to beef that up to try to add more quality depth,” Riley said.

During fall camp, Riley praised the Trojan defense, calling them “the dominant group.” Many players are putting in the work to elevate USC beyond just being conference contenders. Players who have been with USC are making the same commitment, according to Lee.

“Somebody came up to me and [said] “we never really had people here before who worked in ways that we work, the extra work that guys are putting in and just the way that you go about it,”” Lee said. “It’s been amazing to see guys just look at themselves and look at other guys that weren’t here last year and say … “Let me figure out how I can better myself, how I can just improve in that kind of way.””