Riley: 'I was running to USC,' not away from SEC

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USC head coach Lincoln Riley said Oklahoma's impending move to the SEC had nothing to do with his decision to leave the program.

"I knew that (criticism) was out there," Riley told ESPN's Chris Low. "Football is football. I wasn't running from the SEC. I was running to USC. That's probably the best way I could answer that."

Oklahoma and Texas are set to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC in 2025, the schools announced last July.

Riley stunned the college football world in November when he agreed to succeed Clay Helton at USC after revitalizing the Sooners during a five-year stint.

The 38-year-old led Oklahoma to three College Football Playoff appearances and four Big 12 championships while earning the highest winning percentage in school history with a 55-10 overall record.

He also produced back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners in quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018), both of whom were selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft following their wins.

While Riley cherishes his time with the Sooners, he said he couldn't resist the allure of USC.

"It's such a different opportunity than the one I had at OU, and I wouldn't change anything about the one at OU, especially for a first-time head coach," said Riley. "There were some advantages of taking over one like that and some advantages of taking over one like this.

"But one of my biggest memories when I was younger - junior high and high school when I was already a big college football fan - was watching a game out here on a Saturday night in the Coliseum on a TV screen in Muleshoe, Texas. I don't know how to describe it, just the energy and getting the feeling that it was different than watching football anywhere else."

Riley's presence has already paid off for the Trojans, as they captured arguably the two most coveted players in the transfer portal - star quarterback Caleb Williams, who played for Riley at Oklahoma, and former Pittsburgh wideout Jordan Addison, who won the Biletnikoff Award in 2021.

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Riley: 'I was running to USC,' not away from SEC
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