USC backup quarterback Miller Moss (7) tries to console wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. after the Trojans’ loss to Oregon State at the Coliseum on Sept. 25, 2021. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Miller Moss just wanted a fair shot. That’s all he could ask for last December, when Lincoln Riley first took the reins at USC, and it still was his lone request come February, when the most coveted quarterback in college football joined the fold.
Two months later, there’s no question that Caleb Williams will open next season as USC’s starting quarterback. Any competition under center this spring will carry on with heavy air quotes attached.
But for Moss, once a coveted prospect in his own right, there’s no doubt in his mind that he’s gotten the fair shake he asked for.
“Absolutely,” Moss said. “Coach Riley has been great. He’s been honest and open with us about everything. Honestly, he really invests in his quarterbacks. That’s something that’s been refreshing, and I really appreciate it.”
That line of communication was opened soon after Riley arrived. He was honest with Moss about his quarterback plans. So while Jaxson Dart opted to enter the transfer portal in January, eventually settling at Mississippi, Moss, who twice changed high schools, chose to stay at USC.
Williams visited USC that same early January weekend. But before he was on USC’s campus, Riley called Moss to inform him, “which I didn’t expect,” Moss said.
The honesty made Williams’ arrival all the more palatable for a passer now forced to compete with him. The chance to learn from a coach known for developing quarterbacks didn’t hurt either.
The two young passers have split their reps equally between USC’s first- and second-team offenses this spring. While Williams has spent that time trying to hone the finer points of Riley’s offense, Moss still is digesting a system that has a lot more meat on the bone than he saw as a freshman.
“The hardest part is Coach Riley is so creative, so you never know what kind of wrinkles he’s going to throw in there,” Moss said. “I think that’s also probably the most fun and entertaining part about it. You never know what kind of stuff he’s throwing in the install for that day. You really have to stay on top of your stuff. You have to study. You can’t just leave this practice, go home, eat, and turn on Netflix and hang out until tomorrow. You have to get into your playbook and invest because if you don’t, you’re going to come out here and look silly.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way. Even Williams said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel he has “a full grasp” of Riley’s offense at the start of his second year at the helm.
USC transfer quarterback Caleb Williams (13), second from left, runs through passing drills with other quarterbacks Miller Moss (7), left, Isaac Ward (31) and Brad Akoi (38), right, during spring practice at USC on March 22. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
“There’s always something to learn, something where I can be better at,” Williams said. “So I mean that will take Tom Brady years, and I can’t be in college for Tom Brady years. So I’m not at that point, but I am working really hard to try and reach that point.”
As the only two scholarship quarterbacks currently on USC’s roster, both will need to get up to speed this summer. Riley also could look to add depth at the position via the transfer portal — just in case that depth is needed next season.
It certainly was last season, as USC found itself down to its third-string quarterback, Moss, for its finale against California. Moss finished that game just eight for 13 for 74 yards, a touchdown and a lost fumble.
Consistency has been his main focus since. So far this spring, he’s at least received consistent attention from USC’s coach.
“Coach Riley has really harped on this in our meetings, but eliminating the bad is almost as important as how good the good is,” Moss said. “So just eliminating negative plays, knowing when to throw it away, knowing how to manage game situations, really learning how to operate within the system — those things make huge differences in college games, whereas in high school it might not hurt you as much. So that’s really been a point of emphasis.”
USC is now the last Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program that has never scheduled a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team, after Notre Dame announced Tuesday that it would play Tennessee State in 2023.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.