When coach Lincoln Riley bolted from Oklahoma after last season, his star freshman quarterback Caleb Williams followed suit, and a slew of other transfers to USC, people wondered Expect USC to return to high-level collegiate football.
Expectations are met — and then some. USC has won 11 games, seven more than last season and its highest win total since 2017. Had it not been for the loss in the Pac-12 tournament, USC would have reached the College Football Playoff for the first time, with a chance at its first national title since 2004.
The national championship will avoid the Trojans this season, but Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy Saturday night in New York, gave USC a consolation prize. Williams received 544 first-place votes, comfortably ahead of the other quarterback finalists: Texas Christian’s Max Dugan (188), Ohio State’s CJ Stroud (37) and Georgia State. Stetson Bennett (36).
“I’ve seen it, and now to be a part of it and to be a part of this fraternity is a blessing,” Williams said. “It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of.”
As Williams began his presentation, he pointed out that the other three players had something he didn’t: a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“Guess you can’t win everybody,” Williams said, as the crowd erupted in laughter and Bennett nodded in agreement. Williams invited eight of USC’s offensive linemen to the ceremony and asked them to stand as the crowd cheered them on. He thanked his family, calling his mother “the most important woman in my life” and his father “making sacrifices in your life so I can make mine”.
“It doesn’t seem to get noticed and taken seriously, but you mean the world to me,” Williams said. “We’re in this together and I don’t want it to come any other way.”
williams, who is known for his pregame outfits And painted nails, wearing a custom tan suit designed by Gucci and Adidas, and “boots that look like loafers” with clear nail polish.
Williams was outstanding all season, beating defenses with his arms and legs, completing 4,075 passing yards and 47 total touchdowns. Nowhere was his value more evident than in USC’s Pac-12 championship loss to Utah, in which he suffered a leg injury that crippled him. Although Williams managed to stay in the game, USC’s offense was unable to do anything with his injury.
Despite finishing his sophomore season as college football’s preeminent player, Williams wasn’t the favorite. The late-night telecast of West Coast teams, combined with a historically lackluster Pac-12 conference, may have kept Williams’ name off the Heisman’s list of early-season favorites.
But after the game against rival UCLA, the No. 1 ranking. On the 18th, Williams seemed to have secured the Heisman by racking up 503 yards (470 passing, 33 rushing) and three total touchdowns to help his team win. (The game also kicks off at 8 p.m. ET.)
“It took a whole season for the rest of the country to catch on,” said former USC quarterback and 2002 Heisman winner Carson Palmer.
This was the second year that Stroud smiled and applauded when another finalist won the Heisman Trophy. Last year, Stroud was a finalist, but he finished last in the final round of voting, with Bryce Young of Alabama receiving the award. Young didn’t reach the Finals this year, and Stroud was the winning favorite for most of the season, especially against Michigan State, where he threw for 361 yards and six touchdowns. But Stroud struggled late in the season, including a 45-23 loss to Michigan.
This could be Stroud’s last chance at the Heisman. After this season, he will be eligible for the NFL draft, where he is projected to be a first-round pick.
Of the finalists, Duggan seemed the least likely preseason. He was a three-year starter, but he was benched by redshirt rookie Chandler Morris, then returned to the starting lineup after Morris was injured in Week 1. Duggan, who led Texas Christian to a 12-1 record and into the College Football Playoff, put up solid numbers — 3,321 passing yards and 36 total touchdowns — but was still a step behind Williams.
Bennett is aiming to become Georgia’s first winner since Herschel Walker in 1982. Bennett was a walk-on, the only finalist to win a division title, but he didn’t have the flashy stats of the other finalists.
Williams is USC’s eighth Heisman Trophy winner — technically — but the NCAA after determining that he and his family accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from two California agents while he was in college , canceling Reggie Bush’s 2005 victory. Bush, who returned the award in 2010, was initially banned permanently from USC, but the ban was reduced to 10 years in 2017.
Williams said he had spent time with Bush earlier in the week and that Bush had advised him about what happened that night. On Saturday morning, Williams had breakfast with former Heisman winners Palmer and Mike Garrett.
“The craziest part to me is that the guys I talk to, Heisman winners, have had their jerseys retired in the past,” Williams said. “Now once I leave USC, it’s probably the coolest thing for me to have my jersey retired.”
Williams’ stellar season gave championship aspirations to a football program that hadn’t won a championship since Bush and Matt Leinart led USC to back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004. (The 2004 victory was later canceled after Bush’s sanctions.)
“It’s ugly, it’s ugly,” Palmer said. “Get beat by a team that you don’t see USC beat.”
Palmer added: “This year I can’t wait until Saturday morning, turn on the TV and watch him play. He definitely changed the level of excitement and expectations of watching USC games.”
Williams said he grew up watching the Heisman Awards, noting that the victories of Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III and Joe Burrow were the most memorable. With Griffin III and other Heisman winners standing behind him during his speech, Williams thanked his coach Riley, who left his hometown of Washington, D.C., to follow him to Oklahoma City Homer, now California.
“We had committed to each other on two different occasions with the same dream in mind, but even with the sudden transfer from Norman, Oklahoma to USC, our dream didn’t change,” Williams said. Saying either change your dreams or change your habits, I’m damn sure won’t change mine; glad you didn’t change yours either. Even though we both know the job isn’t done.”