Gold: Caleb Williams is a video game quarterback on a historic pace
If this were the end of the first quarter of Caleb Williams’ 2023 college football season, he’d be skipping to the other side of the field with a smile as wide as the Los Angeles Coliseum itself, if not cruising on a magic carpet.
We’re 3 games into the Trojans’ football season, by virtue of a Week 0 woodshedding of San Jose State — somehow 25% done with the year — and Williams has been something out of a video game.
The stats themselves are so absurd that they defy understanding and reason. Williams may actually be damaging the space-time continuum. Forget opposing college football defenses, I’m actually scared for humanity itself. This could tear into the fabric of what’s real.
Admittedly against a collection of defenses that collectively I don’t think could stop Lincoln Riley and the USC offense — I mean at the same time, 33 on 11 — Williams has completed 55-of-70 passes for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions. His passer efficiency rating is currently 240.5. The full season record is 207.6 by Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall in 2021, who only attempted 241 passes in 11 games on the year. The standard is Mac Jones, who finished at 203.1 in 13 games for Alabama in 2020.
So far, Williams is blowing them out of the water. He is also nearly 20 points ahead of Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman, who has been similarly sensational with a 222.5 mark through 3 games.
Williams can’t possibly keep this up.
But here’s the thing … can he?
The college game is almost unrecognizable to purists, but even the early 2010s might as well be the days of ancient yore when it comes to passing efficiency rankings.
Put it this way: Of the top 20 individual seasons on the list, just 2 happened before 2010 (Tulane’s Shaun King with 183.3 in 1998 ranks 19th and Hawai’i’s Colt Brennan with 186.0 in 2006 ranks 15th), and only 3 from 2010 to 2015 — No. 11 Russell Wilson with 191.8 for Wisconsin in 2011, No. 13 Robert Griffin III with 189.5 for Baylor in 2011 and No. 16 Jameis Winston with 184.8 for Florida State in 2013.
That’s right: 15 of the top 20 marks have been set since 2016.
And Lincoln Riley has his hands in 4 of them — Jalen Hurts in 2019 (191.2, 12th), Kyler Murray in 2018 (199.2, 5th), Baker Mayfield in 2016 (198.9, 6th) and 2016 (196.4, 7th).
If Williams continues this reign of terror at anywhere near his current clip, we could be watching history unfold.
The perfect marriage of the perfect offensive mind and the perfect athlete.
A match made in heaven. The Mike Leachification of college football, complete.
If anyone knows how to swing that sword, it’s Bruce Feldman.
He literally wrote the book on The Pirate, or at least wrote it with him.
He offers a unique perspective on the evolution of college football quarterbacking and on USC quarterbacking itself, having moved to Los Angeles the year Carson Palmer won the Heisman, 2002.
Feldman has seen them all.
The long-time college football insider remembers the glory of the days of Matt Leinart and the best years of Mark Sanchez. He covered John David Booty and Cody Kessler and Sam Bradford and Kedon Slovis — a continuous connection of great USC quarterback after USC quarterback.
He’s never seen anything like this.
“I work with Matt (Leinart) now, and I think he’d be totally fine with me saying this: (Caleb) is much more talented than Matt is,” Feldman said Monday night. “Caleb’s arm is so much stronger. Matt had Reggie (Bush) and Lendale (White), much better backs, and a much better line and defense, and Matt was a very poised guy, accurate, confident. But Caleb is so much more talented than anyone USC has had at quarterback. None of them were in the realm of Caleb.”
And not just at USC, either.
“We’ve seen a lot of guys win the Heisman, but he’s on another level than Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow and so many others,” he said. “I’m not going to say he’s going to be better in the NFL, but he deserves all the hype. He’s that elite. I’d be surprised if he had a 13-for-29, 3 interception game. I just don’t see that coming.”
Once again, to reiterate — USC to this point has played the likes of San Jose State, Nevada and Stanford. The Moe, Larry and Curly of that narrow strip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Let’s just say Reno and Silicon Valley are not college football hubs.
But Williams has been dialed in a way he simply wasn’t last year. And he won the freaking Heisman.
Rarely playing into the 2nd half so far this year, Williams has thrown 4, 5 and 3 touchdowns with no picks, and he added a rushing touchdown Saturday for good measure.
Against the Cardinal, he completed 19-of-21 passes for 281 yards. He started with 6 completions, missed 2 and hit 13 more in a row.
Those aren’t real numbers. This is running 4 Slants in Madden and hitting the slot guy all game. On easy.
“I think this is totally alien,” Feldman said. “And before the season, I predicted he’d be the first QB to win back-to-back Heismans.”
Finally, this Saturday, I expect Williams to be stopped, if not shut down entirely.
It’s a bold prediction, but I am utterly confident.
Alas, the only thing that can stop Williams this Saturday is the literal schedule.
USC has a bye week.
Maybe he can get some Madden in?