Gold: Caleb Williams' Heisman opportunity is here vs. Notre Dame
On Sept. 5, 2018, the odds on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray winning the Heisman Trophy were +1800, behind someone named Trace McSorley and someone named McKenzie Milton. Eleven weeks later, on Nov. 23, Murray completed 20-of-27 passes for 364 yards and 3 touchdowns and added 9 carries for 114 yards and a score in a win at No. 13 West Virginia. Two weeks after that, Murray was handed the trophy.
On Sept. 19, 2019, the odds on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow winning the Heisman were +915, trailing both Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts. Seven weeks later, on Nov. 9, Burrow took the Tigers into Tuscaloosa and handed Alabama a 46-41 loss, completing 31-of-39 passes for 393 yards and 3 scores while adding 14 rushes for 64 yards. A month after that, Burrow was handed the trophy.
Like Burrow and Murray before him, USC’s Caleb Williams has one marquee regular-season matchup to go, one that could vault him to the top of the Heisman rankings and land him at the New York Marriott Marquis come Dec. 10.
Saturday’s rivalry showdown between the Trojans and their long-time nemesis, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, is not just the best matchup between the teams in years. It’s not just a résumé-booster for No. 6 USC, an important one with their CFP status on the line.
It’s also Williams’ time to shine.
Here’s the thing: USC knows it.
They’ve all been there before — the Trojans’ athletic department, 1st-year head coach Lincoln Riley, everyone.
Lest we forget, USC took home the Heisman in 2002 with Carson Palmer and 2004 with Matt Leinart and 2005* with He Who Shall Not Be Named (*rhymes with Wedgie Mush, vacated).
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) November 24, 2022
And lest we forget, Riley helped Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray win it in back-to-back years in 2017 and ’18.
Riley is keeping a face-forward approach, even as the USC athletics marketing department has gone all-out in support of Williams’ campaign.
“Having coached some guys like that in the past, guys that win individual awards, you don’t focus on that,” Riley said. “Just try to win each week for your team. Those are the guys that do it. He’s been one of the best players in the country this year. He’s really played well. All those things, it’s got to stay about the ball, and that’s the most important thing. I know that’s the most important thing to him and all of us. Maybe those things come to fruition, that’s great, but those are byproducts. That’s not why we’re here tonight, that’s not why he’s here.”
For Riley, it’s all about the journey and not the destination.
For Williams, it’s kind of about the destination, and he can take a giant leap closer on Saturday with a big game against the resurgent Irish.
Coming off arguably his strongest game of the season and among the best of his career, now Williams gets to square off against a squad that has rediscovered its edge after a brutal start to the season. After beginning the year 3-3 with losses at Ohio State (21-10) and at home against Marshall (26-21) and Stanford (16-14), the Irish are 5-0, with wins over then-No. 16 Syracuse and then-No. 4 Clemson.
A win over this Notre Dame team — and not the one from Week 2 — carries a lot of weight, as did Williams’ terrific showing against the Bruins last week.
Williams’ 503 total yards set a USC single-game record against UCLA, and his total yardage was also the most by any player in the 92-game history of the series. He finished 32-of-43 passing for 470 yards with 2 scores and 1 interception, along with 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on 8 carries.
The Notre Dame coaching staff seems to know what’s coming at them, and the Irish aren’t flinching. They’ve played well against top offenses; against the No. 2 (Ohio State), No. 13 (North Carolina), No. 28 (Clemson), and No. 44 (BYU) scoring offenses in country this year, the Irish are 3-1, holding them to an average of nearly 14 points per game below their season averages.
Notre Dame appears just as worried about Williams’ feet as his arm.
“We faced some really good quarterbacks this season; he is one of the best,” head coach Marcus Freeman told reporters. “One of the best I’ve seen. His arm strength is one thing. His decision-making is another his ability to extend plays. He’s one of the few guys I’ve seen just continually, continuously break tackles.”
Throughout the year, Williams has put up the monster numbers against questionable competition.
In some ways, Williams has already had his Heisman moment.
On Oct. 15 at No. 20 Utah, Williams went 25-of-42 for 381 yards and 5 scores against the Utes in a 43-42 heartbreaking loss.
But until last Saturday, when they knocked off then-16 UCLA, No. Williams and the Trojans had not beaten a team then ranked in the Top 25.
He’s put up monster numbers all year against questionable competition: 4 passing touchdowns in Week 2 against Stanford; 4 scores (2 passing, 2 rushing) in Week 3 against Fresno State; 4 scores (3 passing, 1 rushing) against Arizona State in Week 5; and then 4 straight games with 5 or more touchdowns from Weeks 7-through-11.
Against Notre Dame, there’s no question: This is a good team playing great football the past 5 weeks and one that can give Williams the Heisman boost he needs.
Let’s not forget: His main competition, Ohio State QB CJ Stroud, put up just 223 yards and 2 scores against the Irish in Week 1.
If Williams doubles those numbers — and there are no indications he won’t — the Heisman will be his to lose.