USC's Caleb Williams officially a Heisman finalist, remains favorite to win
Caleb Williams wasn't himself in the Pac-12 championship game last week, playing through a "severe" hamstring injury sustained on USC's second series, but even though it wasn't a peak performance it may well have strengthened his Heisman Trophy case nonetheless.
Three days after completing 28 of 41 passes for 363 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception in the 47-24 loss, Williams was formally named one of the four finalists for the Heisman Trophy and remains the overwhelming betting favorite to win.
TCU QB Max Duggan, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett and Ohio State QB CJ Stroud were the other finalists.
The Heisman winner will be announced Saturday night at 5 p.m. PT (live on ESPN) in a ceremony in New York City.
Williams has -2500 odds to win the award, per BetMGM, which The Action Network calculates as a 96.15 percent implied probability.
For the season, Williams has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 4,075 yards, 37 touchdown and 4 interceptions while rushing for 372 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He broke the program record for total touchdowns in a season -- previously 41 by Matt Barkley (2011) and Cody Kessler (2014) -- and his 4,447 total offensive yards ranks first on USC’s single-season list (Sam Darnold previously held the record with 4,225 total yards in 2017). Williams' 372 rushing yards this season is also the most by a USC QB in the last 70 years since complete records were available. The previous record was 342 by Jim Sears in 1952
Former Trojan Cody Kessler currently holds the USC record for the lowest rate of interceptions in a season with 1.1% (5 in 452 attempts in 2014). Williams is currently at 0.9% (4 in 407 attempts) and on pace to overtake that mark too.
He trails only Darnold for the single-season passing yards mark (4,143) and could overtake both that and the completions record (315 by Kessler) if he plays in the Cotton Bowl next month.
Williams expressed his desire and expectation to be ready physically for that game vs. Tulane, but coach Lincoln Riley left it more undetermined.
"He's got a significant hamstring injury. It's good we're not playing probably in the next two to three weeks. So we'll try to rehab that," Riley said. "Those things, hamstrings are different for everybody, but the nature of his is pretty severe. If we played in the next couple weeks, he most likely would not be available. We'll have to see how it progresses. We obviously hope to have him. He's a warrior, he fought through it really the other night when a lot of guys wouldn't, but he's pretty sore as you would expect."
Williams was injured on a 59-yard scramble on the Trojans' second offensive series Saturday. He led the team to three straight scoring drives and a 17-3 lead to open the game, but he was noticeably limited in his mobility the rest of the way and the Utah defense, no longer fearing he would run, teed off on him with increased pressure while tallying 7 sacks.
Williams led another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to make it a 3-point game at the time, but the Trojans defense couldn't stop the Utes. He finally came out of the game in the final minute.
"It was maybe the gutsiest performance I've ever seen. I mean, most guys wouldn't have even played," Riley said.
Williams pulled ahead as the top Heisman candidate with incredible performances against rivals UCLA (470 passing yards, 3 total TDs and an INT) and Notre Dame (18-of-22 passing for 232 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT and 3 rushing TDs).
And his play Friday night in Las Vegas, even without his elite mobility available to him, did nothing to dim his Heisman candidacy. If anything, it further underscored how much this 11-win USC team has depended on him to carry it this season.
Williams would be the eighth Trojan to win the Heisman, joining RB Mike Garrett (1965), RB O.J. Simpson (1968), RB Charles White (1979), RB Marcus Allen (1981), QB Carson Palmer (2002), QB Matt Leinart (2004) and RB Reggie Bush (2005, later vacated).
In addition to USC’s six official Heisman winners, Trojans have been represented as finalists six additional times: OJ Simpson (1967, second place), Anthony Davis (1974, second place), Ricky Bell (1975, third place), Ricky Bell (1976, second place), Rodney Peete (1988, second place) and Matt Leinart (2005, third place).
Williams would be Riley's third Heisman-winning quarterback in six years as a head coach, following Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) at Oklahoma. Riley also had Jalen Hurts (2019) finish as the runner-up for the award.