USC's Williams wins Heisman after leading Trojan turnaround

Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Caleb Williams brought sizzle, excitement and star power back to Southern California football.

And now the Heisman Trophy, too.

Williams, the dynamic quarterback who was the catalyst for the Trojans’ turnaround season, won the Heisman on Saturday night to make USC the first school to take home college football’s most prestigious player of the year award eight times.

Williams received 544 first-place votes and 2,031 points to easily outpoint TCU quarterback Max Duggan (1,420).

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams holds the Heisman Trophy after winning the award Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in New York. (Todd Van Emst/Pool Photo via AP)

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Williams, who played last season at Oklahoma, is the fourth transfer to win the Heisman in the last six years, joining Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) of Oklahoma and Joe Burrow (2019) of LSU.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was third in the voting after coming in fourth last season. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, the first Bulldogs' player to attend the award's presentations in 30 years, finished fourth. The top-ranked Bulldogs will face Stroud and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31.

Duggan and the third-ranked Horned Frogs will play No. 2 Michigan in the other CFP semifinal on New Year's Eve.

“I may be standing up here today, but y'all get to the College Football Playoffs. Guess you can't win 'em all,” Williams said as he started his acceptance speech by thanking the other finalists.

Before taking hold of his big bronze trophy, Williams hugged Mike Garrett, USC's first Heisman winner in 1965, Garrett was one of 23 previous winners — and three former Trojans along with Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer — to attend the ceremony near Lincoln Center.

Williams was as meticulous and thorough with his 10-minute speech as he is preparing for a game. And almost as poised as when he plays.

Williams got a little choked up talking about coach Lincoln Riley, who he followed from Norman to Los Angeles, and really had to hold it together when thanking his parents.

He called his mother, Dayna, who paints his nails with a motivational message before each game, the most important woman in his life.

He thanked his father, Carl, for instilling a relentless worth ethic.

“You’re always there for me making sacrifices in your life so I can achieve my dreams, which eventually became our dreams,” Caleb Williams said.

He finished with USC's battle cry: “Dreams really do come true. Thank you, and fight on.”

Williams and No. 8 USC fell short of the Pac-12 championship and a spot in the playoff, but it was still a rebirth for a college football blue blood that has had only short spurts of success over the last decade.

The last time USC had a Heisman winner was 2005, when running back Reggie Bush was the second of consecutive Trojans players to win the award. Leinart won the Heisman in 2004 on the way to a national championship.

Bush's Heisman win, the Trojans' seventh, was later vacated for NCAA violations that began the descent of USC.

Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma each have seven Heisman victories.

The Trojans hope a revival is underway, led by Riley and Williams. With the two of them orchestrating one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, USC went from 4-8 last season to 11-2 and a Cotton Bowl bid this year.

“These individual awards aren’t why we do it, they are not why Caleb does it, but they’re evidence that there’s a lot of great things going on,” Riley said. “Because, let’s be honest, Heisman winners don’t show up on average teams.”

Williams is the epitome of the modern college football star. As a five-star recruit from Washington, he has been a celebrity since high school.

At the age of 10, Williams and his father began plotting a path to greatness. The to-do list included winning a Heisman.

As a freshman at Oklahoma last year, Williams came off the bench to rally the Sooners past rival Texas and immediately became one of the college football’s most exciting players.

Williams jumped into the transfer portal in the offseason and where he would play next became one of the biggest stories in sports. He amassed an extensive and lucrative endorsement portfolio before ever playing a game for the Trojans.

Thanks to one of his NIL deals, Williams was able to bring eight of USC offensive lineman with him to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

When the games did start, Williams delivered on the promise and potential.

He passed for 4.075 yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions, setting a USC record for total offense with 4.447 yards. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore also ran for 10 touchdowns, drawing comparisons to Chiefs’ star Patrick Mahomes for his ability to improvise and deliver perfect passes from a variety of arm angles.

Williams finished with a kick, accounting for seven touchdowns in Top-25 victories against UCLA and Notre Dame that put USC in playoff position.

The Trojans could not close the deal, losing the Pac-12 title game to Utah with Williams hobbling through much of the game with a strained hamstring. Still, he threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns to give USC a chance, and solidified his status as Heisman frontrunner.

Williams is the 19th quarterback to win the Heisman since 2000, the third from USC and the third to do it after transferring to play for Riley. Mayfield and Murray took similar paths.

Riley said Williams' combination of elite physical tools and confidence beyond his years separates him from even the other great players he has coached.

“He’s so hungry to get better. But he’s also so fearless in the moment.” Riley said.

Williams is the sixth sophomore, and second straight, to win the Heisman. Alabama’s Bryce Young won the Heisman in his second season last year, and finished sixth in the voting this year, behind Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Williams will become the latest player with a chance to join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin (1974-75) as a two-time Heisman winner.

But first, it’s time to find some space for another trophy at USC's Heritage Hall. Williams has made Southern California Heisman U. again.