USC’s Williams wins Heisman after leading Trojan turnaround

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).

Williams 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’s C.J. Stroud was third in the voting after coming in fourth last season. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett 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, one of 23 previous winners to attend the ceremony near Lincoln Center.

“Dreams really do come true. Thank you, and fight on,” Williams said at the end of his 10-minute speech.

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. Matt 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 Lincoln Riley, who coached Oklahoma’s last two Heisman winners, and Williams, who followed the quarterback whisperer from Norman to Los Angeles.

With Riley and Williams orchestrating one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, USC went from 4-8 last to 11-2 and a Cotton Bowl bid this year.

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

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

“It’s something you dream of as a kid when you’re in high school, and then when you get to college it’s just a goal you might throw on the wall before the season,” Williams said the day before checking off that goal.

As a freshman at Oklahoma last year, Williams grabbed hold of the starting job, coming off the bench to rally the Sooners past rival Texas and immediately becoming one of the college football’s most exciting players.

He transferred to USC in the offseason to play for Riley and 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 his 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 under Riley when he was at Oklahoma. Riley left the Sooners after last season to take the USC job, jumping from one storied program to another.

Riley joins Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy (four), Alabama’s Nick Saban (four), Army’s Red Blaik (three) and Ohio State’s Woody Hayes (three) to coach at least three Heisman winners.

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 at USC’s Heritage Hall. Williams has made Southern California Heisman U. again.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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