NEW YORK — Southern California sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams won the Heisman Memorial Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday night, beating three other finalists, all starting quarterbacks whose teams are in the College Football Playoff.
Quarterbacks have now won 19 of the 22 Heismans handed out this century. Only a trio of Alabama stars – Mark Ingram (2009), Derrick Henry (2015) and DeVonta Smith (2020) – have interrupted the quarterback stranglehold on the award.
Williams is USC’s first Heisman Trophy winner since Matt Leinart in 2004, tying the school with Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma with seven winners – the most all-time. Eight Trojans have actually received the award, but the 2005 trophy won by Reggie Bush was later vacated.
Lincoln Riley has now coached three of the last six Heisman winners, following Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018 while he was on the sidelines at Oklahoma.
Williams, the sixth sophomore to win the Heisman, received 544 first-place votes and 2,031 total points. TCU senior quarterback Max Duggan was the runner-up (188, 1,420). Ohio State junior quarterback C.J Stroud (37, 539) was third, followed by Georgia senior quarterback Stetson Bennett (36, 349).
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“I may be standing here today, but ya’ll get to go to the College Football Playoffs. Guess you can’t win them all,” Williams said after winning the award, drawing laughter from the crowd at Lincoln Center.
Bennett’s Bulldogs will take on Stroud and the Buckeyes in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, while Duggan’s TCU squad plays Michigan on the same day.
Williams thanked his USC teammates, Riley and his parents for being inspirations, saying “we’re in this together, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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The 20-year-old Williams played at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., and was a five-star recruit even after not playing his senior season in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, he continued to be on the radar of top schools and ultimately committed to Oklahoma to play for Riley.
Williams saw limited action his freshman season in 2021 until he entered the game against Texas at the beginning of the second quarter, replacing an ineffective Spencer Rattler. Williams had 212 yards passing and three total touchdowns, including a spectacular 66-yard run, as Oklahoma came back for a remarkable last-second 55-48 win.
He took over the starting job the next week and led the Sooners to five wins in seven games, completing an 11-2 season with an Alamo Bowl victory.
His road to USC began when Riley shocked the college football world when he accepted the head coaching position at the school the day after the Sooners’ regular season ended. Williams hit the transfer portal and followed him in January.
Williams, who also won the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards, threw for 4,075 yards with 37 touchdowns, adding 372 yards and 10 rushing scores, setting a school-record in total yards while leading the Trojans to an 11-2 record, a seven-win increase from 2021. He became known for making outstanding plays, with his strong arm and his knack for escaping trouble, being an occasional punter as well as the painted fingernails (his nails were clear on Saturday) that were on display before every game.
He may have locked up the award with his career-high 470 yards against rival UCLA and his four-touchdown performance in a 38-27 win against Notre Dame, striking the Heisman pose after a second-quarter rushing touchdown.
Another one of his “Heisman moment” plays came in the Pac-12 title game loss to Utah.
He dodged nearly the entire Utes defensive team on his way to a 59-yard scramble and also injured his hamstring on the play, cutting off his effectiveness as a runner. He still finished with 363 passing yards and three touchdowns in the game that perhaps sealed his Heisman win.
Follow sports reporter Scooby Axson on Twitter @ScoobAxson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heisman Trophy goes to Caleb Williams of USC after electric season