Caleb Williams officially twisted the knives Lincoln Riley stuck in the backs of Oklahoma fans when he left for Southern California as the talented QB announced Tuesday he’s following his coach to USC. He did so via tweet, featuring videos with appearances by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Will Ferrell.
Despite my description of that tweet sounding like a Teen Choice Awards promo circa 2007, the video is a reminder of how prolific and dangerous the recently awakened college football giant can be with the right coach and recruiting. The talent is already rolling in, and now Riley has his Heisman candidate.
When Williams entered the portal, his father Carl cited professional development as the driving factor behind his son’s transfer.
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I’m not going to dispute Riley’s ability to get his quarterbacks to the next level — Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray each won the Heisman Trophy under him, and getting Jalen Hurts drafted in the second round might be even more impressive than getting those two drafted first overall. That said, all three of those QBs are trending down in the NFL.
Mayfield is the most visible of the three, garnering enough TV ads to make you think he’s Patrick Mahomes and not the guy who threw 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions and missed the playoffs this season. Murray was an MVP candidate and the Cardinals were a one seed before Deandre Hopkins got injured, he dropped off, they fell to the fifth seed, and got demolished by the Rams, 34-11, in the opening round of the playoffs. As far as Hurts goes, he led the Eagles to the last spot in the playoffs (or the Eagles got to playoffs in spite of him) only to be routed by the Bucs, 31-15.
There’s no doubt in my mind Williams will succeed as a Trojan. I only half jokingly wrote he should win the Heisman after his crazy comeback win against Texas, and the Pac 12 sets up as favorably, if not more so, than the Big 12 from a stats, competition, and wins standpoint. He’ll record the requisite numbers to get drafted, maybe even win a Heisman and go to the Playoff, but if we’re going off his predecessors, the college success might not translate to the NFL.
I can’t speak to why Mayfield only looks good in years ending in even-numbers, or why Murray looks like an accurate mini Mike Vick sometimes and simply a mini Mike Vick other times. (The reason Hurts isn’t very good is because he was never very good.)
The two Heisman winners’ lack of NFL dominance — and dominance is what you’re looking for out of No. 1 overall picks — could be due to their physical limitations. For Mayfield, it’s his arm strength. For Murray, it’s his height and durability. What will it be for Williams? The scouting report on him coming out of high school said he’s a little inaccurate, quick to leave the pocket, and isn’t quite there yet with his progressions.
All the positives in the report — dual threat, strong arm, makes plays off platform, throws well in rhythm — bare out. He had 1,912 yards passing, 442 yards rushing, 21 pass TDs, six running TDs, and four interceptions in basically eight games. (Remember Spencer Rattler began the season as the starter. He transferred to South Carolina. Now OU has UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel at quarterback.)
Williams didn’t look great in a loss at Baylor and a win over Iowa State, but bounced back (albeit in a loss) against Oklahoma State and in a win over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. That Bears defense was unusually feisty for the Big 12 and kept the game choppy, picking him off twice en route to a 27-14 win. Iowa State mucked up the game and forced an interception, but couldn’t overcome their own turnovers.
Going a combined 17-36 for 229 yards, a touchdown, and three picks over two games isn’t great. On the silver lining side of things, Williams got the Sooners within field goal range on three different occasions across those two games only to come up without points after misses.
If those are his only poor showings and all Riley has to fix are issues normal for most young QBs, then look out because Williams has the arm talent, speed, and enough of a frame for the next level, and Riley has a full three years with him. He’s already incredibly effective as a freshman operating solely on raw talent and instinct, including stripping his almost-tackled running back to convert a fourth and one.
Who knows what his playing days in cardinal and gold will look like… who am I kidding, he’s going to be amazing. Sooners fans know this, too. If USC wins a title with him under center and Riley calling plays, and then Williams turns out to be the pro we thought Mayfield and Murray would be, then I fear for/giddily anticipate the mental health of OU fans. (Go Big Red!)
I don’t know how many times you can rub salt in an open wound before people go numb, but Riley and Williams are damn sure trying to find out.