Temper your expectations for USC, but not Caleb Williams

The Oklahoma transfer is going to be asked to do everything for the darkhorse Trojans

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The Trojans’ new QB likely isn’t enough to carry the load all by himself.
The Trojans’ new QB likely isn’t enough to carry the load all by himself.
Image: Getty Images

All of the delusional SoCal bros flooding Vegas with USC national championship bets would be better off taking that money and stapling it to bar walls or burying it. A title team constitutes more than Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams as it takes pallets of talent to face down the Alabamas, Georgias, and Ohio States of the world. Even with Pitt wide receiver transfer Jordan Addison, the Trojans will have to play flawless football to reach the playoff let alone win two rounds.

So in light of that reality, allow me to offer up another wager with, as the experts call it, better value. I’m not here to actually give betting advice. Most of what I know about gambling comes via pop culture or osmosis from my many degenerate friends who still yell at TV screens in the fall. That said, grab Williams for Heisman at +700 right now (if you haven’t already parlayed it with your title bet).

The two favorites for the trophy — Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young — deserve the odds that they’ve been given. Young won it last year, and Stroud completed more than 70 percent of his throws while posting gaudy numbers — 4,435 yards passing, 44 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. The Tide’s QB mostly put up better stats than that (4,872 yards, 47 TDs, and seven picks, with a 67 percent completion percentage), which is why he walked away with college football’s most prized individual award.


Those numbers are objectively gorgeous, and if either surpasses them, they’ll undoubtedly be frontrunners. That said, it’s really freaking hard to repeat those years. Matt Leinart’s touchdown totals dropped every year from his sophomore season to his senior year. Lamar Jackson scored six fewer times in the follow-up to his Heisman-winning campaign.

I wouldn’t call it regression because it’s extremely difficult to have a season touched by God when everyone has the game film that got a player anointed the previous season. Factor in opponents’ familiarity and a few running back dives from the one-yard line, and it’s enough for the average pundit to push away the spoonful of hype like a child with an extra sense of what is a vegetable.

In the case of Williams, he didn’t come anywhere close to his stat ceiling because he didn’t see playing time until after Spencer Rattler’s incomprehensible 2021 Heisman campaign came to an end when he got benched against Texas. Williams’ comeback was the stuff of legends, and as much as Texas would like to rectify last year’s meltdown, the Longhorns won’t have that opportunity — not against Williams at least.

In eight-plus games, the new Trojans’ QB had 1,912 yards in the air, 21 pass TDs, four interceptions, and another 442 yards and six scores on the ground. He could easily top 3,000 yards passing this year with a full season under center, and the receiving talent on that team. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground as USC’s backfield is made up of new or former transfers and a freshman who combined for 958 yards rushing in 2021.


Despite all of the transfers and recruits, USC will need Williams to do everything. The team improved just enough, and the conference remains just weak enough, for 10 wins to be in the realm of possibilities. There might be an occasional blowout where Williams sits a quarter, but I’m banking on Riley needing — and using — him quite a bit.

Plus, familiarity won’t be an issue. The only team in the Pac-12 that faced Williams last season (Oregon) isn’t on the schedule unless they meet in the conference title game. The odds of the Trojans making that game might be a little longer with commissioner George Kliavkoff scrapping the divisions this year. That said, they won’t have to fight preseason No. 7 Utah to reach it, and No. 11 Oregon has question marks with a new coach and new (transfer) quarterback, Bo Nix, who I don’t trust at all.


Notre Dame and Utah are the toughest matchups on the schedule, and the Trojans don’t play the Golden Domers until the final game of the regular season. While the Utes in Week 7 scare the shit out of me, if Williams can get out of there without a performance like he had against Iowa State in ’21, show out against Notre Dame, and win a possible rematch with Utah (or beat Oregon) to win the Pac-12, there will be tidal waves of support for Williams’ Heisman candidacy.

And I haven’t even mentioned the history of quarterbacks going ham under Riley’s tutelage.


So there you go, USC fans. If you want a wager to scream “Fight on!” about the entire season, go with Caleb for Heisman, a bet you might actually win rather than a pipe dream.