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Caleb Williams transfers to USC: Trojans get championship-level boost as star QB reunites with Lincoln Riley

USC has landed a monumental commitment from star quarterback Caleb Williams, who will reunite with coach Lincoln Riley after transferring from Oklahoma. Williams was the No. 2 quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class before enjoying a breakout freshman season for the Sooners this past season.  

“I wanted to go somewhere I thought would provide me with the best development both on and off the field,” Williams told ESPN’s Pete Thamel. “Getting to know Coach Riley and gaining familiarity with his offense definitely played a part in my selection, as well as already knowing some the guys on the team.”

Williams’ transfer is part of a new era in college football, one in which high-profile players can use the portal to follow coaches who have taken different jobs while maintaining immediate eligibility. In November, Riley became the first Oklahoma coach since 1946 to leave for another collegiate job. USC then lost quarterbacks Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart to the transfer portal. But Williams, who has two years of eligibility left before he’s eligible for the NFL Draft, gives the Trojans an immediate impact player for the program to build around. He joins fellow 2021 recruit Miller Moss as the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for USC. 

As a true freshman, Williams sat behind Oklahoma incumbent QB Spencer Rattler to start the 2021 season but stepped in at halftime of the Red River Showdown against Texas to lead the biggest comeback in the history of the rivalry. After accumulating 300 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the 55-48 win over the Longhorns, Williams went on to start the next seven games and ultimately led the Sooners to a 47-32 Alamo Bowl victory over No. 14 Oregon

The Washington, D.C., native threw for 1,912 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions in 11 games while rushing for 442 yards and six touchdowns as part of his Freshman All-American season. Against the Ducks with a limited coaching staff, Williams threw for 242 yards by completing 77.8% of his passes with three touchdowns. 

At USC, Williams will reunite with college football’s premier quarterback guru. Upon entering the portal in early January, he explained that Riley was an integral part of his future plans when he committed to the Sooners. Riley has produced three current NFL starting quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts — and molded Rattler into a Heisman favorite ahead of the 2021 season. 

“I came to Oklahoma with a game plan, but with all of the recent changes, I need to figure out what is the right path for me moving forward,” Williams wrote

Here’s what his commitment means for the Trojans moving forward. 

USC is a championship threat again

USC is officially a College Football Playoff contender. Write it down in ink, etch it in stone and bookmark this page in case Old Takes Exposed needs it down the road. That’s the kind of impact Williams will make in Los Angeles. 

The Trojans return four of their top five receivers from last year’s squad, all of whom took on more responsibility when Drake London’s season ended two-thirds of the way through. They are well-schooled, versatile and should thrive in Riley’s wide-open system. 

Yes, USC finished last season with the best offense in the Pac-12 at 443.9 yards per game. But neither that mark, nor the 5.91 yards per play average, landed it in the top 20 nationally. Williams is a significant upgrade from Slovis and Dart, and he should be the catalyst that vaults the Trojans at or near the 500-yard-per-game mark — a place Riley led the Sooners on a regular basis.

At that point, all USC needs to do is play average defense in order to run through the Pac-12 with ease and enter selection Sunday with a chance to hear its name called.

Instant Heisman contender

Williams’ move to Los Angeles will not only vault the Trojans into instant contention in the Pac-12 and CFP but also move him near the top of the 2022 Heisman Trophy race. He was thrown into a tough situation when he took over for Rattler at Oklahoma, and yet he still managed to establish himself as a legitimate Heisman contender. 

Now that he has a full offseason to build upon that success with a coach who understands his strengths and weaknesses, he should be able to hit the ground running (and throwing). 

Williams already has the preseason buzz that most Heisman Trophy contenders need in order to take home the game’s most prestigious individual award. He’s in a system that has routinely produced superstars. He plays in a major media market for a tradition-rich and championship-starved program. Plus, his primary competition is Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who won the award last season. Fair or not, a lot of voters will shy away from voting for Young again if Williams — or anybody else — makes a strong case in 2022.

Lincoln Riley’s big statement

Riley stunned the college football world when he took the gig at USC, and he immediately made a splash with the transfer portal (much to Oklahoma’s chagrin). Former Sooners wide receiver Mario Willams followed his old coach, as did cornerback Latrell McCutchin. Former Oregon running back Travis Dye is also among those to end up in L.A. with Riley courtesy of the portal. 

Riley also nabbed a recruiting commitment in quarterback Malachi Nelson, the No. 2 overall player in the 2023 recruiting class who was previously committed to Oklahoma prior to Riley taking the job at USC. Five-star athlete Makai Lemon also bailed on the Sooners in favor of the Trojans shortly after Riley took the job. 

The first-year coach has already made a big splash that will not only pay immediate dividends but resonate with high school players in the talent-rich Southern California area.

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