Why Caleb Williams topped my Heisman Trophy ballot

Caleb Williams #13 of the USC Trojans. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Caleb Williams #13 of the USC Trojans. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

What went into this long-time voter’s decision-making in voting for the 2022 Heisman Trophy

A new era has given the Heisman Trophy a new kind of winner.

Caleb Williams — who a season ago was at Oklahoma — made the move to Los Angeles, and in his first year delivered USC double-digit wins and a season now caste in bronze. The sophomore quarterback won by 611 points over TCU’s Max Duggan with Saturday’s announcement of the 88th Heisman, making Williams the first Heisman winner to come out of the transfer portal.

Junior college transfers, grad transfers, even enlisting in the Army — a la Doc Blanchard, the 1944 winner — provided the backdrop for Heisman-winning players changing schools. It’s a path Williams’ coach, Lincoln Riley, knows all too well in coaching traditional transfers Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) to trophy wins with the Sooners, back when changing zip codes in FBS meant sitting out a year.

The age of free player movement promises immediate impact, and Williams was exactly that for the Trojans, giving them heir first Heisman since Reggie Bush’s now-vacated 2005 win.

Williams claimed 544 first-place votes for 2,031 points, followed by Duggan (1,420), Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (539) and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett IV (349) among the finalists.

While it was an easy pick at the top, this process wasn’t without its hand-wringing for this long-time voter.

Here’s how I filled out my ballot, and the decision-making that went into each spot.

Inside my Heisman Trophy ballot: Why Caleb Williams came out on top

1. Caleb Williams, USC

The final glimpse Caleb Williams left voters with was his limping off the field at the Pac-12 Championship Game ahead of Utah’s celebration, the hamstring injury and the Utes having finally won out. While that loss kept USC from the playoff, it didn’t diminish a body of work that had him atop this ballot.

Williams threw for 4,075 yards and 37 touchdowns (tied for the FBS lead) and ran for another 372 yards and 10 scores, and on a day when the summer darling — Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud — wilted in the biggest game of the year, Williams didn’t just have his moment, he had arguably The Moment of the 2022 season.

He spun and carved his way in covering nearly 80 yards on what was officially a 19-yard scramble in the Trojans win over Notre Dame, that Heisman Moment was part of a tour de force in which he threw for 232 yards and a touchdown (with a 81.8 percent completion percentage) and ran for 35 yards and three scores.

While the Utes may have won the Pac-12 crown, Williams was still sensational in defeat, playing through injury in throwing for 363 yards and three touchdowns.

He was, in a word, transcendent in coming over from Oklahoma and elevating the Trojans from a four-win season to 11-2 and a spot in the Cotton Bowl. USC wouldn’t have been in the playoff conversation, let alone finishing one win from earning that spot, without Williams at the controls.

More than anyone else this season, he was, Heisman.

2. Max Duggan, TCU

He simply wasn’t supposed to be here. Max Duggan wasn’t on anyone’s radar this summer, and didn’t even start getting odds until Week 7 (per BetMGM), but he helped TCU to a spot in the playoffs to cap a resume that, frankly, no other candidate can match.

Duggan had five Top-25 wins on the season, taking down No. 18 Oklahoma, No. 19 Kansas, No. 8 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Kansas State (in their first meeting) and No. 18 Texas. In those games, he averaged 300 total yards of offense and three touchdowns, helping Duggan have 3,725 total yards (10th in FBS), 36 touchdowns and a 165.48 efficiency rating that was ninth in the country.

While the Horned Frogs came up short in the Big 12 Championship Game, it wasn’t because of a letdown from Duggan. He threw for 251 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 110 yards and a score, and was at his best late. He simply willed TCU back into that game, rushing for 95 yards on an 80-yard touchdown drive that was extended with penalties, capped by an 8-yard touchdown run, before tying it up with a throw for a two-point conversion.

Duggan’s numbers may not have been of the magnitude of Williams, but the big wins came in bunches and and we still don’t know the ultimately heights of his team’s season.

TCU isn’t in the playoff without Duggan at the controls, and for that, he was second on this ballot.

3. Stetson Bennett IV, Georgia

This was the toughest spot to fill on this ballot, and, really, the hardest to fill in some time.

A strong case could be made for C.J. Stroud. He carried the weight of being the preseason favorite, which you can argue is more difficult to shoulder than being a defending winner. Alabama’s Bryce Young at least had the trophy in hand before he had to face an entirely new set of expectations in his defense. From the first time Stroud took the field this season, he was held to a different standard than the rest of the field, having to justify his being atop the Heisman rankings.

It’s not easy, hence why it’s been since Marcus Mariota in 2014 that a player has gone wire-to-wire in winning this award. Stroud was deserving in navigating it all, even if he didn’t hit those plateaus that have been the baseline for Heisman-winning quarterbacks in this era (4,000 total yards and 40-plus touchdowns), finishing with 3,340 yards passing and 37 scores.

But … Stroud came up short in the biggest moment of the season, with Michigan holding him to his lowest efficiency rating (131.1) and picked him off twice, a season-high. Granted, Ohio State still has the final say in its season, but Stroud’s numbers simply weren’t so off the charts that it offset his faltering on the big stage.

Hendon Hooker was also considered for this spot for a magical season in which the Tennessee senior threw for 3,135 yards and 27 scores, and rushed for 430 yards and five touchdowns, before his season-ending knee injury. But if we’re holding Stroud accountable for not coming through in the defining game, the same has to be said for Hooker against Georgia, when he threw for a mere 195 yards and an interception in a loss that helped changed the course of the Volunteers’ season.

Meanwhile, all Stetson Bennett IV did was win, and — befitting that Mailman moniker — deliver when it mattered most. He went for 386 yards and three touchdown touchdowns vs. Oregon, 257 and three scores against Tennessee and 274 yards and four touchdowns vs. LSU.

He’s taken the ball in one loss in the past two seasons, and gone 23-2 as a starter, and while this voter has never believed in the Heisman being a career achievement award, the totality of Bennett’s career explains his worth much more than his stat line does.

Georgia has been the definitive team of the past two seasons, and the quarterback that has helped lead them through that journey deserved a spot on this ballot.

Next. College Football Playoff: How 12-team CFP would play out. dark

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