Oklahoma football: Should Oklahoma get half the credit for Caleb Williams’ Heisman win?

Dec 10, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; USA Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams reacts after winning the Heisman Award at The Lincoln Center. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/Heisman Trust Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Dec 10, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; USA Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams reacts after winning the Heisman Award at The Lincoln Center. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/Heisman Trust Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports /

What a great many Oklahoma football fans feared and in a small sort of way celebrated became painful reality on Saturday night at the 2022 Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City.

Former Oklahoma Sooner Caleb Williams was awarded the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most coveted individual prize. The former OU top recruit beat out three other accomplished quarterbacks to become the 87th Heisman winner in the 88 consecutive years the honor has been bestowed.

It’s not that Williams didn’t deserve the award — he may even have been destined for it the day in December 2020 he signed to play for Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma — it’s that he did so while representing a team different than the one many believe he should still be playing for.

Williams became the eighth Heisman winner for USC (counting the vacated 2005 Heisman awarded to Reggie Bush), breaking a four-way tie with Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Ohio State, each of which have won seven.

After an outstanding true freshman season at Oklahoma in 2021, Williams was one of several Sooner players who elected to follow their trusted leader, Riley, when he suddenly decided to leave the good thing he had going on the plains of Oklahoma for the lure of greener pastures and all the glitter and glamour of the City of Angels.

Williams stepped in at starting quarterback for Oklahoma at midseason a year ago, replacing Spencer Rattler, another No 1 overall quarterback recruit, two years removed in the Sooner class of 2019. Williams saw action in 11 games for the Sooners but was the starter from Game 7 to the end of the season.

At Oklahoma, Williams completed 65 percent of his passes for just under 2,000 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. Williams’ ability as a runner added another dimension to the OU rushing attack. He gained 442 yards along with six rushing touchdowns.

It was just one or two games into his starting role at Oklahoma that Williams burst into the national conversation as a Heisman contender. As it turned out, 2021 was just a dress rehearsal for the real act to follow his sophomore year. Only, it was to be in a different uniform and in a different location as the field general for the USC Trojans, a team that was coming off of a 4-8 season the year before Riley and Williams arrived.

Interestingly, several of Williams’ quarterback numbers at USC were similar to what they were the year before for Oklahoma. His completion percentage (66 percent) was only one percent better than it was at OU, and his pass efficiency rating this season is 167.9, compared to 169.6 as a Sooner.

Where the numbers differ considerably, however, is in the number of pass attempts and total passing yardage and touchdowns thrown, largely a factor that he was the starter at USC the entire season. Williams has thrown the ball 237 more times this season and completed 160 more passes than he did at OU, and he nearly doubled his passing yards and touchdowns. His rushing yardage, though, is actually less this season than it was a year ago (372 to 442).

While Williams won the 2022 Heisman voting by what would appear to be a comfortable margin over runner-up Max Duggan of TCU (2,031 points to 1,420), it was reported to be the closest winning vote margin in four years. Williams received 544 first-place votes to 188 for Duggan.

C.J. Stroud of Ohio State finished third in the voting and Stetson Bennett of top-ranked Georgia was fourth.

Lincoln Riley’s reputation as the quarterback whisperer and the coach you want to play for if you have the dream of winning or being a serious Heisman contender continues. Six of the past seven Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, and Riley has coached three of the six (Baker Mayfield in 2017, Kyler Murray in 2018 and Williams this year) plus the 2019 Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts.

Riley becomes the first college head coach to produce Heisman winners at two separate schools.

I can understand how many Oklahoma football fans feel really bitter and betrayed over all of this.

It was one thing, after all, for Riley and Williams to walk away and turn their backs on Oklahoma, but the idea of having the former Sooner head coach taking USC to the College Football Playoff — which, thank goodness, Utah ended to the absolute delight of Sooner Nation — and then Williams hoisting the Heisman Trophy was almost too much to bear. It was like pouring salt in a still unhealed wound.

Not unexpectedly, the social media universe exploded overnight and into Sunday spewing both praise and protest over the former Sooner winning the Heisman.

It’s reasonable to believe things might have been different for Oklahoma had Williams stuck around for a second full season, but he didn’t, and you can’t blame the Sooners’ 2022 struggles on the newly minted Heisman winner.

No Sooner fan wants to see anyone previously associated with the Oklahoma program — especially someone who departs the way both Riley and Williams did — do well at the expense of the Sooners.

It all boils down to this: If Riley doesn’t leave Oklahoma, Williams stays.

But here we are, and all that other stuff is now in the past. There isn’t anything that can be done about it now. The Sooners and their fans need not concern themselves with what’s already happened. The focus has to be on the now and the plans and preparation for what’s ahead.

One Oklahoma football fan suggested that the Sooners should get some credit for Williams’ rise to fame and his Heisman achievement. Perhaps a bronze statue half the size of the others in Heisman Park.

Suffice it to say, however, there will be no statue coming anytime soon or ever of Lincoln Riley to reside among the Big Four of Oklahoma football coaching fame.