Heisman Watch: Can Caleb Williams go from backup to Heisman winner?

·6 min read

For the rest of the college football season, Yahoo Sports will highlight the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy on a weekly basis. All odds are via BetMGM.

Is it feasible for a player to emerge as a starter halfway through a season and go on to win the Heisman Trophy? Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams is going to potentially be the test case.

Williams, a freshman quarterback, made his first career start for the Sooners over the weekend against TCU and subsequently rocketed up the Heisman odds board. As of Monday afternoon, Williams was listed at +2000 to win college football’s most coveted award. Williams is tied with two others for the fifth-best odds.

Williams has looked phenomenal in his limited action. Last week, he replaced Spencer Rattler during Oklahoma’s game against Texas and led a huge comeback. OU trailed 38-20 at halftime and 41-23 late in the third quarter but was given a spark by Williams, who threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 88 yards and a score in a 55-48 victory.

In his first start, this time against TCU, Williams threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 66 yards and a TD in a 52-31 win. The Sooners are now 7-0 and Williams is giving his team a much-needed boost on offense. In OU’s four FBS wins prior to the Texas game, the average margin of victory was just 5.3 points.

If the Sooners run the table with Williams putting up huge numbers along the way, he’s going to be a player voters have to consider.

However, there is no precedent for something like this. According to The Athletic, the last Heisman winner to miss multiple games was Notre Dame’s Angelo Bertelli in 1943. Bertelli left Notre Dame and missed his team’s final four games to fight in World War II. This is clearly a much different circumstance for Williams, who did not play in the Nebraska or West Virginia games simply because he was the backup to Rattler.

But with such a wide-open field, Williams is going to have plenty of chances to put himself firmly on the radar of Heisman voters.

(Below are the current betting favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Odds courtesy of BetMGM.)

Alabama QB Bryce Young (+200)

Alabama got back on track by blowing out Mississippi State 49-9 in Starkville over the weekend. In the win, Bryce Young completed 20-of-28 throws for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Young has thrown for 2,082 yards and 24 TDs with just three interceptions. Both rank in the top 10 nationally. His 69.6% completion rate ranks 11th. As long as Alabama keeps winning and Young keeps turning in good performances, he’ll have the chance to separate himself from the pack in the last few weeks before votes are due.

Ole Miss QB Matt Corral (+200)

Matt Corral did it all for Ole Miss during its road win over Tennessee on Saturday night. The Rebels are dealing with a plethora of injuries, but Corral was able to put the team on his back for four quarters. In the win, he threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 195 yards. For the season, Corral has thrown for 1,728 yards and 14 TDs with one interception. He also has 450 yards rushing and eight TDs on the ground, and is tied with Young as the betting favorite.

Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral (2) runs for yardage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral (2) runs for yardage during the first half against Tennessee on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Knoxville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Ohio State QB CJ Stroud (+800)

Sitting at 5-1 (3-0 Big Ten), Ohio State is well-positioned for another CFP run. CJ Stroud played really well after sitting out a game due to shoulder soreness and now has the chance to continue that trend over the second half of the season with big games against Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan ahead. For the season, Stroud has thrown for 1,699 yards and 18 TDs.

Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III (+1400)

Kenneth Walker and the Michigan State offense really struggled on Saturday against Indiana. The Spartans had just 241 yards, but found a way to pull out a 20-15 victory to improve to 7-0. Walker rushed for 84 yards on 23 carries in the win and is just three yards away from the 1,000-yard mark. MSU has a bye this weekend before a huge home game against Michigan.

Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams (+2000)

In roughly seven quarters, Williams has amassed 507 passing yards, 154 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. He made both the Texas and TCU defenses look silly and is going to have the opportunity to put up more big numbers with Kansas and Texas Tech as the next two opponents on OU’s schedule. From there, the Sooners have a bye week before closing out the year against top Big 12 competition Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams (13) celebrates with head coach Lincoln Riley after a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against TCU, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams (13) celebrates with head coach Lincoln Riley after a touchdown during the first half against TCU, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Norman, Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Texas RB Bijan Robinson (+2000)

Bijan Robinson had another good game, but it wasn’t enough to get Texas a win. Robinson rushed for 135 yards, caught three passes for 38 yards and scored three total touchdowns against Oklahoma State. However, the Longhorns surrendered another two-score second half lead and lost 32-24. Robinson is too good not to continue putting up big numbers, but he could fade into the background as Texas fades away from national relevance as the season progresses.

Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (+2000)

With Iowa’s loss, Cincinnati moved up to No. 2 in the AP poll following a 56-21 beatdown of UCF. Desmond Ridder threw for 140 yards and a touchdown in the win as the Bearcats continually gashed the Knights on the ground. Cincinnati finished the day with 336 rushing yards. Ridder had just 14 of them. Still, Ridder’s name is going to stay relevant in the Heisman race as long as the Bearcats continue winning and stick around in the CFP conversation.

Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett (+2500)

Is anybody taking advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility more than Kenny Pickett? The fifth-year senior’s draft stock is taking off as Pitt continues to win games. Pickett has been tearing up defenses all year. He’s thrown for 1,934 yards and 21 touchdowns with just one INT. He also has a completion percentage of 69.8 and three games with at least 380 yards passing.

Others on the radar

  • Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson (+4000)

  • Alabama RB Brian Robinson (+6600)

  • Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels (+8000)

  • Liberty QB Malik Willis (+8000)

  • Cincinnati RB Jerome Ford (+8000)

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