USC QB Caleb Williams won't play in Holiday Bowl vs. Louisville

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Caleb Williams #13 of the USC Trojans looks on during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 18, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

USC quarterback Caleb Williams’ college career appears to be over.

Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley said Monday that Williams would not play in the Holiday Bowl against Louisville on Dec. 27. USC was chosen for the Holiday Bowl after a 7-5 regular season that included three consecutive defeats to end the season as the Trojans lost five of their last six contests.

The 2022 Heisman winner is a prohibitive favorite to be selected in the top three of the 2024 NFL Draft, though he has not officially announced if he is declaring for the draft. Draft-eligible players have until Jan. 15 to declare, but it seems highly unlikely that Williams would return to school in 2024 if he's skipping the bowl game.

Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye are widely seen as the two best draft-eligible quarterbacks in college football. Like Williams, Maye has also not officially declared for the draft yet. North Carolina plays West Virginia in the Duke's Mayo Bowl.

Williams had another remarkable season in 2023 even though USC had a worse season. That decline was primarily because of the team’s defense, not the way Williams and the offense played. After he won the Heisman a season ago by throwing for over 4,500 yards and 42 TDs and five interceptions in 14 games, Williams was 266-of-388 passing for 3,633 yards and 30 passing TDs and five interceptions.

Williams also rushed for 11 TDs in 2023 after he had 10 rushing TDs a season ago.

USC entered the Pac-12 title game a season ago needing a win over Utah to make the College Football Playoff. Instead, Williams injured his hamstring and the Utes ran over the Trojans. Williams was healthy enough to play in the bowl game, but he was clearly not 100% and the Trojans lost the Cotton Bowl to Tulane.

USC entered 2023 with national title expectations again but were failed by a defense that gave up 35 points per game and 6.2 yards per play. USC allowed at least 34 points in each of its five losses this season and gave up over 40 points in three wins.

The final straw for defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was a 52-42 loss to Washington on Nov. 4. Grinch came to USC with Riley and stayed for the 2023 season despite tackling issues and other defensive problems in 2022. USC’s defense didn’t fare much better without him over the final two games of the season as the Trojans lost 36-27 to Oregon and 38-20 to UCLA.

Williams also came to USC with Riley after the former OU coach was hired ahead of the 2022 season. Williams emerged as Oklahoma’s starting QB in 2021 as he threw for nearly 2,000 yards and rushed for over 400 as he appeared in 11 games. He immediately became the biggest star in college football with the Trojans and was the runaway winner for the Heisman a season ago.