We need to talk about Heisman winner Caleb Williams, and why USC losing three games this year might be the best thing for college football in 2023.
Caleb Williams is electric. He might be the most elusive quarterback behind the line of scrimmage of all time. That’s right, I said it. All time.
He’s an elite passer, has game changing speed, absurd pocket awareness, and is one of the most sound decision makers in all of college football.
The thing I like most about Caleb Williams is that he has the mindset at all times that no one is going to outcompete him.
Every good story needs a villain, but the best villains are the ones you secretly like.
Now, I’ve been accused of being a USC hater, so to some, this is going to sound like I’m celebrating the Trojans demise after Tulane scored 46 points in the Cotton Bowl, despite only EIGHT pass completions, to move Lincoln Riley to 1-4 all-time in New Year’s 6 Bowl games.
I’m not celebrating, but I’m also not mad about it.
USC losing that football game, as well as losing twice against Utah in 2022, sets college football up for an incredibly compelling narrative heading into the 2023 season.
There’s a Stephanie Garber quote that says “Every good story needs a villain, but the best villains are the ones you secretly like.“
In a vacuum, it’s impossible to hate Caleb Williams, or to think of him as a villain. But when you put his 11-3 season, and Heisman run in context, you see Williams’ villain arc come into focus.
Everyone is a villain to somebody, so of course USC’s natural rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA both have a reason to hate Caleb Williams. And of course the entire Pac-12 is sore about USC heading to the Big 10, so there’s 10 more teams rooting on Williams’ demise. But when you add in Williams fingernails being painted to say F ASU and F Utah, you now add an extra bit of spice to those games next year.
Plus, let’s not forget all of Sooner nation praying on Williams downfall for following Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles. And you know that Texas fans haven’t forgotten Caleb Williams coming in down 28-7 in the Red River Showdown and leading the Sooners on a 48-20 run, and a win. I can’t imagine Longhorn fans are rooting for Williams just because he left Oklahoma.
And I’ve heard from enough Tennessee and Texas Christian fans that think Caleb Williams shouldn’t have even been the Heisman winner, and when you consider that Williams had the lowest percentage of available points for any QB winner since Robert Griffin III, it would seem that a decent amount of this country’s sports media agrees with that sentiment.
2023 is setting up to be a high stakes revenge tour that that we probably wouldn’t have gotten if USC had made the college football playoff in 2022. Williams still having a year of eligibility left, with the target on his back of being the defending Heisman winner, and the surefire #1 overall pick in 2024, in the Trojans last year in a conference filled with players poised to make their own Heisman runs in Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr, and with Utah returning as the bully on the block?
You couldn’t script a better drama than this.
Get your popcorn and your fancy fingernail polish ready, because next year’s fixing to be a movie.
On this episode of Wrighster or Wrong, George Wrighster interviews former president of HBO Sports, Ross Greenburg.
Next, George and Ralph Amsden discuss some of the more outlandish outfits that were worn to the Met Gala. In Cancel or Consequence, was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wrighster or Wrong for wearing a “tax the rich” dress to the expensive event, and how mad should people be at Nikki Minaj for telling her 22 million followers that the Covid Vaccine made her cousin’s friend impotent? Also, George and Ralph go through the legitimacy of some of the names that have been floated for the open USC football job.
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Recently, anyone and everyone has weighed in on who the University of Southern California should hire to replace the recently fired Clay Helton. Our own George Wrighster is no different- see below.
These are the non-negotiables- the new head coach of USC has to be relevant, proven, a relentless recruiter, and able to bring a running game back to the Coliseum. Using that criteria and basic logic, let’s rate the legitimacy of the candidates that media members and crafty agents have put out there as potential candidates to replace Clay Helton:
Donte Williams- Interim Head Coach
Six years ago, Donte Williams was knows as a skilled California recruiter that was helping San Jose State gain relevance. His reputation and results allowed him to quickly climb the coaching ladder, jumping from SJSU to Arizona, then Nebraska, Oregon, and finally back in California at USC, where he shocked the Trojans stagnant recruiting back to life, and helped hold off Arizona State for guys like Drake Jackson and Korey Foreman.
Why he makes sense: He’s already got the job, and one thing every fan base has been susceptible to is buying into the current staff if the team is able to make a drastic improvement. Williams is one of the top 3 recruiters in the Pac-12, if not the best, and USC is not going to want to lose him no matter who they hire, so if the Trojans find some way to run the table the rest of the way an play for a Pac-12 title, it will be very hard to hire over someone that won over the fan base and the players through the results on the field.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Looking internally and not weighing your options is what has contributed to the program’s inability to meet its potential. Williams has no head coaching experience, and has never called an offense or a defense at the collegiate level. If you surround an elite recruiter with the right assistants, you could end up trending up like Oregon, but if not, you could end up trending down like Washington. Does Williams have the connections and vision for USC’s style of play on both sides of the ball? Can he manage the politics and day-to-day elbow rubbing and donor schmoozing that comes with the gig? We’re only going to find out if the Trojans run the table for the rest of 2021.
Mario Cristobal- Oregon Head Coach
Mario Cristobal took over for Willie Taggart when after one year in Eugene, he took off to try his luck at Florida State. His energy as a recruiter, and willingness to seek out support staff that will help the team improve on the field have helped Oregon become the class of the Pac-12 North.
Why he makes sense: He’s everything USC is looking for. If Athletic Director Mike Bohn could pry Cristobal away from Oregon, he would.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Oregon is likely to match whatever anyone would offer to acquire Mario Cristobal. So the only reason for Cristobal to leave would be an assumption that LA gives him a less-resistant path to winning every single week. Mario Cristobal does not strike me as a person, all other things being equal, to jump ship to make things slightly easier on himself.
James Franklin- Penn State Head Coach
James Franklin took lowly Vanderbilt to back-to-back 9-win seasons before taking over for Bill O’Brien at Penn State, leading the Nittany Lions to three top-10 finishes since 2016.
Why he makes sense: Like Cristobal, James Franklin is pretty much everything USC would want in a head coach, but with more of a track record of success. Franklin has brought several top-10 recruiting classes in a row, and is competing for the top class in the country this year.
Why he doesn’t make sense: For the same reason that he does- several top-10 recruiting classes in a row, and is competing for the top class in the country this year… would you want to leave that? Franklin has coached all over the country, but he’s a Pennsylvania man. Leaving for Southern California to pull in similar recruiting classes in a less prestigious conference might not appeal to him. Moreover, for USC fans, Franklin would be a good catch, but he’s only won one Big Ten title thus far, and one of the primary goals of this search needs to be someone who maximizes the talent they bring in.
Eric Bieniemy- Kansas City Chiefs OC
Eric Bieniemy is the first name you think of when you hear the term “next-in-line.” Bieniemy works under Andy Reid to help run the Kansas City Chiefs offense, quarterbacked by the one-and-only Patrick Mahomes.
Why he makes sense: He’s the hottest name in coaching and has been for almost two years. He has experience in the conference, albeit not great experience, and he undoubtedly would be able to assemble one of the best play-calling staffs available.
Why he doesn’t make sense: He’s not going to coach a college team. The news of his interest leaked through Adam Schefter, the preeminent NFL newsbreaker. So what does that tell you? Bieniemy’s team is sending a message to any NFL team out there that might be thinking about a change, that there’s competition for his services. But there isn’t- not from USC.
Joe Brady- Carolina Panthers OC
Joe Brady is credited for helping call the offense on one of the greatest college football offenses ever assembled. He left LSU after their 2019 National Championship to join Matt Rhule with the Carolina Panthers.
Why he makes sense: It doesn’t make sense! But it would be fun! Brady is too green as far as executive experience, and the example of his success is contained to one very special season. You’d want to see him duplicate that with Carolina, but if he can make Sam Darnold look like the Sam Darnold of old, I’m sure there would be some USC fans that could get behind this.
Why he doesn’t make sense: See above.
P.J. Fleck- Minnesota Head Coach
P.J. Fleck spent a year as a grad assistant at Ohio State before beginning his climb up the coaching ladder. Western Michigan made him the youngest head coach in college football, and he turned a 1-11 first year into a 13-1 fourth year before accepting the head coaching job at Minnesota, where he won 11 games by year 3.
Why he makes sense:He almost makes too much sense. I’m always a proponent of coaches that have turned around more than one program, especially programs with lower relative resources. Minnesota’s average recruiting class is between 40-50 historically, and yet he’s maximized the talent there to make the Gophers competitive. He’s only 40, a relentless recruiter, and might be the only candidate on this list outside of James Franklin and Mario Cristobal that wouldn’t need to find a way to retain Donte Williams.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Any push back on Fleck’s candidacy would have to be regional. Or if the Trojans think they have a shot at anyone else they want. It could also be affected negatively if Minnesota fails to live up to expectations this year.
Lane Kiffin- Ole Miss Head Coach
Lane Kiffin used to coach USC. He used to coach a lot of places. Some Trojans have longed for a re-do in which Kiffin is unencumbered by sanctions.
Why he makes sense: He’s proven he’s a good college coach. He moved on from his Tarmac-firing by USC to have relative success in several places, and even took time to humble himself and coach in the shadow of Nick Saban as an assistant at Alabama. He knows the LA market, and he’s built for the college grind.
Why he doesn’t make sense: While I’m sure there’s some part of Lane Kiffin that wants to be wanted by the team that unceremoniously ditched him, he’s had a taste of big boy football culture in the SEC, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for him to head west.
Luke Fickell- Cincinnati Head Coach
Luke Fickell built Cincinnati into a team worthy of a major conference invite. He’s a big name in coaching circles, and nearly knocked off mighty Georgia in a bowl game last year.
Why he makes sense: He’ll win. It’s pretty obvious that in his time as a player and coach at Ohio State, the formula for success was engrained into his DNA. You’re not going to hire Luke Fickell and get worse. No chance.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Luke Fickell has coached and played his entire career in the state of Ohio. His son is on the Cincinnati roster. He’s gotten the Bearcats into the Big 12. USC would be a pretty drastic change at this point for him and his entire family, but if the price is right…
Billy Napier- Louisiana Head Coach
Billy Napier is linked to every major job that comes available. The failed Clemson OC turned longtime Saban assistant, turned Arizona State OC, turned Louisiana Lafayette Head Coach is an intriguing name when it comes to the next round of major college jobs.
Why he makes sense: Napier spent a lot of time at Alabama before leaving to take over Arizona State’s offense. A lot of those Alabama WRs you’ve seen flood the NFL over the last few years? Napier recruits. Plus, Louisiana hadn’t had a 10+ win season in my lifetime, and under Napier they’ve done it twice.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Napier is much more likely next up for an SEC or Big Ten job than he is a return tot he Pac-12. Napier would be the guy I’d expect to get a call if USC pulled Fleck or Franklin away from their current jobs.
Chris Petersen- Former Washington Head Coach
Chris Petersen elevated Boise State before elevating Washington before abruptly retiring before the 2020 season. He’s doing TV commentary now.
Why he makes sense: He was good at Washington. The same criteria USC used to hire Steve Sarkisian.
Why he doesn’t make sense: He’s retired. Like, actually retired.
Urban Meyer- Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach
Urban Meyer made Utah and Florida and Ohio State into monsters. He’s probably the best college football coach on the planet not named Nick Saban.
Why he makes sense: USC fans want him.
Why he doesn’t make sense: USC, the actual school, for a hundred different reasons, does not want him. Plus, Meyer, if you take him at his word, already said there’s “no chance” he’d leave the Jaguars for USC.
Bob Stoops- Former Oklahoma Head Coach
Bob Stoops was the head coach of Oklahoma for eleven different top-10 finishes, and a national championship. He’s only 61 years old, and has been a feature on television ever since stepping down from the Sooners job after the 2016 season. He raised eyebrows with a brief return to coaching with the XFL’s Dallas Renegades- could he be looking to return?
Why he makes sense: He’s got the history of having carried a major college brand to meet expectations for almost two decades. Nobody else really has that on their resume.
Why he doesn’t make sense: College football has never had a more rapid shift in rules and culture than it has over the last five seasons. 2016-2021 is not the time to have a gap in your resume, no matter how good you were before that.
Matt Campbell- Iowa State Head Coach
Matt Campbell made Iowa State relevant. He built them up over the last five years, gave them four consecutive bowl appearances, a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oregon, and has amassed four separate Coach of the Year awards across his time with both the Cyclones and at the University of Toledo.
Why he makes sense: I’ve witnessed Matt Campbell recruit. He’s made the Pac-12 country a contributing factor to his success at Iowa State, and he’s extremely talented at making a player feel like they’re committing to something larger than themselves.
Why he doesn’t make sense: While both Toledo and Iowa State did the most they could with the talent they had under Matt Campbell’s tenure, they’ve still struggled to move past being competitive to being dominant, or even having a leg up on their rival Iowa Hawkeyes. It’s going to be tough to convince USC alumni to get behind someone they believe does better as the conductor of The Little Engine that Could than at the helm of The Giant Engine that Should.
Bill O’Brien- Alabama OC
Bill O’Brien took the goodwill that came from steering Penn State out of disaster and parlayed it into a head coaching job in the NFL, and he’s probably still be a head coach in the NFL if he didn’t consolidate power to also become the Houston Texans’ General Manager. If talent acquisition is something he’s interested in having a hand in, then a full-time return to college football might not be a bad move after graduating from the Nick Saban school of image rehabilitation.
Why he makes sense: He’s a good coach, a big name, and has the confidence and personality to handle the pressures and media scrutiny that comes with one of the most talked-about jobs in all of college football.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Close your eyes and try to imagine Bill O’Brien getting along with anyone under the age of 35, much less Southern California college kids. Can’t do it? Me neither.
Tony Elliott- Clemson OC
Tony Elliot has been at Clemson for a decade. He’s helped assemble and activate a college football giant, and was responsible for calling the offense on two different national championship teams.
Why he makes sense: He can recruit, he can coach, he has a championship pedigree, he’s young, he’s intelligent, and he’s clearly very loyal- being four years removed from winning the Broyles award for the top assistant in all of college football, and still remaining entrenched at his alma mater as an assistant. USC might be one of the only jobs in the country that Tony Elliott would be willing to abdicate his evident “in-waiting” status at Clemson in order to assume the head coaching role.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Honestly, it’s be a really good hire if the Trojans could pull it off. But I’m not sure anyone involved in the USC hiring process is going to bring someone into the fold that believes coaching USC is a secondary reward to being able to coach somewhere else, and if they brought Elliot in, that’s what they’d be getting- someone people would immediately assume would leave USC for Clemson if Dabo Swinney ever made good on his promise to quit once kids start getting paid.
Have a take you’d like us to address?Email us at email@example.com and we’ll read your take on a future Wrighster or Wrong podcast.
Vita Vea displayed versatility to headline Pac-12 NFL standouts
This week in football, Pac-12 NFL fans were treated to a rare gem: a 347-pound player scoring an offensive touchdown. Everyone loves it when defensive players catch touchdown passes. Who else joined Vita Vea with top Pac-12 NFL Week 12 performances?
The Big List of Pac-12 NFL Performers, College by College
Nick Foles – Jacksonville Jaguars
Honestly, it’s a tough year for Arizona. Each and every week, it’s a difficult school to find Pac-12 NFL talent. This week, Foles was alright. Not great. But not horrible. He completed 66.7-percent of his passes for 272 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. It’s weeks like this that make fans wish the Jags would have stuck with Gardner Minshew.
However, there aren’t any significant Arizona options in the NFL right now. Therefore, it’s Nick Foles beating a low bell-curve.
N’Keal Harry – New England Patriots
Now, we’re not going to try and paint N’Keal Harry a Pro-Bowler. But, he reached a big milestone this Sunday. In the first quarter, N’Keal Harry caught the game’s lone touchdown. It was his very first touchdown and hopefully there will be many more.
In college, N’Keal Harry’s 43.9-percent (89th-percentile) College Dominator and 18.7 (95th-percentile) Breakout Age were collegiate elite. Combine that with a 134.5 (98th-percentile) SPARK-x Score and first-round draft pedigree. All to go along with playing snaps for the New England Patriots dynasty. N’Keal Harry’s stock will only go up from here.
Mychal Kendricks – Seattle Seahawks
11 solo tackles. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mychal Kendricks was a sure-tackler. He locked up the middle of the field and helped keep the Eagles to just 9 points.
Kendricks also made one tackle for a loss. It wasn’t a pretty win for the Seahawks. But, it was a win nonetheless. And, the defense held up well to a receiver-less Eagles offense. Kendricks double-digit tackle total was a large part of that win.
Jimmy Smith – Baltimore Ravens
Earlier this season, the Baltimore Ravens secondary was exploitable. Now, with the addition of Marcus Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith, the Ravens are once again difficult to face. On Monday night, the Ravens dominated the Rams.
In their easy win, Jimmy Smith made big plays. Not only did he sack quarterback Jared Goff, but he intercepted the ball to seal the game. Jimmy Smith is a great Pac-12 NFL representative.
Arik Armstead – San Francisco 49ers
Oh my. All quarterbacks should fear Arik Armstead. Incredibly, Armstead hit quarterback Aaron Rodgers four times and sacked him twice. His defensive pressure is a great asset for the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s a great year for him. Against 42 targets, he’s allowed just 20 receptions. He’s an underrated corner climbing to the top of his game. Sitting at six and five, the Steelers are on the hunt for a playoff spot. They need Nelson to keep churning out solid games.
Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
It’s just not fair. No one can tackle Christian McCaffrey one-on-one. Even against a stout defense with a backup quarterback, McCaffrey finds a way to score. Although the Saints held him to just 64 yards on 22 carries, he still added 9 receptions for 69 yards a touchdown.
Up until this game, Fabian Moreau played mostly slot-corner in the NFL. However, moved to outside cornerback against the Lions, he was finally able to show off his skillset. On the day, Moreau racked up six tackles and two pass break-ups.
But, his biggest plays came on his two interceptions. Moreau displayed an ability to jump routes and track the deep-ball. Moreover, he did what many corners can’t. He held onto the ball and earned his team possession. Well done Mr. Moreau.
Sam Darnold – New York Jets
It’s been an up and down season for the Jets. But, just like last season, Sam Darnold is closing out the season well. This time, he torched the Oakland Raiders and didn’t let off the gas.
315 Passing Yards
2 Passing Touchdowns
16 Rushing Yards
One Rushing Touchdown
His 83.5 QBR and 127.8 Passer Rating were both season highs. Darnold and the Jets are now on a three-game win streak. Also, keep in mind that Darnold is still only 22 years old. We still have years to go with this young, Pac-12 NFL quarterback. Provided he doesn’t get Mono again next season, New York has it’s quarterback.
Star Lotulelei – Buffalo Bills
Although his stat line from Week 11 was more impressive, Star Lotulelei had another impactful game in Week 12. Against the Denver Broncos, Lotulelei recorded another solo sack. Back-to-back weeks with a full sack. In his seven-year career, Lotulelei’s career-best is four sacks in 2016.
It would be nice to see him beat that total by closing out the year with a streak. Granted, his sacks came against Miami and Denver. So, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to continue this fun. However, in the final quarter of the NFL season, why not root for an underdog?
Vita Vea – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Everyone loves it when the big guy scores. And Vita Vea is one large, athletic specimen. Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 347lbs, Vea is a monster of a man.
In their win against Atlanta, Vea caught a one-yard pass from Jameis Winston for the touchdown. That puts his career catch percentage at 100-percent. Of course it’s just one target. But, it’s reminiscent of Mike Vrable’s receiving.
Additionally, Vita Vea managed to record two tackles, two pass break-ups and one sack. It was an excellent game for the big guy and a highlight Pac-12 NFL fans will be talking about all season.
Deone Bucannon – New York Giants
Unfortunately, Deone Bucannon injured his ankle in Week 12’s loss to the Chicago Bears. However, before he left the game, Bucannon recorded five tackles. One of which was an impressive defensive stop against Tarik Cohen. If he didn’t make the stop, Cohen would have likely run for more than just a first down.
In 2019, this was Bucannon’s first game with more than one tackle. During weeks 9, 10 and 12, Bucannon played 36 to 39-percent of defensive snaps. His move from special teams to defense for the New York Giants, along with his five tackles, are a bright spot for Cougar fans.
Miss Week 11’s Top Pac-12 NFL Performances? Read them here:
It’s for good reason, too. Don’t get me wrong. USC is a good team. They are 6-and-4, bowl eligible and have a breakout quarterback.
Currently, USC’s offense averages:
444 yards-per-game (311 passing, 133 rushing)
45-percent success rate on third down (59 of 131)
56-percent success rate on fourth down (5 of 9)
In nine games this season, Kedon Slovis looks like a future-star.
His 156.1 Passing Efficiency Rating and 20-9 touchdown-interception ratio are both good. In the seven games he’s started and finished, Slovis has four wins, three losses. His wins came against Stanford, Arizona, Colorado and Arizona State. When he started, USC lost to BYU, Notre Dame and Oregon. All in all, he’s played well for a rookie.
Star Wide Receivers
With all the praise given to Slovis, it’s important to remember that USC’s wide receivers are the stars of the show. In the Pac-12 conference, USC’s top-three wide outs are each top-ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Michael Pittman Jr.
71 (No. 1) receptions
938 (No. 1) receiving yards
8 (No. 3) receiving touchdowns
62 (No. 3) receptions
752 (No. 4) receiving yards
5 (No. 8) receiving touchdowns
Amon-Ra St. Brown
55 (No. 5) receptions
666 (No. 7) receiving yards
5 (No. 8) receiving touchdowns
On defense, they’re holding teams to 28.1 points-per-game and 418 yards-per-game. That’s not ideal, considering they’re only averaging 30.5 points-per-game. But, it highlights why they are 6-and-4 and not 8-2.
Why Cal Football will win
Injuries to USC
Unfortunately, USC’s recent health hasn’t been good. Running backs Stephen Carr, Merkese Stepp and Vavae Malepeai were all out. Hopefully Carr and Malepeai can play against Cal. But if not, USC plays without three, key running backs.
More importantly, USC’s Brett Neilon left last week’s game with a calf strain. That calf strain sidelines him for multiple weeks, while Justin Dedich takes over. Adding to that is the health of Kedon Slovis. Again, during the same game against WSU, Slovis dealt with cramps that briefly sidelined him. While he sat out two series, they had to use an IV pump.
After starting out the game 15 of 17 for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns (on the first four drives), USC slumped. They only scored three points the rest of the game. Following the four touchdowns, their drives ended:
One turnover on downs
One field goal
If USC isn’t in better health, Cal football takes the W.
Cal Football’s Defensive Strength
While not elite anymore, the Cal football defense is still good. They rank 30th in DFEI, according to footballoutsiders. Their .38 DFEI best USC’s .25 DFEI. Additionally, the strength of Cal’s defense directly challenges the strength of USC’s offense. Cal’s secondary is their best feature, while USC’s talent is in their receiving corps. They’ll have their work cut out for them guarding Michael Pittman Jr., but if anyone can do it, Cal can.
Chase Garbers is back
Remember Chase Garbers?
Back when the Cal football program was winning and ranked, Garbers was their guy. Before his Week 5 injury, Garbers led Cal to four straight wins. In five games (one partial), Garbers showcased a 148.1 Passing Efficiency Rating, alongside an 8-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. After years of poor play, Cal actually had an offense. Following his injury, they lost four straight games.
But now, finally throwing without limitations, Chase Garbers is good to go. Even if Justin Wilcox won’t name him as the starter yet, he should be. Garbers played well enough at the start of the season to earn the job. Moreover, Garbers brings a running dimension. Oh, and let’s not forget that Garbers led Cal football to a victory last season against USC.