June 21, 2024
USC coach Lincoln Riley, left, speaks with quarterback Caleb Williams.

USC coach Lincoln Riley, left, speaks with quarterback Caleb Williams during a 52-42 loss to Washington at the Coliseum on Nov. 4.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Williams can make touchdowns out of nothing, but even the Heisman Trophy winner can’t make a national championship out of this.

The realization that Williams will go a third season without a College Football Playoff appearance finally set in after USC’s loss to Washington. He tried to maintain that a two-loss team might have had a chance in this competitive college football season, but a third loss surely ended all national championship chances.

Williams has never been out of the championship conversation like this, he acknowledged, even in high school. The unfamiliar situation has tested Williams as a leader, he said. He confided in people closest to him, including Riley, and vowed to stay steady.

“Something that I’ve said to the whole group, with the coaches around, before the season started is, I want to be the same person every single day,” Williams said.

Teammates have seen Williams live up to that promise amid the swings of the season.

“Caleb’s one of those dudes, he just hates losing, but [I] never question one doubt when the game starts, he’s ready to go,” center Justin Dedich said. “He’s an ultra-competitor.”

Williams leads the country in passing touchdowns with 28 and has the most rushing touchdowns in the Pac-12 with 10, but his ball security has emerged as a concern. The junior has lost fumbles on sacks in consecutive games. Williams’ fumble against Washington was especially costly as it allowed the Huskies to set up in the red zone and score immediately before halftime to take a seven-point lead. That mistake “can’t happen,” Riley said Thursday.

The Trojans lost just two fumbles as a team last year, including one by Williams in the Pac-12 championship game against Utah. The other was a muffed onside kick against Cal. This season, USC has fumbled 20 times and lost eight.

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