Tramel's ScissorTales: Will Caleb Williams win another Heisman Trophy for Lincoln Riley?

Caleb Williams limped off the field Friday night at Allegiant Stadium with less than 30 seconds left in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah had handed Southern Cal a 47-24 whipping.

His hamstring severely injured, Williams didn’t so much walk as he waddled. Penguin style.

A College Football Playoff berth lost. But a Heisman Trophy won.

The star of the 2021 Sooners now is the star of the 2022 Trojans, only moreso. OU got only a half-season out of Williams; it took Lincoln Riley awhile to insert his prized recruit into the lineup. USC enjoyed a full season’s worth of amazing quarterbacking and became a national sensation.

Williams’ story is well-known. A streak of OU highlight plays to match Marcus Dupree. After Riley vamoosed to USC under dark of night, Williams stuck around long enough to lead the Sooners past Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, then jumped aboard the Trojan horse.

And Saturday night in New York, Williams’ name is virtually certain to be called as the winner of the most famous trophy in American sport.

How are Sooners supposed to feel about the cast bronze going to a Riley co-conspirator?

More:Tramel: How Spencer Sanders broke an Oklahoma State football trend with portal move

Caleb Williams directs the Southern Cal marching band after the Trojans beat UCLA 48-45 on November 19. MARK J. TERRILL/The Associated Press
Caleb Williams directs the Southern Cal marching band after the Trojans beat UCLA 48-45 on November 19. MARK J. TERRILL/The Associated Press

The people have spoken on Riley. He’s the ultimate arch-villain. Captain Hook. The Sheriff of Nottingham. Inspector Javert. Professor Moriarty.

Teddy bears compared to Riley.

When I pledged allegiance to USC beating Utah last week, to keep Ohio State and/or Alabama out of the playoff and give college football some fresh blood, denizens took to the street with swords and torches.

OU fans would prefer the Soviet Union to USC in the playoff. I’m hard-pressed to think of an opponent that could make Sooners pull for Lord Voldemort. Does the Taliban field a team?

But Williams is a little different. He’s not to blame for this sordid twist, with OU rebuilding in Riley’s wake while the Trojans flourish with the palace jewels from Norman.

∎ Williams didn’t choose USC. He chose Riley. Everyone understands that, and for good reason. Namely that statue he’s about to win.

Williams came to OU because Riley was here, so it was only common sense that in this transfer portal era, Williams would follow Riley to continent’s edge.

∎ Williams showed more loyalty to OU than did Riley. Heck, more loyalty to OU than most coaches and players show in these madcap Decembers when everyone but the fans and the custodians are changing schools before season’s finish.

Williams at least stayed for the bowl game. Gave OU a much-needed balm, with victory over the Ducks and Bob Stoops coaching as a bonus. What a feel-good night for a Sooner Nation that felt pistol-whipped.

Williams didn’t have to stay. Lots of quarterbacks don’t. Maybe his San Antonio detour was mere diversion, a trick to make us believe he really was divided on whether to get his kicks on Route 66. If so, it worked. Remember the Alamo for the ships-passing-in-the-night experience of Cale Gundy calling plays, Brent Venables cheering from the sidelines, Bob Stoops with a headset on and Caleb Williams taking snaps and throwing a touchdown pass to Drake Stoops.

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∎ Williams didn’t owe OU much. Riley owed OU his status as a quarterback savant and a head-coaching phenom. 

Williams was dang near a finished product before he stepped foot on campus. Didn’t even play a senior year of high school, due to the pandemic. Then Williams took about 15 minutes to beat out the reigning all-Big 12 quarterback, Spencer Rattler.

But the Sooners invested much in Riley. Pulled him out of Greenville, North Carolina, handed him Baker Mayfield as quarterback, then two years later handed Riley the keys to the castle.

So the hard feelings for Williams can’t be justified as easily as the hard feelings for Riley.

Still, a Heisman for Williams is a Heisman for Riley. This will be the third Riley quarterback in the last six years to win the Heisman. Mayfield 2017, Kyler Murray 2018, Williams 2022. Jalen Hurts finished runner-up in 2021 after he transferred from Alabama to resurrect his National Football League potential, having been demoted in Tuscaloosa.

Worked out rather well, don’t you think? No Heisman for Hurts, but perhaps an NFL Most Valuable Player award, his Eagles being 11-1 and all.

The transfer portal is a two-way street, and no school in America has benefited more than has OU. Mayfield, Murray, Hurts. Heck, now even Dillon Gabriel, who isn’t Caleb Williams but whose value is quite high, considering what we saw when the Sooners had to play without Gabriel.

Of course, Williams isn’t easy to cheer for even excluding the Riley ties. His painted fingernails seemed a harmless idiosyncrasy when he was a Sooner. But Friday night, Williams played with this message painted on his fingernails. F-*-*-* U-T-A-H. Eight letters for eight fingernails.

A little class, young man. Did you get no home training?

Oh well. Williams is going to win the Heisman, no matter how Oklahomans feel about it. He’s going to fortify Riley’s reputation even more. Going to bring even more of the nation’s best quarterbacks to line up behind Lord Voldemort.

Unlike in the Pac-12 title game, I’ll be cheering for Texas Christian’s Max Duggan on Saturday night. But Williams is going to win, and we all have to deal with it.

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Terry Miller’s OSU career underrated

Terry Miller went into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, and the 1970s OSU tailback had a career that has been somewhat overlooked as the Cowboys morphed into Tailback U.

The mythology of the Thurman Thomas/Barry Sanders years begat a string of other OSU tailback successes.

Then later, Miller encountered legal trouble, and he fell off the Cowboy radar, and it was easy to focus on the Thomas/Sanders years as the launch of OSU’s tailback excellence.

But Miller started it all, with a career that remains remarkable by any standard.

Playing at a school that had yet to carve out the national niche it has today, Miller placed fourth and second in back-to-back Heisman Trophy votings, 1976 and 1977.

Miller in back-to-back seasons rushed for 3,394 yards. That’s more than Thomas or Sanders or David Thompson or Ernest Anderson or any of the 21st-century stars ever produced in back-to-back OSU seasons.

And Miller’s heroics lifted his program. The 1976 Cowboys tied OU and Colorado for the Big Eight championship. That was OSU’s greatest conference achievement until Mike Gundy’s 2011 Cowboys.

In Las Vegas on Monday night, Miller clearly was humbled by the Hall of Fame honor.

“I think it means that we did some things right,” he said. “My teammates, coaches and what have you. As far as for me, I’m just thankful I had those other players and coaches around, because, I’ve never beaten one-on-11. No I in team.

“I’m excited about the induction and looking forward to seeing some of my teammates tonight and enjoy this while I can.”

Miller was a highly-recruited tailback out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who then lived up to the billing.

As a 1974 freshman, he shared tailback duties with Skip Taylor and future NFL receiver Leonard Thompson. But in 1975, Miller rushed for 1,026 yards (his fullback, Robert Turner, rushed for 992 yards; Big Eight teams could run the ball in the ‘70s).

Then came the monster years.

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Oklahoma State running back Terry Miller, pictured in 1977
Oklahoma State running back Terry Miller, pictured in 1977

1976: 1,714 rushing yards for Miller, a 5.9 yards per carry average, and 23 touchdowns. He placed fourth in the Heisman voting, behind tailbacks Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh, Ricky Bell of Southern Cal and Rob Lytle of Michigan. College football was a running back sport, and Miller was in tall cotton.

1977: Miller rushed for 1,680 yards, a 5.4 average, and 14 touchdowns. He finished second in the Heisman. Texas’ Earl Campbell received 371 first-place votes and won the trophy. Miller got 125 first-place votes and placed second. Notre Dame tight end Ken McAfee was third, Grambling State quarterback Doug Williams was fourth and Notre Dame defensive end Ross Browner was fifth. It was a different time. Maybe a better time.

But what a career for Miller.

He twice was named Big Eight offensive player of the year. When he left OSU, he ranked fourth in NCAA career rushing yards, with 4,754. He remains the only three-time, 1,000-yard rusher in OSU history.

“I loved those Saturday afternoons,” Miller said.

Only 23 running backs have had two top-four Heisman finishes. With Miller’s inclusion, all 23 now are in the Hall of Fame.

“The thing I wanted to emphasize was the fact that I graduated in four years,” Miller said. “That was real important to me. Started out with an early age, my mom, getting my first ninth-grade grade check.

“It wasn’t exactly what she thought it should be, I thought I was good with it. She said, ‘I’m going to go ahead and sign this, but if you ever bring this home again, you won’t play anything.’ From that point on, I understood what the mission was. STUDENT-athlete.”

Miller played four years in the NFL, including rushing for 1,060 yards as a Buffalo Bills rookie in 1978, when he succeeded O.J. Simpson as the Buffalo franchise tailback.

But 20 years later, in the sports apparel business, Miller encountered trouble. He testified that he took over a Eufaula sewing plant to keep 90-100 people employed, then $900,000 worth of jackets were recalled and he falsified accounts receivable to obtain bank loans to cover the debt. Miller said he had repaid $800,000, but he was convicted of fraud and sentenced to two years in prison and was required to repay $179,000.

But for 20 years, Miller has been quietly rebuilding his life, with little fanfare. He returned to Boone Pickens Stadium publicly this season to be honored at an OSU game.

Here’s hoping he comes back more. Miller was a great, great player, an important player, in Cowboy history.

And now he’s in the College Football Hall of Fame.

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The List: 30 points, 6 assists

The Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.3 points and 6.0 assists per game. Those are high standards to maintain. But if the 24-year-old SGA keeps up that production, he’ll be on quite the exclusive list.

Here are the 13 players in NBA history who have achieved the 31.0/6.0 threshold over the course of a season, ranked by age, youngest to oldest (note: 23-year-old Luka Doncic also is on track to join the club):

1. LeBron James: LeBron has gone 30/6 thrice. The first time was in 2005-06, when he averaged 31.4 points and 6.6 assists at age 21.

2. Oscar Robertson: Oscar did it a record six times, all in a span of seven years, the first at age 22, 1960-61, when he averaged 30.5/9.7.

3. Nate Archibald: “Tiny” was his nickname, but his game was huge. At age 24 in 1972-73 for the long-gone Kansas City Kings, Archibald averaged 34.0/11.4.

4. Michael Jordan: You thought Jordan might miss this list? He did it thrice, the first time in 1988-89, at age 25, going 32.5/8.0.

5. Bradley Beal: A contemporary sneaks onto the list. At age 26 in 2019-20, Beal averaged 30.5/6.1.

6. Dwyane Wade: At age 27 in 2008-09 – two seasons before LeBron’s arrival – Wade averaged 32.0/7.5.

7. Jerry West: West did it twice, the first at age 27, 1965-66, when he averaged 31.3/6.1.

8. Steph Curry: Curry was 27 in 2015-16, when he averaged 30.1/6.7.

9. Russell Westbrook: If you’re thinking Westbrook’s monster year of 2016-17, you’re right. He was 28 and averaged 31.6/10.4.

10. James Harden: Harden achieved the feat three straight years, the first coming at age 28, 2017-18, when he averaged 30.4/8.8.

11. Allen Iverson: Iverson did it in back-to-back years, the first at age 29 in 2004-05, when he averaged 30.7/7.9.

12. Damian Lillard: Lillard was 29 in 2019-20, when he averaged 30.0/8.0.

13. Rick Barry: The underrated and oft-forgotten Barry went 30.6/6.2 in 1974-75, at age 30, when he led the Warriors to the NBA title.

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Mailbag: Spencer Sanders

My column on good wishes for Spencer Sanders in the transfer portal resonated with some OSU fans.

Ron: “Berry, you are right about Spencer Sanders needing to transfer to raise his NFL stock. He has more than ‘given at the office.’ I hate to see him go, but I would hate it more if he got really hurt. I, like you, hope he goes to the Golden Dome. I wish him well, too and thanks to him for giving my team such great memories.”

Tramel: You know, Sanders has gotten banged up virtually every year. He’s missed seven games over his four seasons – two each in 2019, 2020 and 2022, plus one in 2021, and been banged up in others.

But Sanders has avoided major injury. He could be pushing his luck by sticking around.

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Why the committee picked TCU & Ohio State

The College Football Playoff field was set Sunday: Georgia-Ohio State in the Peach Bowl, Michigan-Texas Christian in the Fiesta Bowl.

Like he’s done for the past six weeks, selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan conducted a teleconference to explain the selections. Here’s what Corrigan had to say, and my responses:

Q. It seems to be so obvious the top two. How easily were you able to set those first two teams into place, and how much debate, if any, was there between Michigan and Georgia?

Corrigan: “We go through the same process every week and just make sure that we're thorough and talk about it. At the end of it, Georgia has got those five wins over ranked teams that really kind of led us down that road, the way they played in the championship game against LSU. Michigan played really well, as well, but there was nothing in our mind that was really much of flipping the two.”

Tramel: The Wolverines have the best win, at Ohio State. But Georgia did indeed beat five teams in the committee’s final 25 – No. 6 Tennessee, No. 15 Oregon, No. 17 Louisiana State, No. 19 South Carolina and No. 22 Mississippi State. That’s a solid schedule.

Q. Having been through this process, I know you group teams often in threes; did you even have to do that to bring TCU or Ohio State into the discussion?

Corrigan: “Yeah, a lot of times we do. I think with the last week, it's a lot of discussion about all the teams that were going through, and then we'll go through kind of the more formal vote of what we're doing, and being able to look at them, again, in groups, but with the first two, we wanted to make sure we got them right. I can't actually remember which team got pulled in for the third, but as we went into it, we wanted to make sure we got those first two set and then we moved forward.”

Tramel: I assume a lot of that is just protocol, but it would take about 15 seconds to determine that Georgia and Michigan would be the top two teams, so no reason to waste time discussing anything else.

Q. Wondering about TCU and Ohio State in the rankings; how much discussion was there between those two teams for the No. 3 spot, and what ultimately tipped things in favor of TCU ahead of Ohio State there?

Corrigan: “Yeah, the body of work by TCU, the way they had played all season leading into that game, the ability to, one, play in the championship game, the way they came back against Kansas State, a heroic effort, if you will, by Max Duggan and the way he played in that championship game. Ohio State was not playing. We knew who they were. As we talked about it as a group, we came to the conclusion that we believed TCU was No. 3, and with that, kind of moved down the list and ended up with Ohio State at No. 4.”

Tramel: I asked TCU coach Sonny Dykes about this after the game, and I believe it. The way the Frogs lost was important. They went down with a fight. A spirited comeback. Great drama. A quarterback who went all Sir William Wallace down the stretch. If K-State had won that game 31-14, if the Big 12 Championship Game had been like the other title games and gotten out of hand by the fourth quarter, maybe TCU isn’t No. 3. Maybe TCU isn’t even No. 4. But in their final games, Ohio State wilted in defeat, while TCU stayed strong in defeat.

Q. Kind of a big-picture question, but when you get to this final weekend when everyone is talking about these final rankings and there's upsets and whatnot, how do you guys as a committee go about avoiding allowing outside noise to impact you guys' decision as you're watching games? I'm sure you hear what's being said, but how do you not let that impact what you guys are talking about when you meet together?

Corrigan: “Well, I mean, from the very beginning of this, we want to make sure that it's the 13 voices in the room. We also have individuals in the room that deal directly with the conferences and take a couple conference reports during the year, so we get that feedback, as well, to make sure that we're including everything that's going in. The thing for us is the reports come from the conference office and not from individual teams as we're going through this, and again, it clarifies a lot for us. Coaches are going to advocate for the young men in their program, and we understand that, and we should, based on the relationships they have, but not at all as far as the impact from the outside noise. But again, we do hear it, but we're really focused on making sure that we get this right.”

Tramel: I often rip the committee for some of the goofy reasons given for the rankings, but they are well-informed. Never doubt that. They know what’s going on. Those conference reports are quite detailed, from injuries to game situations and unique circumstances. As for listening to voices, not everyone is addicted to social media, and most of these guys work during the day instead of listen to ESPN.

Q. Are there coaches who were involved in the conversation that were kind of politicking and making their case? Did you hear any of that in the conversation?

Corrigan: “Yeah, we were in the room watching a game, I believe it was at halftime of one of the games on Fox where Coach (Nick) Saban was on the Big Ten when he was on, and again, he's advocating for his program, he's advocating for the young men in his program just as other coaches are, and those are the relationships they care about, so I think it was perfectly understandable that that's occurring. But our job, the 13 of us, is to make sure we're focused in on the games and football judgment and make sure that we get that right.”

Tramel: Lots of people were outraged by Saban. But I thought it was great, for two reasons. 1) It clearly had no effect on the committee. Alabama didn’t jump Ohio State or TCU. 2) Saban’s groveling – he actually leaned on Las Vegas to get support for Alabama – was high theater. This is a guy who likes to talk about rat poison during the season and his Crimson Tide listening to outside noise, but Saturday night he was advocating for outside noise. I hope the Alabama press corps can figure out a way to remind him of that next September when the Tide opens with Middle Tennessee.

Q. How close was it between No. 4 and No. 5 in your assumptions or your rankings?

Corrigan: “Yeah, we're looking at everything throughout the entire year, and from a scale standpoint or percentage standpoint, we don't look at it that way. We want to make sure as a group we've talked through everything, that the voices in the room have been heard, and then use our football judgment from that point forward to make sure that we're making the right decisions.

Tramel: It’s my understanding that the actual vote totals aren’t revealed to the committee. Only the winner. From my remembrance of doing the mock selections a few years ago, you vote electronically, then committee stewards reveal the results in order, but not in vote totals. So you don’t know whether the Ohio State-Alabama vote was 13-0 or 7-6. Of course, you can measure discussion and how people might be leaning.

Q. Specifically to TCU versus Ohio State, I think you touched on this on the live broadcast earlier, but you guys aren't concerning yourselves with matchups there like trying to avoid Ohio State and Michigan? Did that play any part in it whatsoever? Then I guess ultimately some people or Vegas would say that Georgia maybe got the tougher matchup drawing Ohio State, and you guys had them at 2 for much of the year, so obviously you valued that team very highly. Your thoughts on that specific breakdown?

Corrigan: “We do. Ohio State has been valued high by the committee, but as we looked at it, our goal was to get 1 through 4 correct, and then obviously 1 to 25. Really what it comes down to is making sure that you have them in the right order. When you look at TCU, 6-1 over teams over .500, 2-1 against ranked teams, Ohio State had the good wins over Penn State and Notre Dame, played Michigan close for three quarters of the game, but at the end of the day we came back to TCU, and there was nothing that occurred during that game against Kansas State that we didn't believe moved them out of the No. 3 spot.”

Tramel: The committee doesn’t avoid rematches. But going forward, I think that’s something that it might consider. If the 12-team format was in place today, Penn State would be playing at Ohio State. And the Kansas State-Tennessee winner would be playing Georgia in the quarterfinals. Seems that it might be better to tinker with the seeds down the line so that we get something a little different. Maybe make USC No. 11 and Penn State No. 10, so that USC would be playing at Ohio State and Penn State at Alabama. Worrying about conference rematches in the quarterfinals is a little more dicey and perhaps not feasible.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Caleb Williams set to win another Heisman Trophy for Lincoln Riley