USC quarterback Caleb Williams to skip Trojans’ Holiday Bowl game

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It wasn’t official, but the final wave to the USC student section felt like a farewell from Caleb Williams. Indeed, watching Williams flash the victory sign to the Coliseum crowd after a demoralizing loss to rival UCLA on Nov. 18 was the last time USC fans will see the star quarterback in the school’s cardinal and gold.

Williams will not play in the Holiday Bowl, USC coach Lincoln Riley announced during a Zoom news conference on Monday. The Trojans (7-5) will play Louisville on Dec. 27 in the game at San Diego’s Petco Park.

The junior is the latest top NFL prospect to sit out a bowl game in recent years, but just the third top quarterback to do so since 2016. Since running backs Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette started the trend, only two quarterbacks — Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett — were drafted in the first round after opting out of their bowl games.

But Williams could have the highest ceiling of any of them. The Heisman Trophy winner is projected to be one of the top picks in April’s draft.

He’s had scouts salivating since he rewrote the USC record books en route to the program’s eighth Heisman Trophy. He set a slew of USC records as a sophomore, including most touchdown passes in a season (42) and touchdowns scored rushing and passing (52) and highest passing efficiency (168.5), and had some pundits believing he would have been taken first overall in the 2023 draft. As an encore, Williams improved his completion percentage — jumping from 66.6% as a sophomore to 68.6% as a junior — and ran for 11 touchdowns, one more than the previous year. He threw for 3,633 yards, 30 touchdowns and five interceptions.

But the team’s results fell short of expectations. The Trojans lost five of their last six games, punctuated by a 38-20 debacle against UCLA. Riley will coach in a non-New Year’s Six bowl for the first time in his career.

With its star gone, USC will turn to backup Miller Moss. The redshirt sophomore appeared in four games this season, throwing his first touchdown pass in a blowout against Nevada on Sept. 2 and rushing for touchdowns against San José State and Stanford.

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