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Heisman finalists include three QBs in CFP chase plus USC’s Caleb Williams

Caleb Williams excelled as a sophomore for Southern California after transferring from Oklahoma. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/AP)
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Having barely missed out on the College Football Playoff, Caleb Williams can take some consolation in being the favorite to prevail in another four-member competition: the Heisman Trophy voting.

Williams, who lit up the Pac-12 in his first season at Southern California, took his expected place Monday as one of the finalists for college football’s most coveted individual honor. He will be joined Saturday in New York for the winner announcement and trophy presentation by three fellow quarterbacks: Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, TCU’s Max Duggan and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.

The latter three will lead their teams into the two-round CFP tournament, which starts with the semifinals Dec. 31. Michigan, ranked just behind Georgia at No. 2, rounds out that field.

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Williams’s Trojans were set for inclusion in the four-team playoff until they lost to Utah, 47-24, in the Pac-12 championship game to fall to 11-2. That result allowed Stroud and the 11-1 Buckeyes to leapfrog USC into the fourth spot.

TCU (12-1) also lost in its conference title game, falling by a 31-28 count to Big 12 rival Kansas State, but Duggan was hailed for his courageous effort in getting the contest to overtime. Bennett smoothly guided 13-0 Georgia to a lopsided win over LSU for the SEC championship.

Nevertheless, Williams remains the heavy betting favorite to win the award. A sophomore who played high school football in Washington, D.C., at Gonzaga, he began his college career at Oklahoma before following Sooners-turned-Trojans coach Lincoln Riley to Los Angeles.

Over 13 games this season, Williams threw for 4,075 yards, fourth most at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, and 37 touchdowns, tied for the most. He threw just four interceptions and added 372 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, giving him a fourth-best mark of 4,447 yards of total offense.

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Also tied at 37 passing touchdowns is Stroud, a redshirt sophomore and second-year starter who finished first this season in passing efficiency at 176.2. Williams (167.95) was fifth in that category, while Duggan (165.5) was ninth and Bennett (154.6) was 23rd. Stroud threw for 3,340 yards with six interceptions.

Duggan, a senior with 41 career starts at TCU, is a distant second to Williams in the current Heisman odds (+2000 to -2500). Bennett, a senior who led the Bulldogs to the national championship last season, is third (+3000), and Stroud is fourth (+5000).

If Heisman voters are taking into account a notably inspiring narrative, Duggan might be able to spring the upset. As a sophomore in 2020, he overcame the diagnosis of a previously undiscovered heart condition, which required surgery as did an ensuing blood clot, and he played in 2021 through a broken bone in his foot.

Having been a starter under former TCU coach Gary Patterson, Duggan lost the job this spring after Sonny Dykes took over, only to regain the position midway through the season opener when Chandler Morris sprained his knee. Duggan went on to throw for 3,321 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions, adding 404 rushing yards with another six scores.

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Bennett has his own celebrated tale of perseverance: He walked on at Georgia before transferring to a junior college when the Bulldogs landed a touted transfer in quarterback Justin Fields. Bennett, who grew up in Georgia rooting for the Bulldogs, returned to the program as a junior and outlasted several candidates for the starting job until finally locking it down midway through the 2021 season.

He went on to help Georgia win its first national title since 1980, then returned this season to lead it to a dominant showing while throwing for 3,425 yards and 20 touchdowns, with an additional 184 yards and seven scores on the ground.

Regardless of who wins the Heisman, the trophy is guaranteed to go to a quarterback for the 18th time since 2000. Last year’s winner, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, played well again this season for the Crimson Tide but was not included among the four finalists.

If Duggan wins this year, he will be TCU’s second Heisman winner and its first since 1938, when quarterback Davey O’Brien earned the honor. Bennett could become Georgia’s third winner and its first since running back Herschel Walker in 1982. The most recent official Heisman winner for USC was quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004 — Trojans running back Reggie Bush won it in 2005 but relinquished the award in 2010 after the NCAA ruled he had been ineligible because of improper benefits — and for Ohio State it was quarterback Troy Smith in 2006.