On Monday, USC head coach Lincoln Riley made an appearance on the Jim Rome Show where he spoke about two of his most successful quarterbacks, Caleb Williams and Baker Mayfield. Here's what the Trojans' leader had to say.
Lincoln Riley has high praise for Caleb Williams
As one might expect, Riley gushed about the growth and talent that Caleb Williams possesses. Obviously, Riley has had a front-row seat for Williams' college journey as his head coach both at Oklahoma and at Southern Cal.
"To be able to coach a player of that caliber," Riley said "it's a lot of fun. It's also a big responsibility and I'm proud of the work we did together and proud of his improvement, both on and off the field as he's grown up a lot and he's certainly ready for this next opportunity.
"From a talent standpoint, he's as talented as anybody that I've ever coached. He's got everything physically that you could want and he's starting to back that up now with getting some real experience with a lot of those reps and being in those different game situations, different locker rooms, all the different challenges that come your way. That's starting to add up and the kid's getting better and better and the fun thing for him is he's still got a long ways to go which is pretty exciting for whichever franchise is fortunate enough to get him."
When it comes to Williams' improvement, one could argue that he didn't show dramatic improvement under Riley, at least statitically. His completion percentage rose from 64.5% as a freshman to 66.6% as a sophomore and 68.6% as a junior.
His Pass Efficiency Rating also remained relatively the same going from 169.6 in 2021 to 170.1 in 2023. Of course, when a QB starts with numbers that high, it is tough to increase them by too much and Riley does deserve tons of credit for shaping Williams into the player he is today. Perhaps, though, Williams' greatest improvement came in the form of intangibles such as maturity, leadership, and toughness, skills that were on display throughout his USC career.
As far as how Williams stacks up against other famous Lincoln Riley QBs, the numbers don't lie. Williams was as good as any QB that Riley has mentored as head coach.
Williams' 2022 Heisman Trophy season saw him throw for 4,537 yards 42 TDs and only five picks. What's more, for his career, he amassed 10,082 yards passing and 93 TDs with only 14 interceptions. Those cumulative numbers best other Riley disciples such as Jalen Hurts or Kyler Murray by a wide margin.
The only QB Riley has coached who put up better numbers for his career than Williams was Baker Mayfield. Of course, the catch is that Mayfield played four years of college football whereas Williams spent only three years in the NCAA. Had Williams returned in 2024, he likely would have topped what even Mayfield was able to do as a collegiate (14,607 yards, 131 TDs, and 30 INTs).
Lincoln Riley says he is proud of Baker Mayfield
Speaking of Mayfield, Riley addressed his 2023 resurgence with Rome. Named to the Pro Bowl and leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a playoff win (over Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles, by the way), the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in 2018 was cast on the scrap heap after an inconsistent 2022 season but rebounded nicely this fall.
"Man, I'm so proud of him," Riley said. "He's healthy. He got in a great situation, which, he really hadn't been in a great situation in the league...and the guy really took off. So it's exciting to see.
"I think he's grown up a lot. I think he's really matured as a player. He's always had the fire and the competitiveness at such an elite level, the ability to inspire people within that locker room, within an organization. It's just a gift that he's always had so to see it come full circle, to see him in a place that I know he's very, very happy, he's really enjoyed the Buccaneers organization, really enjoyed living in Tampa, so it looks like he's found maybe a permanent home there, which is so cool."
Now, Riley will likely have another No. 1 overall pick to add to his resume when Williams is presumably the first pick in this year's NFL Draft. And if the comparisons to other Riley success stories in the NFL can tell us anything, Williams is set up to be the next star pupil of Riley's to take the NFL by storm.