On the midpoint of the season, as Caleb Williams’ Heisman Trophy candidacy continued to simmer on the burner behind hotter names, the USC soccer program remained quiet — publicly, a minimum of.
It was round that point that Lincoln Riley and USC director of soccer communications Katie Ryan had their first dialog about what a perfect timeline would appear like to make a push for his or her star quarterback. They agreed that, relating to this explicit award, the most suitable choice was to strategically watch for the correct time to strike.
However Ryan nonetheless set to work, scheduling weekly “Heisman meetings” with about seven different USC staffers, all with a watch centered towards the UCLA sport, the primary of two nationally televised, high-stakes rivalry showdowns.
“We had been saying, if the UCLA game goes our way and Caleb plays well, that would be our window of opportunity,” Ryan stated this week as she ready to the touch down in New York Metropolis with Williams, who is predicted to win the varsity’s file eighth Heisman on Saturday. “Everything fell into place.”
2022 was Ryan’s first season because the Trojans’ lead sports activities info director, taking up for Tim Tessalone, who retired after greater than 40 years within the division.
This fall, Tessalone watched from the sidelines as Williams took the nation by storm within the ultimate two weeks of the common season. He conjured a straightforward comparability to an analogous state of affairs from 20 years in the past when he led the late promotional cost for Carson Palmer.
Now, there have been definitely a couple of variations. One, in 2002, there was no social media to blast the message effectively throughout the nation. Two, whereas Williams entered this season among the many favorites as a much-hyped switch from Oklahoma, Palmer arrived at his fifth-year senior season as one thing of an afterthought.
In his first 4 years, Palmer had not lived as much as his prep billing, throwing the identical variety of touchdowns as interceptions (39). USC had gone 25-24 over that interval and, a yr earlier, swapped Paul Hackett with Pete Carroll.
“He wasn’t on the forefront of being a Heisman candidate,” Tessalone stated. “In fact, he wasn’t on the cover of our media guide. Troy Polamalu was, and Carson was on the back cover. If you’re going to push someone for the Heisman, you probably don’t want to do that. But Carson got off to a great start, and in the middle of the year, we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Should we push him for the Heisman?’ ”
Like Ryan would 20 years later, Tessalone set to work. Solely his concerned the manufacturing of inventive mailings that Heisman voters and the keepers of the game might maintain of their arms.
They made a big ticket that learn “The Carson Show Ticket,” a intelligent nod to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
“It looked like one of those oversized tickets you would use to get into a TV show or movie premiere,” Tessalone stated.
Not lengthy after, in mid-November, Instances sports activities columnist Invoice Plaschke wrote a column suggesting that Palmer was the newest West Coast star being affected by East Coast bias with Heisman voting. It was onerous to not agree with Plaschke, since Marcus Allen was the final winner from out this manner, 21 years prior in 1981.
“The Heisman Trophy has become the most regionally biased and unfair award in sports,” Plaschke wrote.
Palmer advised reporters that week, feeding Plaschke’s frustration, “My shot of winning a Heisman Trophy is so slim, I don’t even think about it. It’s very, very rare that I would have a chance. That’s just how it works.”
Tessalone promptly emailed — he says he was simply studying how then — Plaschke’s column to nationwide faculty soccer reporters and voices with the topic line, “Hmmmm…” He made positive to speak with ESPN School GameDay and different opinion shifters about mentioning Palmer as a candidate together with Iowa’s Brad Banks and Miami’s Ken Dorsey.
Tessalone remembers USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow assuring him, “I know how to get this done.” Certain sufficient, Chow showcased Palmer in a 52-21 domination of No. 25 UCLA to the tune of 254 yards and 4 touchdowns. The subsequent week in a 44-13 blowout of No. 7 Notre Dame, Palmer put up 425 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“Sounds familiar, right?” Tessalone stated, referring to Williams. “Big-time performances with iconic plays at the end of the season. Both Carson and Caleb along with their teammates and coaches, obviously, dramatically turned USC’s fortunes around almost overnight.”
Palmer took the Trojans from 6-6 to 10-2 in Carroll’s second season, laying the inspiration for the AP nationwide championship the subsequent yr. Williams led USC from 4-8 to 11-2. The seven-win enchancment matched the largest one-season turnaround in class historical past.
However Williams additionally obtained some assist from forces out East. Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, the favourite to start out the yr who remained close to the highest all season, struggled towards Michigan in a surprising loss at residence. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who rose to favourite standing after beating Alabama, didn’t produce in a humbling loss at No. 1 Georgia and tore his ACL in an unpleasant defeat at South Carolina. Michigan operating again Blake Corum injured his knee towards Illinois and barely performed the subsequent week towards Ohio State.
Williams’ dual-threat precision tore aside the Bruins and Preventing Irish, seemingly securing the award earlier than championship weekend.
His candidacy felt contemporary, too, which was no accident. The primary USC promotional movies for Williams on social media got here after the UCLA win, and Ryan arrange a function with Fox that put Williams in the identical room with previous winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush to speak store and let the younger man present his character.
“Like Coach Riley, I definitely believe you can oversaturate the market if you make the move too early or preemptively rush into a campaign,” Ryan stated. “The timing needs to be perfect — and I think we hit the mark.
“[But] at the end of the day, should Caleb win the Heisman, it will be because of his performance on the field and because he is the nation’s most outstanding college football player.”
That stated, Tessalone got here away lots impressed with USC’s promotional effort round Williams, too — particularly having the foresight to point out slightly restraint in a world that hardly ever rewards it.
“As we saw with Carson, you don’t win a Heisman in September or October,” Tessalone stated. “You win it at the end of November.”