Gordon Monson: Can Utah’s Cam Rising be a better quarterback than USC’s Heisman favorite? He was the first time around.

Caleb Williams has been phenomenal all season, but the Utes managed to out-duel him in Salt Lake City.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) scrambles for a first down as the University of Utah hosts USC, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

I received my annual Heisman ballot reminder regarding this year’s voting process, including specific instructions as to how ballots should be cast, when they should be cast, as well as the yearly nudge not to reveal personal selections until after the trophy is actually awarded.

The voting period is now open. It closes on Monday.

I’ll wait on casting that vote, which includes space for first, second and third places, until the last minute — in part because Utah will play a huge role in determining exactly who might get the top spot.

The overwhelming favorite, now that Ohio State and its quarterback CJ Stroud lost to Michigan the way it and he did on Saturday, is USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Last I checked, his odds of winning out of Vegas were set at a ridiculous 1/30. The next closest was a tie between Stroud and TCU’s Max Duggan, who are each at 25/1.

The problem for Williams is that he must face and beat Utah, one would presume, unless he impresses voters in some other extraordinary way in defeat, on Friday night in the Pac-12 title game.

That will not be an easy stroll to the award.

Not only will Williams have to conquer a Ute defense that has mostly played at a peak level since he shredded it in the first half of the Trojans’ loss to Utah in October — the second half was much different, momentum gained by that defense which was sustained through the rest of the game, the rest of the regular season — he will also have to duel the other quarterback in that game, a man that pulled USC apart, piece by piece in the Utes’ victory.

There is no doubt that Cam Rising has the full attention of the USC Trojans, every bit as much as Williams is the focus of the Utes. Each of the QBs is like the dude at the airport with the beacons in his hands, guiding Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 pilots into their respective gates.

Consider what Williams and Rising achieved in that first meeting.

Williams hit on 25 of 42 throws for 381 yards, and five touchdowns and no picks. He completed balls to nine different receivers. He also ran for a net 57 yards, actually gaining 97, but giving 40 back via four sacks.

Rising connected on 30 of 44 passes for 415 yards, and two touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw to seven different receivers, foremost among them Dalton Kincaid, who throttled the Trojans with 16 receptions for 234 yards. Rising also caught a pass for nine yards and led the Utes in rushing with 60 yards and three touchdowns. He was not sacked a single time.

In that 43-42 win, Rising scored on a run early in the fourth quarter to tie the count at 35. After Williams fired a 20-yard TD pass, Rising led the Utes back, picking up key third-down conversions, and then scoring another rushing touchdown. He then, with the game on the line, made good a two-point conversion with his legs.

Utah fans remember that moment fondly, as well as the defense then closing the victory out by stopping Williams in the final seconds.

Recapping it here, for them, is a joy. It will never fade or get tired.

Comparing Williams and Rising over the entire season is a different look.

Rising has completed 218 of 330 passes for 2,629 yards with 22 TD throws and seven picks. Three of those interceptions came in the same game. He has a passer rating of 151.04. Rising’s also run for 391 yards, six touchdowns.

Williams has thrown for 3,712 yards, completing 268 of 407 passes, with 34 TDs and just three picks. His rating: 168.6. Impressive.

One difference between the quarterbacks is that Rising missed a game and, while he rarely talks about it, has worked around a dinged wheel that has affected both his throwing accuracy and his mobility. Whether that knee, which notably enough was hurt in the first game against USC, will limit him on Friday is beyond significant.

It’s all-important to Utah because the Utes are fully aware, as well as their defense has played in recent weeks, they will have to keep up with the high-scoring Trojans, who average 42.5 points per game, which is .5 more than what they got against the Utes seven weeks ago.

The Trojans respect what Rising did against them because only idiots wouldn’t, and they also suspect that he might not be able to do everything he did against them to ruin their perfect season on Oct. 15 at Rice-Eccles.

They’re going to find out.

Just like everyone watching — Heisman voters and millions of other college football fans — is going to observe the far or near reach of Williams’ talents against a now improved defense in a game in Vegas with not just a Pac-12 championship on the line, but for USC a possible College Football Playoff invitation.

It could be enough to win him a famous trophy. And it could be enough for him to lose it, regardless of the odds currently leaning so heavily in his favor.

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