One thing Caleb Williams has done absurdly well in carrying No. 4 Southern California into the Pac-12 championship game is avoid turnovers.
If the season ended today, he'd be only the third Bowl Subdivision quarterback since 2009 to throw three or fewer interceptions in 400 or more attempts, following Baylor's Bryce Petty in 2013 and Boise State's Kellen Moore in 2009.
Even four interceptions in 400 or more attempts is extremely rare. Only another eight quarterbacks have done so during the same span, including Oregon's Marcus Mariota in 2014, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater in 2013 and two passers, Central Florida's Dillon Gabriel and Alabama's Mac Jones, during the abbreviated 2020 season.
Overall, a consistent advantage in turnover margin is the main reason why the Trojans are one win away from landing in the College Football Playoff. USC has forced 26 turnovers and committed just four giveaways for a plus-22 margin. That dwarfs the rest of the FBS: Duke ranks second at plus-14 and San Jose State ranks third at plus-12.
Southern California now occupies fourth after its defeat of Notre Dame. The Trojans, who were sixth last week, were also helped by LSU surprise loss to Texas A&M that sent the Tigers tumbling to 14th. A win against Utah in the Pac-12 should confirm their selection to the playoff for the first time.
RANKING ANALYSIS: Winners and losers of College Football Playoff release
BOWL PROJECTIONS: Southern California, Michigan move into playoff
Williams has earned his place as the No. 1 quarterback in the country heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
1. Caleb Williams, Southern California (1)
USC will have the chance to avenge the 43-42 loss to No. 12 Utah that sparked Williams' run to the Heisman Trophy. Williams threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns in the defeat, kicking off a run of 20 touchdowns in six games. He's been electric in wins against No. 17 UCLA and No. 19 Notre Dame, combining pinpoint accuracy with a number of highlight-reel moments as a passer and a runner.
2. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (2)
Part of Stroud's legacy will be his 0-2 record against No. 2 Michigan, overwriting at least in part two of the best seasons in program history. Since taking over in the 2021 opener, Stroud has thrown for 7,775 yards on 9.8 yards per attempt with 81 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Despite playing just two years, he'll end his career ranked second in program history in yards and touchdowns.
CAREER CONCERN: Lack of Michigan win haunt Ohio State's Stroud
3. Bryce Young, Alabama (4)
The odds of Young heading back to Manhattan as a Heisman finalist have increased dramatically with Hendon Hooker's injury and No. 6 Alabama's wins against Mississippi, Austin Peay and Auburn. Young is up to 3,007 passing yards and 27 touchdowns despite getting little help from his inexperienced receiver corps and an average offensive front.
4. Max Duggan, TCU (5)
For the first time since the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma, Duggan was able to relax in the second half as No. 3 TCU beat Iowa State 62-14. He enters the Big 12 championship game rematch with No. 10 Kansas State ranked fifth nationally at 9.2 yards per attempt and fourth with a 171.3 efficiency rating.
5. Michael Penix Jr., Washington (7)
Penix finished with 485 yards on 11.3 yards per attempt as No. 9 Washington beat Washington State 51-33 in the Apple Cup to potentially secure a New Year's Six bid. To get into one of those major bowls, the Huskies would need USC to beat Utah, handing the Utes a fourth loss. With the Trojans in the playoff, the Huskies would then reach the Rose Bowl and match up with top-ranked Big Ten team not in the top four, likely No. 5 Ohio State.
6. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee (3)
Hooker was a shoo-in for the Heisman ceremony had he not been injured in the loss to No. 20 South Carolina. Should he get the invite, anyway? There's a case for a top-four finish based on Hooker's play all season, his performance in wins against No. 13 LSU and Alabama, and his broader role in the No. 8 Volunteers' best finish since at least 2007.
7. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest (9)
A somewhat disappointing regular season for Wake Forest ended with a 34-31 loss to Duke, the Demon Deacons' fourth loss by single digits. But Hartman has been very good almost throughout, maybe with the loss to Louisville as the one exception, and will leave with program records for completions (921), attempts (1,561), passing yards (12,687) and touchdowns (107).
8. Bo Nix, Oregon (8)
Nix and No. 15 Oregon haven't been the same since he suffered an injury late in a loss to Washington. Nix remained consistent as a passer against Utah and No. 16 Oregon State, if not up to the standard of play set during the eight-game winning streak that followed the blowout against No. 1 Georgia, but his inability to contribute to the running game made the Ducks' offense too one-dimensional.
9. Drake Maye, North Carolina (6)
Maye's regular season has sputtered to the finish line as No. 22 UNC has lost two in a row heading into Saturday's ACC championship game against No. 11 Clemson. Once the FBS leader with 34 touchdown passes, he's throw just one score in these two losses and fallen into a tie for fourth nationally. While he won't contend for the Heisman this year, look for Maye to rank near the top of every preseason list heading into 2023.
10. Will Howard, Kansas State (10)
Howard has tossed 11 touchdowns and gone 4-0 as the starter to bring Kansas State within a win of the program's first conference championship since 2003. The Wildcats have averaged 43.5 points per game in Howard's starts and 28.4 points per game with Adrian Martinez as the starter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football quarterback rankings: Caleb Williams tops C.J. Stroud