What do USC and North Carolina bowl performances mean for the Patriots?

USC shines without Williams; UNC falters without Maye

Nov 18, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws
Nov 18, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws / Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports
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In what will likely have no bearing on the Patriots’ (or anyone else’s) draft strategy, USC and North Carolina got a sneak peek Wednesday at what life could be like without Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, respectively, as both opted out of playing in their teams’ bowl games.

The results couldn’t have been more different. USC took down 15th-ranked Louisville in the DIRECTV Holiday Bowl behind a historic performance from backup QB Miller Moss, while North Carolina faltered with a 20-point loss to West Virginia in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

The Patriots currently sit at the No. 4 slot in the upcoming NFL Draft, and current mock drafts have the Pats missing out on both Maye and Williams - instead selecting LSU QB Jayden Daniels to lead the franchise. So, is this much ado about nothing? Perhaps. But it’s interesting, to say the least.

Williams’ accolades are well-documented, highlighted by his 2022 Heisman campaign, which accounted for 4,447 yards and 47 touchdowns. His 2023 season wasn’t quite the same, but still featured an admirable 3,775 yards and 41 touchdowns.

The Trojans went 7-7 in his final 14 games as a starter, however, so their dominating win without him against a solid Louisville team, at the very least, raises some eyebrows.

UNC, on the other hand, clearly missed Maye. Backup QB Conner Harrell competed 18-of-27 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions as the Tar Heels fell to West Virginia, 30-10. Maye led UNC to an 8-4 record in 2023 with 3,608 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. In all fairness, UNC was 8-8 in Maye’s last 16 games - very similar to USC’s final stretch with Williams.

The Patriots desperately need a winner, having compiled a 29-36 record since Tom Brady departed following the 2019 season. Collegiate success isn't always indicative of wins at the NFL level, so the decision isn't cut and dry.

Mac Jones went 15-1 and won a National Championship as a starter at Alabama, while Patrick Mahomes went 13-19 as a starter at Texas Tech. Between Williams, Maye, and Daniels (37-18 as a starter, 19-7 at LSU), the Patriots have a franchise-altering decision to make if one or more of them is available when the Pats are on the clock.

So what do the Patriots learn from all of this?

Perhaps USC is in better shape than North Carolina moving forward. But if it comes down to a decision between Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, the Patriots should not put much weight into how their college teams performed without them this bowl season.

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