CMM: Dabo-era Tigers, three-sport Clemson legend up for title-game spot


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Two stars of the Dabo Swinney era are up for a championship spot on one side and another takes on Clemson legend Banks McFadden.
Two stars of the Dabo Swinney era are up for a championship spot on one side and another takes on Clemson legend Banks McFadden.

TigerNet’s version of March Madness has a Final Four now, using our extra time at home now to recognize the accomplishments of the top competitors in Clemson athletics history.

This exercise measures the top performances while a collegiate athlete and is meant to be a fun celebration of Clemson athletes across the decades.

This competition’s Mount Rushmore of Clemson athletes has three all-gridiron stars and two current players with Travis Etienne, Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson and then three-sport maven Banks McFadden.

Here's the full Clemson March Madness bracket:

Click here or on the image for larger view

Debate for your favorites in the bracket and examine the profiles for your pick of this elite group of Tigers. Vote below (Voting deadline at 11 a.m. on 4/3)!

Clemson March Madness Final Four

McFadden profile

Played: 1936-39

* Two-time All-American in basketball (1938-39) and Clemson’s first AP All-American for football (1939). McFadden helped lead the Tigers to the school’s only conference tournament victory (1939, SoCon) and the program’s first bowl win (Cotton Bowl, 1940).

* AP athlete of the year for 1939 and earned three letters out of basketball, football and track from 1936-39. College Football Hall of Fame member.

* No. 4 overall pick from the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers, which ties Clelin Ferrell, Gaines Adams and Sammy Watkins for the highest-drafted Clemson football players. Still holds the Clemson season record in punts of 50-plus yards (22) and the longest rush in school history (90 yards; tied by Travis Etienne in 2019).

Lawrence profile

Played: 2018-current

* Led Clemson to the first 15-0 season in modern college football history and to 25 consecutive wins as a starter overall, which is the sixth-longest streak in CFB history for a starting QB.

* A two-time Manning Award finalist (nation's top QB), the consensus freshman All-American was the first true freshman to lead a team to a national title since 1985.

* Ended the 2019 season on a streak of 239-straight attempts without an interception, a school record), and added a running threat with 698 yards gained and the second-most rushing TDs on the team (9).

Tournament road: The multi-sport All-American McFadden moved into the Final Four over national player of the year and multi-Clemson-record-holder Khalil Greene and to the Elite 8 in a battle with 1980s All-American Michael Dean Perry. He advanced past 2016 title-game hero Hunter Renfrow in the first round and then fellow Dabo era legend Christian Wilkins in the second round. Lawrence advanced to the Final Four past two-time first-team All-American and national defensive player of the year Terry Kinard and topped ACC athlete and player of the year and No. 1 MLB draft pick Kris Benson in the Sweet 16. In the first two rounds, Lawrence toppled 1-seed Brianna Rollins, a three-time NCAA champion and winner of the Bowerman Award for the nation’s top track athlete, and two-time All-American tight end Bennie Cunningham.

Assessing the matchup (TigerNet staff analysis)

* “Trevor Lawrence has been a man of the people in this competition - and it’s clear why. He was at the forefront of Clemson’s ‘best ever’ 15-0 run in 2018 and guided the Tigers almost to the finish line of an incredible 30-0 run in 2019-20. His talent is off the charts and he will likely be the No. 1 pick in a 2021 NFL draft. Why was he seeded so low? The seeds were based on accomplishments and accolades to this point and not-so-much projections and talent. Lawrence has only two years’ resume and a freshman All-American honor as his only real national, individual postseason plaudit in that span, while this competition has been stacked with individual honors across the sports. Including his Final Four opponent, meeting a three-time All-American over two sports with McFadden, who helped lead the only basketball tournament winner in Clemson history and the Tigers’ first-ever bowl win before a top-4 NFL draft selection. Lawrence will hopefully add to his case this fall, but McFadden’s resume is hard to top here.”

* "As we've stated before in this space, McFadden was Clemson's first real superstar, a guy who played both ways on the gridiron and played basketball and ran track and was great at all three sports. I love Trevor Lawrence and there is no doubt that he is a great representative of the university, will be a high draft pick and a great pro. He's had two years of greatness. McFadden was the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft and played one season, but then gave up his pro career to serve his country with distinction. He's the man when it comes to Clemson history."

TigerNet staff vote: 100% McFadden

Etienne profile

Played: 2017-current

* Clemson’s all-time rushing leader after tallying 4,038 yards and 56 touchdowns rushing (ACC-record) over 43 games as a Tiger so far. His 60 total touchdowns are also an ACC career-best (stat excludes passing TDs). Etienne’s career 7.8 yards per carry is almost two full yards better than the next-best in school history (Tavien Feaster, 5.99).

* Earned All-American honors each of the last two seasons, as well as ACC Player of the Year those two seasons too.

* He has Clemson’s single-season bests in rushing yards (1,658), yards per carry (8.1), total touchdowns (26) and points scored (156). He is less than 600 yards from the ACC all-time rushing record (4,602 from NC State’s Ted Brown).

Watson profile

Played: 2014-2016

* Two-time winner of the Manning and Davey O’Brien awards (nation’s top QB) and also national player of the year in 2016 (Chic Harley Award) and national MVP in 2015 (Archie Griffin Award), as well as a finalist for the Walter Camp and Heisman trophies.

* Left Clemson third in ACC history in total offense (12,094) and also first in Clemson history in career completion percentage (.674), passing efficiency (157.5) and total offense per game (318.3) over just three seasons (including the most total offensive yards in a Clemson game with 588 vs. Pittsburgh in 2016).

* Tossed 16 passing touchdowns to only two interceptions in the fourth quarter, including a last-second TD connection to Hunter Renfrow against Alabama in the 2016 season to secure Clemson’s first national title since 1981. He tied Rodney Williams and Tajh Boyd for the most wins as a Tigers starting QB in that game (32).

Tournament road: Etienne won out in a close battle with fellow Tigers running back CJ Spiller to make it here. He was a powerhouse through the first three rounds with big margins in the vote over ACC basketball legend Barbara Kennedy-Dixon (two-time All-American and ACC all-time scoring leader) and baseball’s Shane Monahan (two-time All-American) and Seth Beer (three-time All-American). Watson moved on to the Sweet 16 versus All-American and three-time All-ACC team member Brian Dawkins, topped three-time track national champ Shawn Crawford next and then Clemson’s first three-time All-American in William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry in the Elite 8. Watson had the widest-margin of victory in the first round against two-time All-American and four-time first-team All-ACC golfer Jonathan Byrd.

Assessing the matchup (TigerNet staff analysis)

* "Deshaun Watson is a national champion. Good guy on and off the field. I also believe he can win a Super Bowl if he gets away from Bill O'Brien. But what's done and will do in the pros has nothing to do with the voting here. And it's simple, if I have to go win one game, just one game, that's my quarterback. And it doesn't matter the game. That's my guy. Dabo once said whoever picked Watson was getting a Michael Jordan-type of player, and I am with him. His will to win is incredible."

* “This all-gridiron showdown features two recent fan favorites with Etienne and Watson, who have each made countless big plays for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers over three seasons of competition. Like Etienne’s last matchup with Spiller, it’s a bit of a head-vs.-heart battle in terms of Etienne’s statistical accolades being very impressive and worthy of a final spot and Watson’s grit and talent leading the Tigers back to the top of the college-football mountain to make him a legend in his own right. My personal tiebreaker is Watson being named the top player at his position twice in his only fully-healthy seasons and earning two trips to the Big Apple as a Heisman finalist in them.”

TigerNet staff vote: 100% Watson

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