Could this be the year a Clemson Tiger wins the Heisman?
|Monday, September 7, 2020, 8:01 AM- -|
There are all kinds of trophies that dot the interior of the Reeves Football Complex. Some of them sit in the lobby, some in head coach Dabo Swinney’s office, and others are behind panes of glass in the complex. There are National Championship trophies and ACC Championship trophies and bowl trophies, but there is one notable exception. There is no Heisman Trophy.
This could be the year that changes.
The Heisman is scheduled to be awarded on Dec. 12th, but that might change now that the season will be played later and some championship games won’t happen until a week later.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence enters the season as the favorite to win the award presented by the Downtown Athletic Club. Former Tiger signal-caller Deshaun Watson finished in the top three twice (in 2015 and 2016) to give Clemson the best finish ever in the Heisman balloting.
We can argue all day long that Watson should have won over Derrick Henry in 2015 (Clemson wouldn’t have made the playoff without Watson; Bama would have with or without Henry). And we can argue that Watson was the more deserving in 2016 when Lamar Jackson put up big numbers early, numbers that didn’t necessarily translate into big wins.
As Watson said later, he didn’t miss out on the Heisman, the Heisman missed out on him.
What are Lawrence’s chances? And what are the chances for running back Travis Etienne, who deserves to be in the conversation (in my opinion) as much as Lawrence? There are several factors in play for both players.
Let’s start with the fact that more than a few Heisman contenders are either already sidelined or likely sidelined this season. It begins with Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and includes LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. It also includes Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan and USC QB Kedon Slovis.
Lawrence enters 2020 having completed 527-of-804 career passes for 6,945 yards with 66 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 1,610 snaps in 30 career games (26 starts), and he also has 967 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 163 career carries.
Etienne enters 2020 as the ACC’s all-time career leader in rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (62) and points by a non-kicker (372). He earned ACC Player of the Year honors for the second straight season in 2019, becoming the first running back to collect the award in back-to-back years in more than four decades (Mike Voight in 1975-76). Etienne finished seventh in the Heisman voting in 2018 and ninth in 2019.
The diminished field helps both players’ chances. With two Power Five conferences seemingly out of action, as a Heisman voter (yes, I am a Heisman voter) I know I have less to look at this season even though I will pay even more attention to the Group of Five schools.
One thing that could help both players is if the ACC is better this season. Clemson plays on the road three of the last four weeks – when Heisman voters will be paying extra attention – and it all starts with an early November date at Notre Dame. The Tigers then have an open date before heading to Tallahassee to take on FSU, the home finale against Pitt, and then take to the road in the regular season finale to take on Virginia Tech.
If any of those teams can get to November with a pulse, it’s a chance to shine on the biggest of stages.
However, if the ACC is bad and Clemson winds up blowing everybody out, the same thing will happen this season that has happened to Lawrence and Etienne each of the last two seasons.
Let’s start with Etienne, who played 15 games last season and still finished 35th nationally in carries (207). Chuba Hubbard, who will be a Heisman contender this season, carried it 328 times in just 13 games. Etienne was just two touchdowns behind Hubbard (21-19), so imagine his totals if he was allowed to tote the rock 20 times per game instead of the 13.80 carries per game (2019) and 13.60 (2018) he has had the last two seasons.
Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and head coach Dabo Swinney have a tried-and-true system that is hard to argue with – players who deserve to play will play. The Tigers play a lot of players each season, and it winds up paying huge dividends late in the season. Add in the blowouts and Etienne simply doesn’t get the touches of a Hubbard, whose team is in a dogfight almost every game.
Lawrence is in the same boat – Lawrence didn’t play in the final 10 minutes of any game last year between Texas A&M (September) and the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Lawrence misses out on a full game of production due to the Tigers’ dominance. Clemson was the first team in the AP Poll era to beat eight straight teams by 30-plus points last season.
The chance for a Heisman winner is there, but the breaks have to be there. The first few breaks have already fallen in their favor. The rest of it? It will be fun to watch.