Could Deshaun Watson Bring the Heisman Trophy to Clemson in 2014?


If you asked a bunch of Clemson Tigers’ football fans about Deshaun Watson and the Heisman Trophy, most would say that he will definitely be a contender…next year.

The Watson for Heisman 2015 campaign does seem like a given at this point. It’s obvious that Watson is extraordinarily gifted and completely unlike most true freshman. He is unflappable and it’s hard to imagine him doing anything other than improving as this season (and his career) goes on.

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But Watson’s inexorable march toward Heisman candidacy in 2015 has me wondering–why not this year?

The first thing most would point out is that Watson didn’t start the first three games of the year. But those three games are still so close behind us in the rearview mirror. What happens when that isn’t the case?

Clemson has a pretty good chance to win out, now that Georgia and Florida State are behind them. ESPN’s Football Power Index currently shows Clemson as a favorite against every opponent left on their schedule, and none are particularly close. The only remaining team Clemson has less than a 70% chance of defeating is South Carolina, and the Tigers are still given a 65% chance of winning that game.

Clemson probably needs to win out for Watson to have any chance this year. As with all Heisman winners, he will need to have the media narrative on his side. But if the Tigers do win out, that narrative is probably going to look something like this:

We saw glimpses of what Deshaun Watson could do against Georgia. Then, with Watson getting the bulk of the action, the Clemson Tigers nearly upset Florida State on the road. And after a 1-2 start, Watson officially won the starting job and led Clemson to a 10-game winning streak that put them back in serious contention for the… [ACC Championship, Orange Bowl, College Football Playoff, etc.].

So in that sense, I think Watson would have a chance. But, of course, the numbers have to be there as well, so I tried to project out what Watson might do for the rest of the season.

Watson played nearly two full games against Florida State and North Carolina, so I took Watson’s statistics from those two games and averaged them, to get some per-game numbers. Two games is a small sample size, of course, but I think these particular games are useful for this purpose for a couple reasons.

  • Florida State might have the best defense in the ACC. UNC might have the worst. The average of those two performances should offer a decent glimpse of how Watson could do against the average ACC defense.
  • The numbers balance fairly well. Watson isn’t likely to throw six touchdowns a game, like he did against UNC. But he isn’t likely to throw zero touchdowns, like in the FSU game, very often either.
  • The Florida State game was on the road, in maybe the toughest environment Clemson will deal with this year. The UNC game was in the comfy confines of Death Valley.

So here are those projected per-game statistics:

23-for-32 (72%) for 350 yards, three touchdowns, and .5 interceptions.

When you project that out over the eight remaining games of the regular season and add in the numbers Watson has compiled already, here is what you get for his final regular season stats:

240-for-333 (72%) for 3,714 yards, 34 TDs, 5 INTs

When I first figured out those numbers, I immediately thought that they looked potentially Heisman-worthy. But just to make sure, I decided to compare them to what Jameis Winston did in the regular season last year. Here are those numbers:

218-for-317 (69%) 3,490 yards, 35 TDs, 8 INTs

So, next to what Winston did in 2013, Watson’s projected stats give him a pretty comparable number of pass attempts, a better completion percentage, about 200 more passing yards, one fewer touchdown, and three fewer interceptions.

Winston is also an interesting comparison, I think, because of the fact that he sat out the end of so many games last year. With him on the bench so often, there were other quarterbacks who threw for more touchdowns and yards, but it was taken into consideration that he played less than his competition.

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  • Watson’s situation is somewhat different, but I think it shows that Heisman voters might be willing to essentially pro-rate their expectations for him. If that’s the case, then missing most of the first two games may not actually hurt Watson too much. After all, this is a true freshman we’re talking about. Watson not starting against Georgia in week one doesn’t require much more explanation than that.

    Of course, there are a few things working against Watson. There aren’t many marquee opponents left on the schedule with South Carolina looking pretty mediocre and the ACC struggling. The loss to Florida State not only denied Clemson a big-time win, it also made it very unlikely that the Tigers can get into the ACC Championship. Winning the ACC would be huge for Watson’s Heisman candidacy but now he has to hope that the Seminoles somehow lose two conference games.

    But whether or not Watson can actually win the Heisman this year, it would be a mistake to start looking forward to 2015 already. There is still a lot of football to be played this year and watching Watson continue to develop is going to be a lot of fun.

    Clemson fans are going to look back on these days and be glad that they were alive during this tiny point in time, when Deshaun Watson was hurling touchdown passes while donning the Clemson orange. Let’s enjoy every moment of it.