Is Dabo Swinney cheating Trevor Lawrence out of the Heisman Trophy?

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - OCTOBER 19: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers throws a touchdown pass against the Louisville Cardinals at Cardinal Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - OCTOBER 19: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers throws a touchdown pass against the Louisville Cardinals at Cardinal Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Last year when the Clemson Tigers won another National Championship, one of its key components was quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

The defense was the team’s catalyst to the College Football Playoff (CFP) as evidenced by three players taken in the first-round of the annual college NFL draft. But the offense was just as significant.

Lawrence was a true freshman but played like a seasoned veteran. That means this year he is a sophomore. Why is this significant? Well, because in 2020 he will be in his junior year and in all likelihood it will be his last as most players who have the talent he possesses leave their campus for the riches of professional football.

But while Trevor Lawrence remains a Tiger, there are situations that can help his draft status. For one, he must remain healthy. For another, he should continue to show that he is a good leader. Lastly, his personal stats need to prove that he is worthy of being taken in the coveted first-round of the draft; which more than likely he will go to a bad team in need of a spark and lots of talent at lots of positions.

The first two are important, but the third item is crucial. And Trevor Lawrence is not getting the opportunity to shine and display his immense talent.

Why? Dabo Swinney.

This is not a knock on the Tigers’ head coach. This is not to imply that Lawrence and Coach Swinney do not get along – in fact, just the opposite. And just about every college football program in the nation would salivate to have Swinney as their head ball coach.

No, this is about Trevor Lawrence’s personal stats. Or maybe it should be presented as his lack of personal stats.

You see, both the young man and his coach are trapped inside what is known as the “Clemson Machine.” This entity chews up other teams and spits out not only victories but wins of substantial amounts. And to make things worse, many a game could be ran up to 60, 70 or 80 points for the Tigers if the head coach wanted to.

But as a man of integrity, Swinney does not. And he doesn’t for many reasons. For one, if you keep the starters in during a blowout win, one (or several) could become hurt. Secondly, what is the reason for running up the score against an inferior opponent? A team is only going to get a single win from the game regardless. And thirdly, actual game time exposure is invaluable for the second and third team players.

And all of the above is the problem Lawrence has, and Swinney, is causing.

The Heisman Trophy is awarded annually to a single athlete, voted on as the best college football player in the nation. Before each season, college football experts announce their lists for the four teams they predict will appear in the CFP as well as their thoughts on their Heisman watch lists. And on every list for the Heisman this year, Lawrence’s name was inked. In fact, many of these experts had the Clemson signal caller as the top candidate to win this year’s Heisman.

The Heisman process is predicated on several things, but the most crucial is numbers. Statistics to be exact. That is why defensive players rarely get voted on (or win) as well as offensive linemen. They simply cannot produce enough tangible numbers throughout the college season to become relevant as the best player in the nation.

So, if numbers are the catalyst, then obviously this remains with the skill position players on offense: quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Each one of these three positions have a multitude of statistical information that can be tabulated, compared and debated.

In the NFL, every starting quarterback plays all the way through the third quarter no matter what the score is. Often, you will see the starter still in the game with nine minutes left in the contest and a 35 point lead. The reason? History. The pro league is full of great comebacks throughout its 100-year history. And no head coach wants to be “that guy” who took his starters out leading by a large margin and then lost the game. In the NFL, they don’t care about running up the score or hurting the other player’s feelings. They don’t care about getting the second team guard some valuable playing time. They care about securing the win that just happens to be laying on the silver platter and not screwing up.

But college football has a different approach. If Clemson had a 35-point advantage on say, Ohio State, going into the fourth quarter, you may still see the starters on the field. The reason is just as obvious – they are still a very good team and who knows what can – and will – happen if you let off the gas.

In last year’s National Championship Game against Alabama, the Clemson starters were still in there even though the Tigers had a large lead going into the fourth stanza and the outcome was evident.

But here’s the rub: Trevor Lawrence is not getting the numbers he needs to become a serious Heisman candidate. And the reason is simply because Clemson is just too good this year. Let’s say that again: Clemson is just too good this season to give Trevor Lawrence the opportunity he would need to get large statistics in order to become a Heisman candidate.

Many experts have taken Trevor Lawrence off their Heisman watch list completely where just months earlier, they were predicting the Tiger QB would win it and become the school’s first-ever Heisman winner.

And if things don’t change, Clemson will never have a Heisman winner. Not with Lawrence, that is.

The main problem with Lawrence is his playing time – or lack of playing time. Against Charlotte, the QB played a quarter and a half. In the second game of the season this year, when Texas A&M scored that pointless touchdown with six seconds remaining, there wasn’t a single defensive starter on the gridiron. Conversely, the offensive starters left the field quite a while ago as well.

And it’s not the Clemson Machine’s fault. Just because numerous four and five star recruits decide to play for the orange and purple does not represent the burden of the recruitment process.

The ACC is just not the powerhouse it used to be with Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami and others that dominated the rankings each week for decades. Other than Virginia and at one point Wake Forest this year, what other ACC team is viewed as being in the hunt?

And like it or not, Clemson’s schedule this year is a cupcake which tabulates into many lopsided contests. The end result means lots of starters will play only partial games. Which means Lawrence’s numbers cannot grow enough to be a serious Heisman contender.

The North Carolina game was the only game in which Trevor Lawrence was able to play four quarters. Eleven games already in the books, yet a mere single game in which he stayed until the final gun.

While in the SEC and the Big Ten, their conferences are loaded with great teams and have to knock each other off. When you have LSU, Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn remaining on your schedule, you know you have a tough road ahead and the starters will play entire games.

Or perhaps Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland and Michigan State still to play? Any of these situations the starting quarterback may not have great numbers, but at least he is playing a full game and adding to his numbers.

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Now how does this affect his impending NFL career? Will he still become a first-round draft pick? Of course he will. He may even be the first overall pick. NFL clubs do not look at numbers while you were riding the bench during a 45-point beat down of another team. They look at your numbers while you were playing. The fact that other players were given a lot more playing time and their numbers were huge does not mean that these pro teams do not see talent.

But as far as the 2019 Heisman Trophy? That would have to be a negative this year.