One Quick Thing: Cade Klubnik doesn't need to be Trevor Lawrence or Deshaun Watson

We need to shed a tendency many have when discussing the potential for improvement from Cade Klubnik.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Clemson v Kentucky
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Clemson v Kentucky / James Gilbert/GettyImages

It’s the offseason, also known as talking season. It’s when we consider all the possibilities of what could happen. My observation of Clemson fans is that many tend to lean towards the positive this time of the year. We tend to focus on the best-case scenario as opposed to the worst-case scenario. It is no fun to be miserable because you expect the most negative outcome.

It's been a while since we’ve gotten the best-case scenario with Clemson’s quarterback. There were high hopes that a full offseason as the starting quarterback and a new mentor (Garrett Riley) would be what Cade Klubnik needed to be the quarterback Clemson needed to get back to the promised land. Those hopes were not realized.

The best-case scenario for Klubnik this season is that he takes a jump in Riley’s second full season as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. There is no installation this season. Klubnik can work on the nuances of the offense. This best-case scenario is possible. It is also possible that Klubnik could start the season just as poorly as he did last year and hold the offense back.

Regardless of which side one takes with Klubnik, there is one sentiment I seem to hear quite often. It takes different forms depending on the perspective a person has, but they sound something like this.

“Cade Klubnik is no Trevor Lawrence or Deshaun Watson.”

“Clemson has only won national championships when they had quarterbacks like Lawrence or Watson.”

“Well, Klubnik can improve, but he’s no Lawrence or Watson.

These are true statements. They are true now and were true before we saw Klubnik play college ball when he was a 5-star recruit coming out of big-league Texas high school football. We just didn't know it at that time. They were also true of DJ Uiagalelei when he was a 5-star recruit too.

They are true and completely irrelevant, for a few reasons.

JJ McCarthy, Stetson Bennett, and Mac Jones weren’t Lawrence or Watson either, and they won the last four national championships. You don’t have to have a generational quarterback to win a national championship.

You also don’t have to win a national championship to be good. It’s not like Clemson won the national championship every year Lawrence or Watson started for the Tigers.

Tajh Boyd was one of the best quarterbacks in program history, but he wasn’t Lawrence or Watson. He never won a national championship. If the College Football Playoff existed in his era, he never would have earned a berth.

On the other side, Kelly Bryant’s primary point on his college football resume was leading Clemson to the 1-seed in the 2017 College Football Playoff. If the authorities of talking season were to rank all the quarterbacks who played in the CFP during its history, I doubt Kelly Bryant would rank above the 25th percentile.

The one grace I do extend to people who feel the need to mention Lawrence or Watson when they are discussing Klubnik or Clemson’s trajectory with him as the starting quarterback is that there is still an element of the Clemson fanbase who think (or hope) that Klubnik can suddenly make the jump into elite territory.

I can understand why some who speak on this subject would want to preface the belief that they think Klubnik could improve in 2024 with the warning that fans shouldn’t get carried away thinking that just because players like Joe Burrow or Kenny Pickett made big jumps very late in their careers that Klubnik will suddenly pull that off too. Clemson fans have ‘hit the lottery’ a handful of times in recent years, so it does make sense that some might expect that as the norm.

Dabo Swinney didn't help this point when he compared Klubnik to Watson. Maybe he does share certain elements with DW, but ultimately it probably created unrealistic expectations from some fans.

My point here is that we need to shed the mindset that Clemson can’t achieve big things without Heisman-worthy players taking the offensive snaps. We need to shed the mindset that Klubnik needs to be Lawrence or Watson. We need to shed the mindset that it is even possible for him to be Lawrence or Watson. It’s already too late for that.

We need the mindset that a player like Klubnik is perfectly capable of being a part of the equation for Clemson to have a great 2024 season, even if great doesn’t include a national championship, ACC championship, or a playoff berth. We need the mindset that Klubnik doesn’t need to be anything but what this team needs him to be. That’s what McCarthy, Bennett, and Jones were for their teams in those seasons.