Only the pinnacle of college football players earn invitations to the Heisman Trophy presentation. Deshaun Watson’s received two such invites.
Only the best start in a national championship game. Come Monday, Watson moves into the VIP room of that exclusive club with his second start for the Clemson Tigers in a title tilt.
Yes, Deshaun Watson’s accomplished far more than most who ever play college football, twice over. But Monday’s College Football Playoff championship in Tampa brings another for Watson to move into another tier of greatness.
With a win, he’ll claim one of those top prizes he’s been oh-so-close to, but ultimately denied. And if he’s bound for the NFL draft, it may be his last opportunity.
The gravity of the moment isn’t likely to rattle Watson. A positive byproduct of having been on this stage and falling short previously is he’s uniquely accustomed to the spotlight.
This season alone, he out-dueled a program with a College Football Playoff championship, Ohio State, in last week’s Fiesta Bowl. He powered Clemson to its second consecutive ACC title with five total touchdowns in the conference championship game.
And, despite not winning the Heisman, Watson bested 2016 recipient Lamar Jackson in their head-to-head encounter.
“As far as him playing big in all these games, Deshaun Watson has played big in every game since he’s been at Clemson,” Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday’s teleconference call. “The guy is 31-3. The only losses he had are [against Georgia Tech as a freshman, Pitt this year and] a loss in the National Championship game where he played great.”
Great might be underselling Watson’s effort in last January’s College Football Playoff title game. Since Alabama claimed its first national championship under Nick Saban in 2009, only one other quarterback has put on a clinic approaching that of Watson vs. the Tide.
That would be one Johnny Manziel, whose wizardry against Alabama in 2012 propelled him to a Heisman.
Watson got no Heisman out of his play against ‘Bama. He didn’t get a title, either, through no fault of his own. The quarterback couldn’t defend O.J. Howard, after all.
But Watson did garner the praise of Saban.
“He played fantastic against us last year,” Saban said. “He may be arguably the best player in college football. The guy is very athletic. He’s got a great understanding of their offense. He does a really good job of executing for his team. He can extend plays. He can run. He can run quarterback runs. And he’s a terrific passer.
“He is the complete package of everything that you could ever want or look for in a guy at quarterback,” he added.
The plaudits are well-earned. He accounted for much of the 550 yards Clemson gained on the Tide defense, passing for 405 and rushing for a team-high 73.
Not that numbers put up a season ago matter much to Deshaun Watson.
“Last year is last year,” he said on his conference call Wednesday. “You can’t go based off last year.”
Indeed, Alabama’s a much different-looking defense now than a year ago, with eight starters gone from the 2015 starting lineup. Not that there’s been any drop-off — there never is with a Nick Saban defense.
The Tide allows just 11.4 points per game, and most recently held a Washington offense scoring better than 40 points per game to seven.
But Watson’s not the same player he was a year ago, either.
“Deshaun Watson is a better player right now than he was last year,” Swinney said.
Should that hold true Monday, he’ll no longer be the college legend close to the apex coming just short. Deshaun Watson is a win away from finally being alone at the top.