After a nearly amazing 2015 season, will Deshaun Watson see his numbers and Clemson’s record take a dive during the upcoming season?
During an Arizona night just over seven months ago, sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson was one play away from leading the Clemson Tigers to the national championship. Watson went head-to-head with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
When the clock hit triple zero’s, it was ‘Bama hoisting another national title – but it was Watson who impressed many with his numbers and his patience. Even in defeat, the Heisman Trophy finalist was considered to be the runaway favorite to bring home the award in 2016 and lead the Tigers back to the Playoff.
On paper, that could easily take place if Watson is able to continue his winning ways in the regular season. Unlike 2015, however, Watson is likely also going to find out what it’s like to be the player everyone is hunting and not the one who can fly under the radar.
Watson threw for more than 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns to go along with more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. That won’t sneak up on any opponent this year. Watson is a special player, but can he top the production from last year?
One of the most important reasons why Clemson was able to get to the National Championship Game was a dominant defense. Seven starters, including Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and Mackensie Alexander are gone, putting more pressure on Watson.
Games are going to be won or lost on the shoulders of the star quarterback, with even less room for error. The defense will be learning to play together, which is not good when they face Auburn and Georgia Tech, both teams capable of beating the Tigers early in the year.
Schedule presents roadblocks
Speaking of that schedule, Watson won’t have the luxury of playing the toughest games on the schedule in the friendly comfort of Death Valley. In 2015, Clemson hosted Notre Dame and Florida State but hit the road for those games against top-10 opponents
We don’t know how Watson will react with the spotlight clearly on him. Last season, even when Clemson was winning games and ranked No. 1, there always seemed to be someone else overshadowing the quiet sophomore.
It started with Leonard Fournette and continued with Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. While both Fournette and McCaffrey are back in 2016, the award is Watson’s to take barring an injury.
Unfortunately, recent history suggests quarterbacks regress after breakout seasons.
For a quick comparison, let’s look at two prominent quarterbacks who had breakout seasons during their second year on campus. As a redshirt freshman, Jameis Winston led Florida State to a championship with nearly 4,300 yards and 44 touchdowns. The following year, he had 400 fewer yards,16 fewer touchdowns, and eight more interceptions.
Before Winston, Johnny Manziel had a magical year in 2012 with more than 5,100 total yards and 47 total touchdowns. The following year, his yards and touchdowns saw steep declines while his interceptions increased.
While it’s dangerous to compare players, it provides an example of what Watson could be in for this season. It’s natural after having a stellar year that a player takes a step back the next year.
Worst-case scenario for Deshaun Watson
Watson comes out flat in the opener against a hungry Auburn team and gets upset. From there, Clemson is rattled and loses their elimination game against Florida State and their playoff hopes are dashed. A true worst-case scenario sees Watson, suffer an injury that cripples his NFL Draft stock.
Will all of that take place? Probably not. Will Watson be anywhere close to the player he was in 2015? He has to be if Clemson is going to get past Florida State in the ACC. He’ll have to be even better to bring home the school’s first championship since 1981.