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The Heisman Case for Clemson’s Deshaun Watson

Doug Buffington

If high-pressure moments define football’s best players, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson answered the bell to stake his claim as the Heisman Trophy front-runner.

Watson captained the only undefeated team through the 2015 college football season, rising to the occasion in the Tigers’ highest profile contests. His most recent may have been his best, as he powered Clemson to a win in the ACC championship over North Carolina with 289 yards passing, 131 yards rushing, and five total touchdowns.

But while Watson saved his best for last, his invitation to New York City for tonight’s Heisman presentation is hardly a case of recency bias. Rather than an outlier, the North Carolina game was a snapshot of the quarterback’s outstanding campaign.

“Deshaun Watson is the epitome of what the Heisman Trophy is all about,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said via 247Sports.com.

That’s true both in terms of on-field performance, and his off-field story of perseverance.

The Heisman has been a dual-threat quarterback’s award almost exclusive for the last half-decade, from Cam Newton, to Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, and the most recent winner, Marcus Mariota.

Watson is the nation’s most electrifying dual-threat quarterback in 2015, accruing 3,512 yards passing with another 887 on the ground, and a total of 41 touchdowns. The full capacity of Watson’s dual-threat playmaking ability shined through most in three Tiger wins over Top 10 competition.

His 420 total yards against North Carolina inched the bar higher, but Watson combated both the stellar defense of Notre Dame and the elements in a tropical storm by going to the ground for 93 yards and a score, and another 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air.

“The rain was starting to come down, so we really tried to put the ball in Deshaun’s hands,” Clemson running back Wayne Gallman said after the Notre Dame win, via ClemsonTigers.com.

Putting the ball in the hands of the best player in the most pressure situations; that’s what the Heisman is about, as Swinney said.

And the Tigers did so again after falling behind ACC rival Florida State early in a crucial, late-season contest.

Watson shook off a slow start against the Seminoles to go for 297 yards passing and another 107 rushing. His performance drew the praises of Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, who had his own Heisman winner two years ago in quarterback Jameis Winston.

“He’s a great player. He battled. He’s a competitor and a very good player,” Fisher said via ClemsonTigers.com.

Battling defines Watson’s return to captaining the Clemson offense. On Saturday night, when the Heisman Trophy is presented for the 81st time, it’s the one-year anniversary to the date of Watson’s ACL surgery.

The remarkable turnaround from the operation table to leading a national championship chase more than three decades in the making crystallizes Watson’s play every game day.

The 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist class features three worthy winners and three conference champions.

Any one of Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey or Watson would be a deserving representative of college football’s most prestigious individual honor, but Clemson’s quarterback staked his own compelling case.

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