Deshaun Watson is a talent which doesn’t come around often.
That’s why Clemson will enjoy what’s expected to be his final season under center.
His leadership, calm demeanor, strong arm and running ability might produce another trip to the College Football Playoff, and possibly the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, but it’s not like he’s doing it all by himself. There are plenty of talented pieces around Watson.
That’s why Clemson doesn’t look like it’s a one-year wonder. As hard as it is to predict a team to go through the regular season undefeated for a second consecutive year, many pundits from around the country already believe the Tigers will get back to the playoff, and Watson is currently the odds-on favorite to take home the Heisman.
You could make an argument that Clemson, which is loaded with underclassmen, was actually ahead of schedule last season when it made the championship game, and that this year, with juniors Watson and running back Wayne Gallman leading the most experienced offense in the country, is when coach Dabo Swinney designed to make a run.
Regardless of whether this team produces titles, is Clemson good enough to sustain this type of success and be an annual contender without the Gainesville, Ga., star leading the way?
There are several indicators to show that the Tigers won’t suddenly return to the second or third tier nationally once he moves on to the NFL. For starters, Swinney has been building toward this for several seasons, and he led Clemson to three consecutive double-digit win campaigns before Watson arrived on campus. Now, that streak is up to five, and recruiting is like a living, breathing organism on the Clemson campus that’s fueling the program like never before under Swinney.
For 2017, Clemson’s picked up enough talented commitments to currently rank in the top 10 nationally, a familiar spot the last couple of years. The program made headlines July 4 when it picked up a commitment from Tee Higgins, a receiver from Tennessee widely regarded as one of the top playmakers in the entire 2017 class. Another top prospect, five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson from Indiana, plans on coming to Clemson next year as well.
There’ll be no shortage of other talented QBs vying to replace Watson. While they might not be as good or prolific, they might not have to be either. Alabama continues to win national titles and earn No. 1 rankings without a flashy signal caller, thanks to a consistent running game, powerful offensive lines and defenses full of NFL prospects.
That doesn’t mean Clemson has to win that way, but it proves there isn’t an exact formula to contending every season. There are generally only a handful of teams good enough to win the title each year, and sometimes it’s just the schools on the list that change.
The Tigers play in a conference that doesn’t always produce elite teams, but talent nationally is more spread out than it used to be, and the ACC is showing positive signs of improvement with recent coaching hires. That will help Clemson’s competition level and overall reputation if it continues to beat those teams on and off the field.
Don’t get me wrong: It takes luck, hard work, avoiding complacency, keeping and replacing staff members and plenty of other elements to do contend at least semiannually. It won’t be easy, and while the Tigers have to prove on the field that they aren’t a flash in the pan, they certainly don’t appear to be even a two-year wonder.