Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence makes compelling case in Heisman Trophy race

By | December 19, 2020

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney campaigned hard Saturday after the Tigers’ 34-10 victory against Notre Dame in the ACC championship game.

Not for the College Football Playoff — No. 4 Clemson clinched its sixth straight trip with a resounding 34-10 victory against the Irish.

Swinney went all in on Trevor Lawrence for the Heisman Trophy.

“It would be a crying shame if the Heisman didn’t attach their name to Trevor Lawrence, all right,” Swinney said. “That would be a shame. I know that’s become a stat award, but if you watch college football and you don’t know this is the best player in the country, then I don’t know what you’re looking at.”

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Clemson’s junior quarterback improved to 34-1 as a starter for his career. He hit 25 of 36 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns after throwing an interception on the first possession. He added 90 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. And the Tigers won their third straight ACC championship with him under center.

It continued one of the upside-down narratives of the 2020 college football season. A strong argument can be made Lawrence is the best player in college football. If the Tigers win the national championship, then an even stronger argument could be made that he’s the greatest quarterback in college football history.

Could that argument be made if he was never even a Heisman Trophy finalist?

Lawrence was a freshman in 2018 when he replaced Kelly Bryant as a starter, but his true arrival was a dominant performance in Clemson’s 44-16 victory against Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game.

He struggled with interceptions early in his sophomore season but still led the Tigers to the championship before taking a 42-25 loss to LSU and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.

In 2020, Lawrence missed two starts after testing positive for COVID-19, including the 47-40 double-overtime loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. Lawrence corrected that mistake Saturday, and he finished with 2,753 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Will that be enough to win what is, in fact, a stat award? Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask have better statistics, and those quarterbacks are the favorites to finish in the top spots in the Heisman voting. Jones’ teammate DeVonta Smith also could into those votes, but a receiver hasn’t won the Heisman since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991.

Would Lawrence get the Peyton Manning treatment this year? Manning finished second in 1997, but he also was a three-time finalist during his banner career with Tennessee. Lawrence should get enough votes that he would be a finalist.

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Swinney’s campaign has merit, too. He watched Deshaun Watson finish third in the Heisman voting in 2015, and second in 2016. The former Clemson quarterback put up monster performances in the national championship game in each of those seasons. Derrick Henry won the Heisman in 2015. Lamar Jackson won the award in 2016. Those two had the statistics, but Watson was right there with those Heisman winners.

That’s the same debate that will fall on Lawrence.

He’s the best player in college football, a future No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s also behind two SEC quarterbacks — who have played lights-out all season — on the statistical game.

The voters have one of their toughest choices to make in a wide-open field where the season was impacted by COVID-19. In that regard, Lawrence will have a chance in what should be an interesting vote, and he deserves to be a finalist. From there, who knows?

The only shame is that two of those quarterbacks won’t win the award.