It’s hard to imagine, but what if Deshaun Watson’s No. 4 jersey was blue instead of white when second-ranked Clemson visits Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
Clemson might not even be ranked No. 2 if that was the case.
Though Watson committed to Dabo Swinney and the Clemson coaching staff after his sophomore year at Gainesville High School, the former five-star quarterback did entertain the overtures of Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers.
Just a few months before he enrolled at Clemson in 2014, Watson visited Auburn for the experience and to make sure he was making the right decision in coming Clemson.
“It was no secret. It is something that I wanted to do,” the Clemson quarterback said on Monday. “I wanted to make sure I was making the right choice. It was my decision. I don’t have to tell the world where I’m going or what I’m allowed to do.
“If I wanted to do something I can go ahead and go do it. I enjoyed the visit. Auburn was a nice place. Gus and the whole coaching staff were awesome. I had a great weekend. But I felt comfortable being at Clemson.”
And now, almost three years later, Watson is the leader on a Clemson team that has won 14 straight regular season games and 22 of its last 23.
It’s hard to imagine what the two programs might be like heading into this heavyweight showdown had Watson changed his mind after his visit to Auburn.
As everyone knows, Watson led Clemson to the College Football Playoff Championship Game last season. He became the first player in college football history to throw for 4,000 and rush for another 1,000, while setting an ACC single-season record with 47 touchdown responsibilities.
Watson’s record as starter at Clemson is 18-2.
Since Watson made his decision to honor his commitment to Clemson, Auburn has not done quite as well. Though the SEC’s Tigers did advance to the final BCS Championship Game in 2013, they are just 15-11 the last two years and 6-10 in the SEC.
In fact, Auburn is 10-11 in their last 21 games and has not beaten a Power 5 opponent at Jordan-Hare Stadium since October of 2014.
Not surprisingly, part of the reason, or at least last year’s issues during a 7-6 campaign, can be contributed to quarterback play. Jeremy Johnson and Sean White both struggled at times last year as Auburn ranked near the bottom of the SEC in passing offense.
This past spring and summer, White, Johnson and junior college transfer John Franklin III had an intense quarterback competition where White finally won out, for now, and was named as the starter for Saturday’s 9 p.m. kickoff.
White started six games last year after coming in for a struggling Johnson in a Week 3 loss to LSU. He started the next five games before suffering an injury in a three-overtime loss to Arkansas. He missed the final four games of the regular season and then started the Birmingham Bowl where he gave way to Johnson after throwing two first-half interceptions.
White completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,167 yards in the seven games he played in last season. He had one touchdown pass to four interceptions.
Though White struggled at times last year, he does have the experience of beating Watson in competition. When the two were in the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp in the summer of 2013, White took home first place honors, while surprisingly Watson finished 11th.
“It’s just a competition thing and he had a great weekend that weekend,” Watson said. “It was nothing. At the end of the day, we are all still Elite 11 Quarterbacks.”
Watson did not really want to commitment on White as a quarterback because he had not seen him play in three years and as he said, “three years ago is a long time” and a lot can change.
“Back then he was a guy that loved to compete and loved the game of football,” Watson said.
That’s probably still the case today. But Auburn can only imagine what life might be like if it only could have changed Deshaun Watson’s mind during that visit three years ago.
Clemson does not have to wonder. It knows what it is like to have Watson, and all of Clemson is glad he will be wearing a white No. 4 jersey when the Tigers play Auburn on Saturday night.