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Best players in Clemson history: Quarterback

When looking at the best players in Clemson’s football history, in some cases, you make many arguments. In other cases, it is quite obvious who the right choice is.

The Clemson Insider takes a look back in time and gives its selection as the best players at each position.

When it comes to quarterbacks, it is obvious who the No. 1 choice is.

Deshaun Watson is not only the best quarterback in Clemson history, but he is the best player, too. But right now, we will just stick to the quarterback position.

How many quarterbacks can say that the last pass they threw in their college career was the game-winning touchdown to win the national championship? Off the top of my head, I can only think of one – Deshaun Watson.

His 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow with one second to play in last January’s national championship game will forever be remembered by Clemson fans. The play capped a 9-play, 68-yard drive in the final 2:01 to knock off Alabama and win Clemson its first national championship in 35 years.

But Watson just isn’t the Tigers’ all-time greatest quarterback because he led them to a national championship. No, he did a whole lot more than that.

He was not only a First-Team All-American, but he became the first Clemson player to become a Heisman Trophy Finalist and then he backed that up by doing it again. He is the only ACC player in history to be a two-time finalist for the award.

Watson, who quarterbacked Clemson from 2014-’16, was also an ACC Player of the Year, a two-time MVP of the ACC Championship Game and was voted as the first two-time ACC Male Athlete of the Year since Florida State’s Charlie Ward did it in 1992 and ’93.

To add to his legacy, Watson ended rival South Carolina’s five-game winning streak in 2015 against Clemson when he threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-19 passing, while also running for two more scores, and he did it all while playing with a torn ACL.

Watson never lost to the Gamecocks as he went 3-0 against the Tigers’ in-state rival.

He also swept the national quarterback awards in 2016. Watson won the Davey O’Brien Award and the Manning Award for the second time each and also captured the Johnny Unitas Award, which goes to the top senior quarterback in the nation. It is an award you can only win once.

Watson played in four career postseason games and earned MVP honors in three of those contests. In those four games, he threw for 1,271 yards and nine touchdowns. In two College Football Playoff National Championship games against Alabama’s vaunted defense, he tallied 825 passing yards and seven touchdowns.

For the 2016 season, the Gainesville, Ga., native completed 388-of-579 passes for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns while also rushing for 629 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked in the top four in the nation in quarterback rating, passing yards and passing touchdowns.

For his career, Watson posted a 32-3 record as the Tigers’ starting quarterback, tal­lying over 11,000 yards of total offense with 115 touchdowns while leading his team to a pair of ACC Championships (winning MVP in each of those title games), two national title game appearances and the ultimate crown – the national championship.

After coming up short in the 2016 title game to Alabama, Clemson’s players and coaches made a pack at the start of the season that if they got back to the championship game, they would do all they could to make sure no one left with any regrets.

When Renfrow caught the game-winner from Watson with one second to go, Clemson had accomplished its mission … they were National Champions.

“It was an awesome feeling, and it was a great way to finish off the game,” Watson said.

It was also a great way to end what was a great career.

Honorable mentions:

Steve Fuller (1975-’78): He was a two-time ACC Player of the Year and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy race in 1978. Fuller led the Tigers to two Gator Bowl appearances, including a 17-15 victory over Ohio State in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Clemson finished the 1978 season with an 11-1 record, were ACC Champions and No. 6 in the final Associated Press Poll. Fuller was named a third-team All-American in 1978. Clemson went 19-3-1 in Fuller’s final two years as the starting quarterback.

Tajh Boyd (2010-’13): He was the 2012 ACC Player of the Year and led Clemson to its first ACC Championship in 20 years in 2011. Boyd was named the ACC Championship Game MVP that year. He posted a 32-8 record as a three-year starter, while setting several Clemson and ACC passing records along the way. He became the first Clemson quarterback to be named a First-Team All-American. He threw for 11,904 yards in his career, including an ACC record 107 touchdowns. His 133 overall career touchdowns are also an ACC record. Like Fuller, Boyd concluded his career with a dramatic win over Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl, Clemson’s first Orange Bowl win since the 1982 Orange Bowl Classic. Clemson went 22-4 in his last two years as the starting quarterback.

Homer Jordan (1980-’82): He guided the Tigers to the 1981 National Championship, while collecting MVP honors in the 1982 Orange Bowl win over Nebraska to secure the Tigers’ first and last perfect season (12-0) since the 1948 team went 11-0. Jordan was the First Team All-ACC Quarterback in 1981 and was 27-6 as a three-year starting quarterback in his career. He also guided the Tigers to the 1981 and ’82 ACC Championships. He also finished his career 3-0 against rival South Carolina. Clemson went 21-1-1 in Jordan’s final two years as the starting quarterback.

Rodney Williams (1985-’88): He led the Tigers to three straight ACC Championships from 1986-’88. Williams was not flashy and did not put up the stats some of the other quarterbacks at Clemson did, but he was a winner. His teams went 32-10 in the four years he started for Danny Ford. He also led the Tigers to bowl wins over Stanford, Penn State and Oklahoma. He was named the MVP of the 1986 Gator Bowl and the 1988 Citrus Bowl, where his 214 passing yards that afternoon was a Clemson Bowl record for a number of years. Clemson went 20-4 in Williams final two years as the starting quarterback.

Charlie Whitehurst (2002-’05): He did not win any player of the year honors or lead the Tigers to a National Championship or an ACC Championship, but Whitehurst did something no other quarterback in the history of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry has ever done – go 4-0 against his rival as the starting quarterback. Whitehurst is best known as the Gamecock killer, including leading Clemson to a 63-17 win in the 2003 game in Columbia. He finished his career by owning just about every Clemson passing record there was, while also guiding the Tigers to two bowl victories, including the 2004 Peach Bowl win over then No. 6 Tennessee.

Woodrow Dantzler: (1998-2001): Dantzler was perhaps the most dynamic quarterback to ever play at Clemson before Watson. He was best known for his ability to escape pressure and make plays with his feet as well as run the football on designed rushing plays. He led the Tigers in rushing in 2000 and 2001 and in 2001, he became the first quarterback in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and run for another 1,000 in the same season. Dantzler owned just about every quarterback record when he left Clemson – 46 altogether. Dantzler threw for 6,037 yards and 41 touchdowns in his career. He also ran for 2,761 yards and scored 27 touchdowns, still a Clemson records for a quarterback. His 68 career touchdown responsibilities rank third in school history.

 

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