Though he will not admit it, Heisman Trophy voters made quarterback Deshaun Watson mad, and that should benefit the second-ranked Tigers when they head to Glendale, Arizona later this month to play No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
By sending Watson to New York for a second year in a row as a Heisman Finalist and then sending him back home empty hand, again, the Heisman voters—the same ones that admitted they made a mistake last year when he tallied 478 total yards and four touchdowns in the national championship game against Alabama—put another chip on Watson’s shoulders as if he needed any extra motivation in the first place.
“My mentality is the same as before … I’m the best player in the country,” Watson said on Tuesday as he addressed the media for the first time since finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. “That’s how I think, that’s how I feel. People have their own way of voting and Lamar earned all the things he’s received this postseason and I respect him, he knows that. None of that stuff is within my control. It’s others who vote on it. I wouldn’t ever doubt myself.”
There is no doubt Watson doesn’t doubt himself, but it’s obvious others have. When voters doubted Watson last year, he led the Tigers to a 37-17 victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Nine days later, playing against 2015 Heisman winner Derrick Henry, it was obvious to everyone in attendance at the University of Phoenix Stadium, and watching back home on television, that Watson was the best player on the field that night in Glendale.
On Dec. 31, Watson returns to the same stadium where he proved Heisman voters were wrong last year as Clemson takes on the Buckeyes with a berth in the national championship game on the line.
“Even If I would’ve won it, I always play each and every week with a chip on my shoulder to prove I’m the best player in the country and we’re the best team in the country,” Watson said.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney definitely thinks his quarterback should have won the Heisman.
“He’s the best player. Proof’s in the pudding,” Swinney said. “Not anything against Lamar, I think he’s an unbelievable player. But I just think what Deshaun has done here, it’s unbelievable. … I think Deshaun was incredibly deserving.”
Watson finished the year by completing 329-of-487 passes for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the nation in completions, fifth in touchdown passes, eighth in completion percentage and eighth in total offense. His 37 touchdown passes are a Clemson season-record and second in ACC history behind the 40 Jameis Winston threw for Florida State when he won the Heisman in 2013.
Watson added 526 rushing yards, giving him 4,440 yards of total offense.
The junior finished the regular-season strong as he connected on 138-of-186 passes for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns over the last five games. That is a 74 percent completion percentage. He totaled 20 touchdowns, including 11 in the last two games, and averaged 356.8 total yards per game in the last five weeks.
But, obviously, all was not a wash. Watson earned MVP honors in the ACC Championship Game for a second straight year when he guided the Tigers to a 42-35 victory over Virginia Tech, the program’s second straight ACC title and first repeat in 28 years. Then 12 days later, he walked across the stage and received his degree in communications, a feat he accomplished in just three years.
“My main focus was getting to graduation and getting that degree. That was going to be the happiest moment of my career and it was,” Watson said.
But he and the Tigers still have one more goal to achieve, and winning the national championship, unlike the Heisman Trophy race, is something he and his teammates can control.
“It’s the ultimate goal, the one I want to achieve while I’m still in college,” Watson said. “That’s the biggest stage. Everything I went through on and off the field, growing up and getting to this point, prepared me for this moment.”
And that extra little nudge from the Heisman voters doesn’t hurt either.
–Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports