Last week, former Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret tweeted Jim Brown, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson and Archie Griffin were named the top four players in college football history in conjunction with the 150-year history of the game last fall. Clemson running back Travis Etienne has more touchdowns (62) and yards per rush (7.8) than an all four, according to Bourret.
Does that mean Etienne is considered one of the greatest players in the history of college football? Probably not, but does it mean he could be the greatest player in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference?
Let’s just say he has a really good chance.
“(Bourret’s statistic) puts it completely and totally into perspective,” ACC Network host and personality Mark Packer said Tuesday on the Packer & Durham Show. “If Travis Etienne was playing all those games full throttle in the third and fourth quarter… my goodness, the numbers are spectacular.”
Despite playing in what Dabo Swinney added up to four less games in each of the last two years because Clemson has run over its ACC competition, Etienne has rushed for a Clemson record 4,038 yards the last three seasons. He has done it in just 518 carries.
Etienne’s 7.8 yards per carry currently ranks first in ACC history and he already owns the ACC record for rushing touchdowns (56) and total touchdowns. He is also just one of seven players (one of two at Clemson) to win ACC Player of the Year honors twice. He has an opportunity this season to be the first player in league history to win the award three times.
“It now puts him in the conversation with Ted Brown at NC State. It puts him in the conversation with the great running backs in ACC history,” said Wes Durham, who co-hosts the show Packer & Durham with Packer. “He is 564 yards away from eclipsing Ted Brown’s career rushing record in ACC history.
“I know it is going to be in less carries and less games and all of those things. But here is my question. Is Travis Etienne in the conversation for the greatest player in ACC Football history? To me, if he wins a third straight ACC Player of the Year in 2020, he is a lock.”
What makes Etienne such an elite player is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well. Last year, the senior caught 37 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns. All three numbers ranked third on the team in 2019 and were the most by a Clemson running back since C.J. Spiller in 2009.
“Now, some will say he did not do what Jameis Winston did or Lamar Jackson or whatever,” Durham said. “Do you have to have a Heisman Trophy to be one of the greatest players or the greatest player in ACC history? Is he already the best running back in ACC history? There is another question because I know the old school people are going to say look at Randy White.
“Randy White of Maryland in the 1970s was a dominant player in this league for two full seasons for sure and partial for a third. Travis Etienne, you can say three and a half if he has another year like he has had the previous two years.”
In his first three seasons at Clemson, Etienne is averaging 1,346 yards per season on the ground. If he matches his season average, it will put him near 5,400 career rushing yards. That would shatter Brown’s all-time ACC record of 4,602 yards which he set from 1975-’78 at NC State.
The 5-10, 210-pound running back is just 565 yards shy of breaking the ACC’s all-time rushing record and 795 yards short of becoming the all-time leader in yards from scrimmage.
“I think from a running back perspective, you can easily say, ‘You know what? That dude right there, number nine, with the tiger paw on his helmet, that is the best we have ever seen in this league running the football,” Packer said.
“I will say it again. Travis Etienne is the best running back this conference has ever seen, and the numbers don’t lie,” he continued. “But I think when you start talking about all-time players, he is on the short list. But again, he still has unfinished business. Let’s see what he does for his swansong, again, assuming we will have a season. The guy has been fantastic to watch. There is no question about it.”
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