After watching D.J. Uiagalelei fill in for Trevor Lawrence on a couple of occasions last season, ESPN analyst Trevor Matich has seen enough to believe that Uiagalelei will take home the Heisman Trophy next season.
On ESPN’s College Football Live show on Friday, Matich made it clear how highly he thinks of Uiagalelei and his potential when he was asked to give a bold prediction for the 2021 college football season.
“Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei wins the Heisman Trophy,” Matich said.
Explaining his prediction, Matich referenced Clemson’s game at Notre Dame last November when Uiagalelei shined in his first career road start with Lawrence sidelined by COVID-19, completing 29-of-44 passes for 439 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go with a rushing score.
Uiagalelei’s 439 passing yards against the Irish were the third-most in a game in school history and broke the school freshman record of 435, set by Deshaun Watson against North Carolina in 2014. The 439 passing yards were also the most ever thrown against the Irish by an opposing quarterback, breaking the mark of 425 held by USC’s Carson Palmer in 2002
Looking ahead, Matich expects even more from Uiagalelei next season, when he will be a sophomore with valuable experience under his belt and have a talented group of wide receivers at his disposal – including Justyn Ross, who announced last month he is returning to Clemson for the 2021 season after missing all of the 2020 campaign following offseason spinal surgery.
“When Trevor Lawrence missed the Notre Dame game, Uiagalelei threw for over 400 yards against the Irish without enough experience to even know what opportunities he missed,” Matich said. “His receivers will be better next year.”
Uiagalelei showed what he is capable of in his other start last season, as well, against Boston College on Oct. 31 when he led the Tigers to the largest comeback in Memorial Stadium history (18 points), completing 30-of-41 passes for 342 yards with two passing touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing six times for 25 yards with a rushing touchdown.
With that performance against Boston College, Uiagalelei joined Deshaun Watson and Lawrence as the only true freshmen in Clemson history to win their starting debuts, and his 342 passing yards were the third-most by a Clemson freshman (true or redshirt) in his starting debut, trailing Watson’s 435 yards against North Carolina in 2014 and Charlie Whitehurst’s 420 yards against Duke in 2002.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers are also high on Uiagalelei’s chances of winning the 2021 Heisman Trophy. Recently, the DraftKings Sportsbook had Uiagalelei at +400 odds of earning the hardware, behind only Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler at +350.
Uiagalelei will have an opportunity for a Heisman moment at the outset of the 2021 season, when Clemson squares off against Georgia and fellow Heisman candidate J.T. Daniels in Charlotte on Sept. 4.