CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson quarterback and Gainesville native Deshaun Watson believes he is the best player in the country no matter what the Heisman Trophy voters say.
Watson finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s rise also meant Watson did not repeat even as first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney agrees with Watson that he should have won the Heisman Trophy.
Swinney said Heisman voters likely were numbed by Watson’s amazing play over three years.
The quarterback is excited that his chief goal in college — winning the national championship — is still out there. The Tigers (12-1, No. 2 CFP) play Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31 in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff.
Watson, his coach and his teammates think the voters for the Heisman and the all-conference teams got it wrong when it comes to the Clemson QB.
“I’m the best player in the country. That’s how I think. That’s how I feel. People have their own way of voting,” Watson said Monday as Clemson wraps up its first week of practice before playing Ohio State.
Watson finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting this year, one spot better than 2015. But Jackson won the award, and knocked Watson out of first-team Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback as well — two disappointing blows to a driven competitor like Watson.
Though his losses weren’t caused as much by a slide in his own play as Jackson’s remarkable season.
Watson’s 2016 stats are similar to his 2015 numbers in almost every category. He has thrown two more interceptions in two fewer games, but he also has thrown just four fewer passes so far this year than in 2015 for the Tigers (12-1, No. 2 CFP).
Swinney said the Heisman Trophy has been watered down as voters get swayed by the player who suddenly bursts on the scene and misses out on players like Watson, who are consistently good over a career.
“I think Deshaun is so good, people are numb to it,” Swinney said.
Both Watson and Swinney say they aren’t knocking Jackson’s talent and they understand how he won. But unlike Jackson, who only has the Citrus Bowl against LSU left before his season ends, Watson hopes to be play two more games and achieve the ultimate goal he had when arriving Clemson from Gainesville.
“You could put the national championship trophy and the Heisman, he wouldn’t think twice about which one to pick, Swinney said
The championship is what Watson would talk about when he used his key to unlock Clemson’s indoor practice facility late at night and throw balls to rehabilitating receiver Mike Williams during the offseason.
“He knows he is the best player in the country. He doesn’t need a trophy to say that,” Williams said.
And while the voters might have rejected Watson, the people who know football will validate his talent when he enters the NFL draft, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
“As soon as this season is over, the scouts, GMs, head coaches and offensive coordinators will start speaking with Deshaun and he is going to go straight back to the top,” Scott said.
Swinney said Watson showed his leadership by taking full advantage of the experience of being a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist without letting the third-place finish in 2015 and the second-place finish in 2016 get to him.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed. But he hasn’t expressed that at all,” Swinney said.
Watson said he is proud of his career no matter how the next game (or two) turns out. He wore this year’s ACC championship hat to during interviews on Monday and is aware of how he took a Clemson team on the cusp of being a national contender to join Alabama as the only back-to-back playoff teams. The Tigers also won two straight ACC titles for the first time in 28 seasons.
Watson has the same cool demeanor responding to questions about what his college career will mean without a national title as he has had about not winning the Heisman. But his quiet words point out how much a fourth loss of his college career will hurt.
“I’ve already experienced not getting it — felt how big that was,” Watson said.