The Great Debate: Deshaun Watson Or Trevor Lawrence

It’s one of those never ending debates among the Clemson fanbase. One in which there may be no right answer.

Many have tried to compare two of Clemson’s best quarterbacks ever. Now that both have completed their careers as Tigers let’s take a look back at their careers.

During Watson’s three years at Clemson he went 33-5. This included back-to-back 14-1 seasons (2015 and 2016). Watson and the Tigers ended the 2015 regular season 14-0 and reached Clemson’s first College Football Playoff. Their only loss that season came at the hands of Alabama (45-40) in the national championship game.

The next season though, Watson led the Tigers to an 11-1 regular season record and won the rematch with Alabama (35-31) in the national championship game that saw the quarterback lead Clemson to a last second, go ahead touchdown for the victory.

Watson ended his Clemson career with 814 completions for 10,168 yards, 90 touchdowns, and 32 interceptions. He also had 1,934 total yards and 26 touchdowns on 435 career rushes.

When he left as the 12th overall pick by the Houston Texans, he was responsible for one of 35 seasons in FBS history with at least 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards: 4,104 passing yards, 1,105 rushing yards (2015).

Watson is also first in Clemson history in total offense in a game (588 yards vs. Pittsburgh, Nov. 12, 2016), rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,105 yards in 2015), passing yards in a game (580 yards vs. Pittsburgh, Nov. 12, 2016), passing yards in a season (4,593 yards in 2016).

He was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing third in the 2015 balloting with 148 first-place votes and second in 2016 with 269 first-place votes. He was the first ACC player to finish in the top three of the voting on multiple occasions.

Watson was the first Clemson player to finish as high as second in the voting, and he was a two-time recipient of the Davey O’Brien Award (one of only four quarterbacks who can make that claim) and two-time winner of the Manning Award.

He also had a perfect record against the Tigers instate rival South Carolina (3-0), which included the win that ended the Gamecocks five game winning streak. A game he played on a torn ACL.

Then you have phenom Trevor Lawrence, who some were already comparing to Watson even before he made his first college start. Lawrence, like Watson, came out of Georgia and he too, didn’t disappoint. The former five-star quarterback started out his freshman season as the backup to Kelly Bryant but it did not take long for that to change.

In essence, his freshman season went from him backing up Bryant, to taking over the starting job, to him seeing Bryant transfer out mid season. It was a season that would have overwhelmed many, but not Lawrence.

Instead of letting the distractions cause disruption, he lead Clemson to the playoff, dismantling Alabama in the national championship and getting the Tigers their third national title. The Tigers finished that 2018 season as the first team to finish 15-0 in the modern era.

Lawrence then led Clemson to the playoff his sophomore and junior seasons as well. In his sophomore season the Tigers made it all the way to the national title game where they got beat by a loaded LSU team, led by the eventual number one overall pick Joe Burrow. This past season Lawrence and Clemson made it to the playoff again, where they again got beat by Ohio State 49-28 in the semifinal round.

Over Lawrence’s three year career at Clemson, he went 34-2 as a starter. That gives him the third best winning percentage (.944) by a starting quarterback with at least 30 career starts since Division I split in 1978, trailing only Miami’s Ken Dorsey (.950) and USC’s Matt Leinart (.949).

He is now the winningest starting quarterback in Clemson history with 34 career wins. That record was formerly held by Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd, and Deshaun Watson with 32.

He finished second in the 2020 Heisman Trophy voting with 222 first-place votes. This tied him with Watson for the highest finish in school history for the coveted award.

During Lawrence’s time as a Tiger he completed 758 of his 1,138 passes for 10,098 total yards, 90 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. He also rushed 231 times for 943 career rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. That was the fifth-most career rushing touchdowns by a Clemson quarterback in the modern era.

He finished his Tiger career undefeated as a starter in regular season play and never lost a regular season game at either the high school or collegiate levels. Lawrence made five career College Football Playoff starts, tying him with Jalen Hurts for the most by a quarterback and setting the record for the most at one school.

He also never lost to Clemson’s instate rival, going 2-0 against the Gamecocks and did this while being the face of not only the Tigers, but college football as a whole. 

As you can see, both of these young men have left their mark on Clemson, as well as college football. Rest assured, the debate about which of the two is the best Clemson quarterback will continue until the end of time.

Both did great things there. Deshaun did set the bar and, with Trevor only winning one national title, he held serve. Now the focus will shift to the next five-star DJ Uiagalelei, and fans will be anxious to see how soon head coach Dabo Swinney’s infamous quote, “the best is yet to come” rings true again.

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