Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson joined a growing list of Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award winners who have led their team into the heat of the national championship race in recent seasons.
Watson, named the O’Brien recipient at Thursday’s Home Depot College Football Awards show, followed in the footsteps of the past two honorees: Florida State’s Jameis Winston (2013) and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (2014). The others led teams that played in college football’s last two national championship games, with Winston directing the Seminoles to a national title in 2013. Watson soon may follow suit.
Watson, a sophomore who finished ahead of TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield in balloting for the honor, has led top-ranked Clemson (13-0) to the lone undefeated record among the nation’s FBS teams this season. The Tigers are the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff and will face No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in their CFP semifinal matchup, Dec. 31 at the Orange Bowl.
Watson ranks ninth nationally among FBS players in total offense this season, averaging 338.4 yards a game. A 69.5 percent passer, he has completed 287 of 413 passes for 3,512 yards with 30 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He holds a pass-efficiency rating of 159.6, which ranks 11th among the nation’s FBS quarterbacks.
Among the finalists, Watson trailed both Mayfield (178.9 rating) and Boykin (161.5) in pass efficiency but had the highest overall completion percentage. He also rushed for 887 yards (5.4 per carry) and 11 touchdowns, leading the finalists in both of those categories while leading Clemson into the playoffs.
“It means a lot being the first player at Clemson to receive this award and be able to bring it back home,” said Watson, whose freshman season was cut short last year because of a knee injury. “No one can take this away from me. Last year, I thought if I’d stayed healthy, I’d have the opportunity to do the same thing as a freshman. That’s just the type of person that I am. I’m very confident in my skill set.”
Watson will be honored Feb. 15, during a formal presentation at the Fort Worth Club.
Boykin, a senior, was an O’Brien finalist for the second consecutive season. Watson’s triumph, based on ballots cast by more than 100 members of the O’Brien selection committee and online votes from college football fans, means that no TCU quarterback has captured the honor named for the Horned Frogs’ only Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. O’Brien led TCU to the 1938 national championship.
During a news conference with the four coaches leading teams in the College Football Playoff, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said this year’s Sooners rank “at the top” of his list of teams he has been proudest of during his tenure in Norman, Okla.
“I don’t think I’ve had a team that changed from the first week to the last four or five weeks as much as this one,” said Stoops, whose team has won seven consecutive games since losing to Texas 24-17 on Oct. 10 in Dallas. “They grew, they matured. And that really just exploded into everything that we’re doing.”
Moving on up
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose top-ranked Tigers (13-0) meet No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31, joked that college football fans probably consider his school a misfit in the playoff field with more established programs from OU, No. 2 Alabama (12-1) and No. 3 Michigan State (12-1).
“We’re kind of that redneck that moved into the nice neighborhood and everybody’s going, ‘Where’d you come from?,’ ” Swinney said. “But Clemson belongs. We’re 13-0. We’ve played on a big stage all year.”