Heisman Watchlist: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Since bursting onto the scene as a true freshman, Trevor Lawrence has been considered a Heisman favorite while manning the quarterback position for the Clemson Tigers. Although he wasn’t a finalist last season, in what is almost certainly his final collegiate season, Lawrence is again among the biggest favorites to bring home the hardware. Last year, Lawrence was done in by factors both in and out of his control; he was off to a slow start as Clemson muddled through the opening stages of their schedule, and a lack of high profile games in the ACC gave Lawrence few chances to impress against elite competition. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow put up one of the best seasons in college football history, and Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts also posted huge numbers. Throw in Chase Young’s monster campaign on the defensive side of the ball, and Lawrence was shut out of New York. He finished 7th in voting, also trailing a pair of Big 10 running backs in Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins.

However, entering 2020, five of the six players that garnered more votes than Lawrence last season are off to the NFL, leaving the Clemson signal-caller, with another complete season under his belt, as a natural favorite to contend for the Heisman.

What he needs to improve

To be a legitimate Heisman contender in 2020, Lawrence cannot afford to sleepwalk through an ACC schedule that is loaded with mediocrity that is extremely conducive to sleepwalking. Lawrence is obviously more focused on winning a national title than the Heisman, but even if Clemson doesn’t need him at full strength to run through their conference schedule, Lawrence will need to be locked in to put up stats that keep him on the radar of Heisman voters. Last year, Lawrence posted QB ratings of 63.7 (vs. Georgia Tech), 67.2 (@ UNC), and 58.0 (@ Louisville). Clemson dominated two of those games and escaped the Tar Heels, but Lawrence didn’t throw for more than 233 yards in any of those games against middle-of-the road competition, so despite the unblemished record, Lawrence was quickly discounted from Heisman consideration.

The last two Heisman winners – Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray – were noted for both their outstanding numbers and remarkable consistency. Burrow had one QBR of 73.8, and no other performances that checked in below 85.0. Murray’s worst performance featured a 78.2 rating, and only one other effort under 90.0. If Lawrence is to beat out Justin Fields and other elite competitors for the award, he will need to cut down on his lackluster efforts and simply dominate the inferior competition in the ACC, week in and week out.

Best “Heisman Moment” Opportunity

@ Notre Dame, November 7

This is the only correct answer to this question. Last year, Clemson’s regular season slate did not include a single team that finished the year in the Top 25. This year, barring a collapse beyond even normal Notre Dame standards, that will change, as Clemson’s road trip to South Bend serves as their most difficult game of the year by far. A big performance here combined with a solid showing in ACC play will go a long way towards earning Lawrence a spot in New York in December. If Lawrence posts anything less than great numbers against the Irish, it will be difficult to rebound given the lack of quality opponents on their schedule. Beating Notre Dame on their home field, where the Irish haven’t lost since Week 2 of 2017, would be massive, both for Clemson and for Lawrence’s Heisman hopes.

Game Most Likely To Ruin Heisman Chances

@ Florida State, October 10

If I could simply say “The ACC”, I would. While Fields will get multiple shots at Heisman moments against a loaded Big 10 slate, Lawrence gets his one chance at Notre Dame, and then a bevy of games where he will be tasked with putting up big numbers on bad teams. Florida State is not a legitimate threat for the ACC Championship this year. They’ve really struggled recently, and most projections have them topping out third in their division, behind Clemson and Louisville. Florida State is unlikely to be a ranked team, which makes Clemson’s road trip to Doak Campbell Stadium a real trap game. Clemson is just 5-12 in true road games against FSU in program history, despite winning in their last two trips. Clemson has won the last three clashes between these squads by at least 17 points, but, beyond their trip to Notre Dame, this is Clemson’s toughest road game of the year, and a bad performance, or a loss, here will destroy Lawrence’s chances.

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