Deshaun Watson is a Heisman frontrunner in the preseason. Here’s what he will have to do to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
It’s an interesting question – would Deshaun Watson have won the Heisman if the voting was done after the season?
Probably not, even though he lit up Alabama with a scintillating performance in the national title loss, throwing for 405 yards and rushing for 73 more. Derrick Henry was great in the championship, too, and Christian McCaffrey had a historic day in the Rose Bowl win over Iowa, but Watson would’ve made a great case.
Going into this year, McCaffrey is back, as are Baker Mayfield – who finished fourth – and Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook in a crowded Heisman field. But Watson will be everyone’s favorite going into the season with a potentially devastating offense, and the talent to put up the numbers worth of the award.
What’s it going to take for Watson to win the Heisman?
Step One: Stay healthy
It was the one big concern last season, and he turned out to be just fine – could he get through the season in one piece? When he was right, he was one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers showing off the running ability to glide his way to big plays, while looking like Aaron Rodgers when needed as a pinpoint accurate passer. But early in his career he suffered a torn ACL and had to fight through a slew of other injuries. Not built to take a pounding, he must stay on the field.
An intelligent player, he’s not going to put himself in harm’s way. He’s also tough enough to fight through the ticky-tack problems, but he’ll be targeted more than ever now.
Step Two: Survive Auburn
Specifically, Watson must avoid potential pass-rushing terror Carl Lawson from wearing him as a hat.
Auburn only came up with 19 sacks last season, but the defense has its star – Lawson – back on the outside. If this offseason was any indication, the pressure is going to be ramped up in a huge way from the entire Tiger defense.
Considering the atmosphere, the pressure on Auburn, and the attention paid to season openers, Watson must fight through the emotion and be the best player on the field – that shouldn’t be a problem.
Step Three: Survive Georgia Tech
This game has all the makings of a nightmare. It’s the ACC opener against a much, much better Georgia Tech team from a year ago. It’s on a Thursday night and comes with just five days to prepare after facing South Carolina State. Watson was brilliant in last year’s 43-24 win, hitting 70% of his throws for 265 yards and two scores, but he was held in check by the Yellow Jacket run defense. In the Heisman race, this is a nationally televised opportunity to crank up the campaign in a dangerous road environment.
Step Four: Roll through October
This is the when the Heisman run will be made or broken. Clemson is better than Auburn, and it’s far better than Georgia Tech, but the campaign is over if he and the Tigers lose either one of those two. So assuming they get through September without a problem, they’ll have to get ready to deal with a brutal October and do it cleanly.
Louisville is fantastic, and six days later, it’s on to Boston College to deal with a tough-as-nails defense that should be among the best in the ACC. On the plus side, there’s an extra day to rest up and prepare for NC State, and then comes the two-week break before going to Florida State. It might be this simple – lose to Seminoles, lose the Heisman. But get to November 8-0, and Watson should be able to enjoy a coronation through a relatively easy final month.
Step Five: Ease though November
Yeah, Syracuse won’t be bad, Pitt should be pretty good, and Wake Forest is the best it’s been in years, but compared to October, the first three months of November are a light and gentle breeze. The regular season finale against South Carolina will be tough, but it’s a home game in Death Valley and Watson should have at least a finalist spot all sewn up if he gets a win and the Tigers are 12-0. To win the Heisman, though, he has to …
Step Six: Be phenomenal in the ACC championship
He ran for 131 yards and two scores in the shootout win over North Carolina in last year’s ACC title game, and he cranked up 289 yards through the air with three touchdowns. It was his final Heisman statement at the end of an outstanding season, but Derrick Henry was coming off a 271-yard day against Auburn and rumbled on the great Florida defense for 189 yards and a score in the SEC championship. If Clemson is 13-0 and off to the CFP again, and Watson puts up numbers like he did last year, it’ll be next to impossible to keep him from taking the trophy.
Will Deshaun Watson win the Heisman?
He’ll come close. Unlike last season, Clemson won’t be unscathed in the regular season again, and if it’s not the ACC champion and it’s not off to the CFP, there won’t be a Heisman. As long as he’s able to last the season and doesn’t get banged up, he’ll be too good in the loaded offense to not end up in New York City. To actually win, he’ll have to be close to perfect, and he’ll come up just short.