Clemson football features 2 Heisman Trophy contenders

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Clemson football is one of college football’s powerhouse programs. Since 2015, the Tigers haven’t missed the College Football Playoff. Under the guidance of head coach Dabo Swinney, the program blossomed from a lovable underdog to a charismatic giant that produces Heisman candidates annually.

Part of Clemson’s transformation was the arrival of superstar players that revolutionized the program’s ranks. At the moment, Clemson boasts arguably the best quarterback-running back duo in college football. Trevor Lawrence is the future first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, while Travis Etienne has one of the best résumés for a running back in FBS history.

Etienne and Lawrence have their eyes set on winning their second National Championship together, but the two stars could pick up some extra hardware along the way. Etienne averaged 1,891 yards from scrimmage and 24 total touchdowns per year over the past two seasons. That’s why he won the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year awards in 2018 and 2019. Lamar Jackson is the only other player to win both awards twice.

If Etienne becomes the first player to win either award three times and doesn’t finish in the top five for the Heisman voting, it would be astounding. As for Lawrence, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound quarterback hasn’t won a nationally recognized individual award yet. However, he finished seventh in the Heisman voting last year after throwing for 3,665 yards and 36 touchdowns. The surprisingly mobile quarterback also ran for 563 yards and nine more scores.

The Clemson products also benefit from the COVID-19 altered season. The pandemic led to the Big Ten initially canceling the fall season, but the conference recently reversed course. However, Big Ten football doesn’t return until the weekend of Oct. 24. That puts Justin Fields, Ohio State’s quarterback and leading Heisman candidate, behind the eight ball.

According to CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee, Fields was the projected Heisman favorite with 7/2 odds in February. Lawrence ranked second with 4-1 odds while Etienne tied for eighth with 25-1 odds. He and Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard were the top running backs.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the season, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase opted out and turned his attention toward the NFL Draft. While a wide receiver isn’t likely to win the Heisman, Chase recorded 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. With those numbers, it’s no wonder he won the Fred Biletnikoff Award. Georgia quarterback Jamie Newman, a dark horse Heisman candidate, also decided to sit out the season.

Despite so much pointing in favor of Clemson’s Heisman hopefuls, including an easy strength of schedule, college football’s greatest individual honor could elude both of them. Clemson is single-minded in its focus on winning a championship this year, which means Swinney’s team won’t take unnecessary risks with its stars.

When Clemson builds big leads against weak opponents, the team pulls its starters. Sometimes this happens at the end of the third quarter, but Swinney has pulled Etienne and Lawrence by halftime in the past. These precautionary measures pay off in the long run, but they don’t help build Heisman cases. Based on Clemson’s schedule, Etienne and Lawrence should have a lot of early exits this year.

Etienne and Lawrence will do anything to win another national championship, even if it means forfeiting their shots at the Heisman Trophy.