GREENSBORO, N.C. - The two most recent Heisman Trophy winners were freshman quarterbacks who arrived on campus, quickly grabbed the starting position and loudly took the nation by storm.
Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and Jameis Winston at Florida State at least had the benefit of redshirting during the fall before their breakout years. Clemson's Deshaun Watson didn't arrive on campus until January, though he got 14 spring practices under his belt with Tajh Boyd nowhere in sight.
ACC Championship Votes
1. Florida State 104
2. Clemson 2
3. Virginia Tech 2
(First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Florida State (109) 780
2. Clemson (3) 660
3. Louisville 564
4. Syracuse 368
5. N.C. State 326
6. Boston College 301
7. Wake Forest 136
1. Miami (26) 614
2. Duke (33) 597
3. Virginia Tech (23) 571
4. North Carolina (27) 570
5. Georgia Tech (1) 322
6. Pittsburgh (2) 319
7. Virginia 142
Of course, there's the matter of veteran Cole Stoudt standing in Watson's way to stardom.
"He wants to go win the job, and Cole wants to keep the job," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff. "I think you've got a very competitive, healthy situation there."
That's the plan. Swinney will not redshirt Watson, a five-star prospect who stayed committed to Clemson for multiple years out of Gainesville (Ga.) High School, but he's also not in a hurry to give him the keys Manziel and Winston got right away.
"I think in a perfect world, definitely," Swinney said, asked if he's fine with Watson backing up Stoudt all of 2014.
"If everything went well, and Cole plays at the level we expect him to, that'd be great to be able to bring a young guy along like that, get him some good experience and not have to throw him in the fire. But you play the hand you're dealt."
Stoudt was named the starter April 14, the day Chad Kelly was dismissed from the program and five days after Watson cracked his collarbone in Clemson's final practice leading into the spring game.
"Cole earned the job, hands-down this spring, clearly," Swinney said. "He has done nothing to lose that. But he also knows that just because he was named the starter in the spring means he can go practice like a dog every day."
Stoudt (86-for-119, 72.3 percent, 742 yards, 8 TD, 1 INT) has a career passing efficiency score of 145.1 points, second only to Boyd among Clemson's all-time leaders. But there's an asterisk: a three-year backup to Boyd, Stoudt has never taken the field when the score was separated by less than 12 points.
The senior will have his chance when he leads Clemson between the hedges at Georgia Aug. 30.
"I know the quarterback is the face of the program," Stoudt said Sunday. "I knew there'd be pressure of people constantly looking at your every single move. But I don't want to be focused on what other people think of me. I know who I am, my teammates know who I am, and that's what I really care about."
Then there's Watson, who offensive coordinator Chad Morris has sworn will play in the opener. Swinney is less committal, indicating it's possible he'll be used situationally, or in a specific package for a series.
"I don't know right now. I think as we get closer to Georgia, I'll have a better feel," Swinney said. "Those are things all to be determined later when you get through fall camp and the scrimmages and see where he is.
"But I can tell you this: that guy came out of the gates sprinting back in January, and had an incredible spring."
As a contemporary who knows something about thriving as a rookie, Winston was complimentary of Watson's talent, but stopped short of gushing over a possible future foe.
"Well, he has to get on the field first," Winston said. "I've seen him play in high school, and I think he's an outstanding player.
"The main thing is influence. As a young quarterback, you have to earn that respect. At Florida State, they allowed me to come in and take that position."
That came after Winston watched from the sidelines in 2012, after which point E.J. Manuel was a first-round draft pick.
"I wish (Watson) the best of luck, because I've seen his game, I respect his game," Winston said. "But in college football, we don't worry about stars. We worry about wins and championships."
Watson weighed 182 pounds in January; Swinney said he's 204 today.
"He has taken to it like a fish to water. Not a very big learning curve, because he's been doing the mechanics of what we do since he was 14 years old," Swinney said. "I think Deshaun is way ahead of where Tajh was as a true freshman. It's not even close, just because of his background doing what we do.
"As far as how that translates to the season, I have no idea. All I know is we've got some good players at that position."
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