Last chance: Can Clemson's Trevor Lawrence still win the Heisman?

Scott Keepfer
Greenville News

In a college football season defined by COVID-19, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the pandemic would have an impact on the chase for the Heisman Trophy.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the prohibitive favorite to win college football’s most prestigious award when the season kicked off in early September, missed two games after contracting COVID in late October.

While sidelined for a win against Boston College and a two-overtime loss at Notre Dame, Lawrence was overtaken in the Heisman pecking order by fellow quarterbacks Mac Jones of Alabama and Kyle Trask of Florida.

With the postponement and eventual cancellation of Clemson’s game at Florida State on Nov. 21, Lawrence has played in only two games since Oct. 24, further damaging his Heisman hopes.

Suffice to say his odds of becoming the first player in Clemson history to win the Heisman have taken a direct hit. Lawrence was a distant fourth in the latest USA TODAY Sports Network weekly Heisman survey, trailing Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.

So does Lawrence still have a shot?

With Heisman voting pushed back on the calendar this year, Lawrence will have one more opportunity to impress the voters when he leads No. 3 Clemson against No. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday afternoon.

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The Heisman voting deadline is Monday, and finalists will be announced on Dec. 24. The Heisman presentation ceremony – which will be conducted virtually – is set for Jan. 5.

While Lawrence may trail for the Heisman, he’s the unquestioned leader in the 2021 NFL Draft clubhouse.

“I would say even if Trevor doesn’t win the Heisman, he’ll still be the No. 1 player taken,” said E.J. Manuel, a former Florida State and NFL quarterback who works as an analyst for the ACC Network. “A lot of times football is a ‘What have you done for me lately?’ deal.

“If you don’t play or if you’re not available, sometimes you’re forgotten, but as someone who has seen Trevor pretty much since his freshman year I still think he’ll be the No. 1 draft pick.”

Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei is set to take over for Trevor Lawrence as starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney emphatically supports Manuel’s opinion.

“I mean I don’t really care what anybody says and there’s a lot of great players out there, but the best player in the country is Trevor Lawrence – that’s just the way it is,” Swinney said. “He doesn’t need to win the Heisman for that to be the case; most logical people out there know that. That’s why he’ll be the first pick in the draft, and it won’t be close.”

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Swinney isn’t the only coach on the Lawrence bandwagon.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, whose team was torched for 403 yards and two touchdowns by Lawrence in the Tigers’ 52-17 victory on Nov. 28, would cast his vote for Lawrence if he had one.

“I would say he’s your Heisman Trophy guy,” Narduzzi said. “Went through COVID, all of a sudden he slips. I don’t understand how that works. We’re in a pandemic and he shouldn’t lose any votes for Heisman because he didn’t play in a couple games because of COVID.

“It wasn’t like he made a bad decision and got whacked in the backfield and went down and threw a pick at the same time. His play on the field speaks for itself.”

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There’s little question that the Heisman has become a statistical battleground. Lawrence has completed 69.2% of his passes for 2,431 yards, 20 touchdowns and three interceptions in eight games this season while also rushing for six touchdowns, but ranks behind Jones and Trask in most statistical categories.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones rolls out to pass against Western Carolina during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Lawrence, who is 33-1 as a starter at Clemson, has missed plenty of playing time even when healthy, seldom playing more than a series into the third quarter in most of the Tigers’ victories.

“If our goal was for him to win the Heisman, he’d be leading for the Heisman right now,” Swinney said. “No doubt about that. But that’s not our goal. Our goal is just to win the game.

“This is not a program built on individual things. We’re built on team. The trophy we want to win is the team trophy.”

That’s Lawrence’s oft-repeated goal as well.

One gets the sense that remaining in the hunt for a third national title in five years would be more than enough consolation for a not holding a Heisman on Jan. 5.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence(16) scrambles out of the pockets during during the first quarter of the NCAA football game between the Clemson Tigers and Pitt Panthers on November 28, 2020: at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC. (Photo by Carl Ackerman)

“No award is going to change how I feel or the confidence I have,” Lawrence said. “I’m just here to play football and do what I love. The biggest thing is just staying focused on this team.

“I’ve never been one to really care that much about awards. It would be an honor to be in the running for the Heisman, but honestly if I don’t win it, the world’s not going to stop, so it’s really not the biggest deal to me.”