It’s nearly impossible to win at the highest level in college football without a superstar quarterback. Count backwards with me the recent national championship quarterbacks: Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailola, Deshaun Watson, Jalen Hurts.
Over the last decade Clemson has been blessed with multiple generational quarterbacks. I hesitate to use the term generational, because well, that implies one in every 20 years or so and the Tigers have recently had a virtual conga line of fantastic signal callers.
Tajh Boyd is beloved by Tiger fans near and far and he passed for 6.8 miles - literally - in his 3 years at the helm in Tiger Town, but Clemson never quite got over the hump nationally with Boyd at the helm. There was no playoff in those days, but Tiger fans dreamed of...ACC Championships. Imagine that.
Clemson ascended when an all-timer in Deshaun Watson guided the Tigers to heights that were unimaginable just a few years earlier. How could it get better?
I’ll tell you how: Trevor Lawrence.
With the exception of the 2017 season, for the most part the Tigers have been quarterbacked by: Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.
D.J. Uiagalelei is next in line, in both pedigree and performance to date. Heading into 2021 Uiagalelei has somewhere between 2 and 4 years left in the program. (NCAA has allowed a “free” year in 2020 due to COVID-19).
Recruiting is a constant battle to manage rosters, scholarships and expectations of the recruits, especially with the transfer portal now a thing. Clemson’s staff has done a remarkable job in this instance, finding the next star quarterback with nearly impeccable timing and getting that superstar to understand his place in the program and patience while waiting their turn.
Boyd redshirted and then sat for most of his freshman season. Early on Watson spent time behind Cole Stoudt. Lawrence didn’t start until game 5 of his freshman season and Uiagalelei came across the country knowing full well he’d sit behind Lawrence for a season.
Recruiting and roster management is fluid and things change rapidly, especially in these times, but as 2021 dawns Clemson may need another generational quarterback as soon as the 2023 season depending on "Uiaungaleeli’s" development and desires. With all due respect to the quarterbacks currently on the roster or signed, the next star quarterback doesn’t appear to be a current Tiger or commitment. In fact, one could argue that Clemson is thin in the quarterback room for the first time in a while.
That’s the weird thing about recruiting: 2023 seems like both the distant future and right around the corner at the same time.
All indications are that the Tigers have identified the next guy in 2022 recruit Ty Simpson of Martin, Tennessee. Simpson may or may not be the next in a line of star quarterbacks at Clemson, but the coaching staff has to get him there first. That’s something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks, because if Simpson chooses somewhere other than Clemson the Tigers long, illustrious run could be in jeopardy.
If Clemson misses on Simpson in the 2022 cycle, the next guy theoretically could get to Clemson in January of 2023, but that’s not optimal. Neither Boyd, nor Watson, nor Lawrence started their first game as a true freshman, so that would be a huge ask. The safer bet is a year on campus, learning behind Uiagalelei.
Clemson was good prior to Watson’s arrival on campus. The Tigers took the next and eventually ultimate step when there was a generational quarterback on the field and they’ve been able to maintain that from Watson to Lawrence and most believe the run will continue with Uiagalelei.
As talent, depth and production at most positions have waxed and waned from time to time over the last decade the one constant for Clemson has been the quarterback - difference makers, superstars, all-timers, first overall pick in the NFL draft.
It’s what’s made Clemson a perennial playoff team and recent two time national champions. It’s the position you can’t afford to miss at. It’s the difference between good and great.
It’s the difference between contender and champion.
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