The college football world is about to discover DeAndre Hopkins.
With Clemson coach Dabo Swinney suspending star wide receiver Sammy Watkins for two games stemming from an arrest this past summer, Hopkins will step into the crucial go-to role in the Tigers’ season opener versus No. 25 Auburn in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 1.
Watkins was recently voted the ACC’s preseason Player of the Year because of the incredible freshman season he put forth a year ago. Watkins hauled in 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also was first-team All-American as an all-purpose player, as he registered 826 kick return yards, including one that went 89 yards late in a wild win at Maryland. It put Clemson ahead to stay with seven minutes left.
“When you talk about consistency, he is the epitome of consistency,” Swinney said about Hopkins.
Hopkins doesn’t need to return kicks to make an impact in the opener, he just needs to be himself. Swinney called him the MVP of spring practice.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Hopkins hauled in 521 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, Hopkins grabbed 72 passes for 978 yards and five scores.
Against SEC defense, especially one with revenge on its mind, Hopkins must play at the top of his game. Watkins had 10 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns in Clemson’s 38-24 victory over Auburn a year ago. Hopkins may need to produce similar numbers in next month’s game if the purple Tigers are to notch a victory.
No Heisman For Watkins
With his suspension for the first two games of the season, which includes the opener versus Auburn and following week against Ball State, Sammy Watkins can forget about winning or even contending for the Heisman Trophy this season.
Having two fewer games to rack up stats will significantly hurt his cause, but perhaps his candidacy will be more impacted by why he will miss two games.
Watkins was arrested in May and charged with, among other things, possession of a controlled substance. Swinney said at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro last month that Watkins had done everything he had asked since the arrest, and it seemed as if Watkins may escape missing any game action at all.
After all, it’s entirely possible Swinney has made the sophomore wide receiver run until he vomits at 5 a.m. just about every day for a long stretch. In some respects, that would have probably been fair enough. But this is a strong statement by Swinney, and might indicate Watkins may not have been in full compliance in recent weeks. Or it’s what Swinney said it was: He was trying to send a life message to his talented player.
It is also doubtful Heisman voters will cast votes for someone suspended for the reasons that shelved Watkins.
More ACC Discipline
Talented bad boys getting severely punished in the conference began earlier in the week when Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had finally had enough of cornerback and punt returner Greg Reid’s antics.
Reid has had issues in three-plus years in Tallahassee, and Fisher kicked him off the team for violating team rules. It could’ve been any number of things he did, and really doesn’t matter. Fisher wouldn’t have been hasty about such a move, it’s likely it was deserved.
This move greatly affects the Seminoles, who will begin the season ranked in the top-10 and are considered possible national championship contenders.
Reid is an amazing talent capable of changing a game on a single play. He carries a swagger that can be infectious in the right way, and he’s developed chemistry with FSU’s other secondary mates.
A preseason candidate for the Paul Hornung Award, which is presented to the most versatile player in major college football, Reid regaistered 32 tackles last season and defended and broke up seven and five passes, respectively. He was also closing in on Deion Sanders’ all-time school mark for punt return yards.
Sophomore Nick Waisome ended spring ball second behind Reid on the depth chart at the boundary corner spot. Waisome played as a true freshman a year ago, but mostly on special teams.
Since Rashad Greene was the only Seminole other than Reid to return a punt last season he may get a look. But he’s also the team’s top receiver, and that may be too much for him. After Greene, one of the fascinating battles in camp will be who ends up winning the punt return job.
The loss of Reid is significant, but it’s even more so when considering the replacements at both positions he impacted will have no real experience.