Watson vs. Jackson: Why Clemson-Louisville will determine CFB’s best quarterback


We’re a long ways away from the ACC Championship Game.

We’re a long ways away from the Heisman Trophy ceremony as well.

But, in a way, it feels as if they’re right around the corner.

That's because Saturday’s Louisville-Clemson matchup will have significant and perhaps lasting ramifications on who wins the ACC — we knew that going into the season — but also who will be considered the best quarterback in the nation.

That last part seemingly came out of nowhere.

We knew Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was going to be in the running for the Heisman Trophy this season, but Lamar Jackson has taken over the college football world with his absurd 25 touchdowns in four games. Jackson has spent so much time scoring, it’s amazing he found the time to throw three interceptions this year.

Jackson’s 25 touchdowns rank third nationally — amongst Division 1 teams. He’s scored one more touchdown than Alabama this season and 17 more than Stanford.

A third of the way through Louisville’s regular season, Jackson has already earned himself a spot in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. It’s his trophy to lose.

In fact, no one is even close to Jackson in the Heisman running right now.

That could change Saturday.

Watson entered the season as one of the favorites to win the Heisman — he led Clemson to the national championship game last season and his Tiger offense returned an abundance of talent around him.

But so far this season, the Tigers have been sluggish, particularly on offense. The disjointed performance (in a win) against Auburn in the season opener, followed by a down-to-the-wire win over Troy (yes, you read that right), dissolved the preseason confidence that followed the Tigers.

Last Thursday’s win over Georgia Tech, as dominant as it might have been, certainly didn’t re-establish that confidence.

The irony is that Clemson is 4-0 and Watson, who has been getting a good deal of grief for his performance so far this season, isn’t far off his pace from last year.

Saturday's game is a show-me contest — Watson can prove that the preseason hype was right.

Watson entered the year as college football’s top quarterback, but Jackson’s hot start has claimed the throne.

There's only one way to properly settle the debate over who is the best, and it comes Saturday.

A lot more will come with Saturday’s game as well — we know the ramifications of the contest will be large, but we might be underestimating the overall effect. This game is going to have coattails that go beyond Heisman talk.

A win for Clemson re-establishes them as the power in the ACC. They still have a contest at Florida State on Oct. 29, but for the better part of the month (barring a slip-up to Boston College or N.C. State) the Tigers will be in control of the ACC Atlantic. In a division that stacked, control is the best thing to have. They'll be able to control their own destiny.

But a win for Louisville looms larger — the Cardinals would have one foot in the College Football Playoff and would likely rise to No. 1 in the major polls if they can score the victory. From there, they’d have to hold serve until Nov. 17, where they’d play what could be a de-facto playoff game at Houston (a contest that will have no ramifications on the ACC title).

Everything that was proven against Florida State two weeks ago would be cemented.

That's heavy, but so will be Louisville's clout if they come out on top at Clemson.