Boyd, Watkins, Ellington take aim at Heisman

Boyd, Watkins, Ellington take aim at Heisman

Published Jun. 5, 2012 8:39 a.m. ET

Few teams in college football return a trio quite like the one that will light up the scoreboard in Death Valley this fall.

triumvirate of quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington, and
wide receiver Sammy Watkins were extraordinarily prolific last season.
Now, as each is a year more experienced, they should produce even more.

who will be a junior, led the ACC in passing with 3,828 yards. He also
threw 33 touchdowns passes against 12 interceptions. Boyd also scored
five rushing touchdowns.

Ellington was fifth in the ACC rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 scores. He also caught 22 passes.

a true freshman, Watkins was third in the ACC in receiving with 82
receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also carried the ball
in a variety of ways 31 times for 229 yards.

With Boyd and
Watkins getting so much attention, Ellington may not be on the
early-season radar for the Heisman Trophy, but he’d make the list if he
played for any other high-profile teams. Watkins goes without saying,
though nobody yet knows the outcome of a recent arrest that could impact
his availability in the first week or two of the season.

really begins with Boyd, however. He’s the quarterback, he’s the leader,
and he’s the guy Dabo Swinney envisioned building an offense around
when he recruited Boyd from the Tidewater area in Virginia a few years

Boyd was sensational through the first eight games last
season, all victories for the Tigers, which had them ascend to the No. 5
spot in the BCS standings. But he struggled taking care of the ball to
close out the season which has been a point of emphasis this spring.

did do a lot of good things last year, and you never want to minimize
that,” Swinney said. “But we’re trying to be great, and he wants to be
great, and it’s a tough position to play.

“But there’s a lot of
room for improvement for Tajh Boyd. Number one is ball security. He led
our team in turnovers, and he did such a great job through those first
eight games, and then all of a sudden he started freelancing and playing
outside the system and forcing things and just not doing as good a job
of managing the game.”

Boyd still helped lead Clemson to an ACC
championship and its first Orange Bowl appearance since it won the
national championship 30 years earlier. Had Boyd remained within the
system and continued his excellent play, the Tigers could have made a
push for the national title and he could have earned an invitation to
New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

Boyd completed 63
percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and three interceptions over
the first eight games, but was at just 55.2 percent with nine scoring
tosses and nine interceptions over the final six, which includes the ACC
title game and the Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia.

“Part of
that is just experience and having played and been there now and
knowledge of the system in year two and staying within the system,”
Swinney said. “When we had some issues with Tajh last year, a lot of it
was where he would get outside what we asked him to do. So just being a
little bit more disciplined as a quarterback is going to be huge.”

burst onto the scene to elevate the explosiveness the Clemson staff
expected. The team already had tight end Dwayne Allen, who’s now in the
NFL, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who finished the campaign with 62

In addition to the aforementioned numbers, Watkins
also returned 26 kickoffs for an average of 26.3 yards, including one
that went 89 yards for a score. Needless to say, the ultra-fast rookie
was a fan favorite by the time he lit up Florida State’s defense in a
late-September victory that rocketed the Tigers in the national

Ellington is reliable and should continue to
progress. He was the returning skill guy last season and he shows no
signs of slowing down. Growth by Boyd and Watkins will only help
Ellington improve his capability.

If so, and Clemson’s defense
improves enough that the Tigers are among the top-10 entering November,
either Boyd, Ellington or Watkins could be in the hunt for the sport’s
most prestigious honor. Boyd and Watkins are the best bets, but
Ellington’s presence can’t be discounted.

It should be a fun ride.