In what was an instant classic in the truest sense of the word, Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson and the second-ranked Clemson Tigers avenged their 45-40 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide with a 35-31 win to claim the school’s second national title and first since 1981.
Clemson, who defeated the last two College Football Playoff champions in Ohio State (2014) by a 31-0 shutout and Alabama (2015) in a nail-biting thriller, secured the Tigers first football title in 35 years and their first win over Alabama since 1905.
Watson, who came up short a year ago in Glendale, left no room for doubt late as he threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow—on a controversial pick play—with one second left finish the game by going 36-of-56 for 420 yards, three touchdowns, and rush for another 43 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
In what was a proverbial cherry on top for the 6’3 220-pound Gainesville, Georgia native and Heisman Trophy finalist, Watson seemed to struggle for much of the season with questions about his accuracy, durability and arm strength, put on a proverbial showcase of a clinic as to what he can do on Sundays for teams looking for a QB in being named Offensive Player Of The Game.
Going into the game, various mocks had Watson projected as a high-to-middle second round target, thanks to his Vince Young-like performance against maybe the best college football defense in a generation—and perhaps it’s greatest coach in the modern era in Nick Saban—that had five to six first rounders on it, showed the kind of moxie, determination and straight-up balled out on college football’s biggest stage.
Teams such as Cleveland—who own the top overall pick as well as the 12th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and need a franchise-type of QB—San Francisco at No.2 with Chip Kelly out and likely Colin Kaepernick as well, Chicago at No.3 with the star-crossed Jay Cutler era coming to an end, the New York Jets at No.6 who have issues identifying their QB and the Buffalo Bills at No.10 who may move on from Tyrod Taylor may be tempted to grab college football’s most accomplished quarterback over the last two years.
In what was perhaps the greatest college football game since the fabled BCS title game tilt between Texas and USC in the Rose Bowl, Watson not only silenced doubters, but may have boosted his draft stock on what was a night to remember down in Tampa.