CLEMSON, S.C. — Forget Clemson’s front four of potential NFL draft picks or its talented group of young wide receivers. The loudest cheers at Death Valley in Saturday’s opener might be for the second-ranked Tigers backup quarterback.
Many who follow Clemson have awaited the chance to see long-haired, strong-armed Trevor Lawrence o n the field when it counts.
No matter that the 6-foot-6 Lawrence lost the starting job to returning senior Kelly Bryant, the freshman remains the X-factor to another national title. Lawrence is expected to see his first college action when Clemson starts against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Furman.
“Kelly has earned the right to be the starter,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said this week. “But Trevor has earned the right to play and continue to compete. It’s going to be exciting to see.”
Furman seems like a soft starting spot for Bryant, Lawrence and third-stringer Chase Brice ahead of bigger games.
Count on more fan excitement if Lawrence puts on a show like he did at the spring game last April when he went 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards, including a pitch-perfect, 50-yard scoring pass to Tee Higgins.
Bryant worked hard throughout the offseason to maintain the spot he’d won a year ago by out-dueling five-star passer in Hunter Johnson, who has since transferred to Northwester.
Those on the outside, though, see Lawrence’s tight spirals, quick command of the offense and pedigree — he broke the Georgia prep passing marks for passing yards and TDs previously held by Clemson national title game hero Deshaun Watson — as reasons to play now.
Not so fast, Swinney says.
“I always laugh when people (say) that we just give people stuff. It’s just laughable. We wouldn’t last very long here if that was the case. You have to earn it,” Swinney said. “And especially if you’re a young guy trying to beat out a starter.”
Still, Lawrence brings back memories of Watson’s freshman season in 2014. He led a touchdown drive in his first college series at Georgia, then came two games later at Florida State to take the job for good.
Two seasons later, the Tigers were on top of college football.
“It’s different circumstances and a different competitive situation,” Swinney said.
Things to watch when No. 2 Clemson plays Furman:
WHOSE TEAM IS HE ON?: Furman quarterback Harris Roberts is a full-time Clemson student finishing up an engineering degree that began with three years at Furman and his last two at Clemson. Roberts was Furman’s backup passer last year and, if healthy, will likely see action inside the stadium where he often parks his car on class days.
FRONT FOUR: Clemson’s defensive front is expected to be one of the most dominant in college football this season with NFL scouts watching the group’s every move. Ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence all figure to be high-round pro picks next fall.
READY ETIENNE: Travis Etienne was Clemson’s surprise rushing leader as a freshman. The 202-pound sophomore with breakaway speed appears ready to build on that promise this fall. Running backs coach Tony Elliott said Etienne has taken more ownership of the position and has worked to overcome some of the freshman mistakes he was prone to make last year.
RUN, RUN, RUN: Furman coach Clay Hendrix came from Air Force and brought a relentless option attack to the Paladins, who used it to go 8-4 in 2017 and reach the NCAA FCS playoffs. Count on Furman to stick to the ground game to try and shorten the game against the explosive Tigers.
FCS PERFECTION: Clemson is 32-0 all time against FCS opponents since the classification was created before the 1978 season. The Tigers also have not lost to Furman since FDR was in office, a streak that has reached 30 in a row.
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