Dabo Swiney’s Track Record With First Year Starting Quarterbacks

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As everyone knows, this Clemson team will look a little different without Trevor Lawrence under center, as D.J. Uiagalelei will take over at quarterback this year.  We got a glimpse of what D.J. can do last year in a close win over Boston College where he threw for 342 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed for another and, in what I would consider the game of the year, and a double OT loss to Notre Dame where he threw for 439 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for another.  It should be no concern of Clemson fans for the team to be in Uiagalelei’s hands as proven by his brief appearances last year. He is the second highest quarterback recruit ever for Dabo Swiney, after only Trevor Lawrence. But let’s look at Dabo’s history of seasons with a first time starting QB.

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2009: Kyle Parker, FR, 4-Star QB

This was Dabo’s first full season as head coach at Clemson and Kyle Parker won the job as a freshman over sophomore Willy Korn and junior Michael Wade.  Parker threw for just over 2500 yards and 20 touchdowns that year. Clemson went 8-4 in the regular season, 6-2 in the ACC and won the Atlantic division title.  They lost a close one 39-34 to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game and finished the season ranked 24th in the AP Poll after a 21-13 win over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.

2011: Tajh Boyd, SO, 5-Star QB

A few years into Dabo’s tenure and this is when things started to heat up. By 2011 Dabo started to have his own recruits in the program.  Tajh Boyd was the only true option at QB for the Tigers in 2011, and Tigers fans loved watching him play. Boyd had an impressive first year at QB, throwing for over 3800 yards and 33 touchdowns, while rushing for over 200 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Clemson finished the regular season 9-3 and again won the Atlantic division and defeated Virginia Tech solidly in the ACC championship 38-10, giving Dabo his first ACC title. Clemson would go on to lose the Orange Bowl embarrassingly to West Virginia 70-33 where Geno Smith and Tavon Austin could not be stopped. Most of us Tiger fans try to forget that game. Clemson finished 22nd in the AP Poll.

2014: Cole Stoudt, SR, 3-Star QB

This was a weird year where Cole Stoudt was the starting QB for the first two games. However, by Week 3 Deshaun Watson was named the starter, only for Dabo to go back to Stoudt mid way through the season.  Stoudt finished the season with only 1892 yards and 9 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.  Watson however finished with 1466 yards and 14 touchdowns to 2 interceptions despite playing fewer games.  Clemson finished the regular season 9-3 but did not make it to the ACC title game this year and closed out at 15th in the AP Poll after a decisive 40-6 win over Oklahoma in the Russel Athletic Bowl.

2015: Deshaun Watson, SO, 4-Star QB

The following year, it was clear Deshaun Watson was the man, and he started from Day 1. Watson had a monster year, finishing 3rd in Heisman voting, with over 4100 yards and 35 touchdowns to go along with 1105 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Clemson won the ACC title over North Carolina and then went to beat Oklahoma in Year 2 of the new College Football Playoff in the Orange Bowl semifinals before losing to Alabama in the national championship in a thriller, 45-40. Clemson finished 2nd in the AP Poll and Dabo’s dynasty was underway.

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2017: Kelly Bryant, JR, 3-Star QB

After Deshaun Watson’s departure, Kelly Bryant won the job over three freshmen and had a solid year.  He threw for 2802 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Although his stats were not as impressive as his predecessor, Bryant still led the 2017 team to an ACC championship over Miami in a game that wasn’t even close, before eventually losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which served as a semifinal site for the College Football Playoff. The Tigers finished 4th in the AP poll.

2018: Trevor Lawrence, FR, 5-Star QB

After winning the job over freshmen in 2017, Bryant lost the job to an incoming freshman in 2018 named Trevor Lawrence.  Lawrence came in and immediately showed why he was the #1 recruit in the country. He threw for 3280 yards and 30 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. Clemson had a perfect year going 15-0 with a win over Pitt in the ACC Championship, a win over Notre Dame in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff at the Cotton Bowl and then finally a win over Alabama in the national championship and a first place finish in the AP Poll.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

So can Dabo recreate these very successful years with a new QB again this season? I see absolutely no reason why not.  D.J. is going to be very good, as evident by his play last year and the defense will be stacked with as much talent as it ever has. So there is a great chance that we’ll see the Tigers in Indianapolis raising that trophy again.