The race to replace record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd is on. The battle has ACC and national implications as the Tigers must put a competent starter on the field in order to have an inkling of hope of getting over the mountain that is Florida State. The Tigers’ offense ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring and total offense the previous two seasons, but those squads were led by Boyd and his crew of playmakers (most of which are gone as well). What will Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris do at the most important position? It’s early, but spring practice will go a long way to answering that question.
The senior has the most experience on the field and with Chad Morris’ offense in general. Although he received limited action backing-up Boyd the last three years, he played well when given the opportunity. Last season, he appeared in 8 games and threw for 413 while completing 79.3 % of his passes. Most importantly, he took care of the football, throwing five touchdowns versus zero interceptions. Many questioned his ability to run the ball, something Boyd did so well, but Stoudt has shown that he is athletic enough to at least keep the defense honest. For evidence, check out his 13 yard touchdown scamper against Georgia Tech.
Stoudt enrolled at Clemson in the spring of 2011 by way of Dublin Coffman High School in Ohio. He received the least publicity as a recruit amongst the three candidates and was originally committed to Wyoming. His father Cliff Stoudt spent 13 seasons in the NFL, primarily as a back-up to Terry Bradshaw with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Stoudt’s experience in the system, accuracy as a passer, and respect in the locker room gives him a leg up early in the competition.
Like Stoudt, Kelly is another QB with good bloodlines. He is the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Kelly, a RS Sophomore, played sparingly a year ago. Last spring, he tore his ACL, but all reports lead one to believe that he has recovered well. In an age when recruiting rankings are so widely scrutinized by fans, Kelly seems like a forgotten man—he’s yesterday’s QB of the future.
Kelly isn’t the fan favorite, but certainly may have the combination of skill and experience to win the job. It is important to remember that Chad Morris hand-picked Kelly to run his offense during the coach’s first full recruiting cycle. Morris loves his athleticism and it’s easy to see why.
Every recruitnik knows about Watson, who was considered by many to be the top QB prospect in the nation. Watson’s five star status as a recruit overshadowed the shine of Kelly’s four stars. Of course, Watson’s recognition is well-deserved; he accomplished everything one can at the high school level. Moreover, Dabo Swinney has not been shy about praising the freshman. He referred to Watson as “everything you could possibly want in a quarterback.” And the QB’s prep highlights back up his head coach’s words.
There is no denying Watson’s talent, and I have no doubt that he will have a terrific career, but you never want to force a quarterback into action before they are physically and mentally prepared. Fortunately, Clemson has two other quality options at the position to make Watson truly earn the job. But if he doesn’t, redshirting isn’t the end of the world. Just ask Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, or Tajh Boyd.