How far might Clemson slide without Deshaun Watson?

Published June 19, 2017

The AP's Ralph D. Russo summed up one of the reasons why I'm picking Florida State to win the ACC this year:

Clemson is loaded, but teams rarely lose all-time great QBs and not take a step back next season. Even if just a small one.

He also got me thinking: Just how big of a step back might the Tigers take after winning the national championship in Tampa but losing superstar Deshaun Watson?

I decided to examine Watson-like quarterbacks: Players who finished in the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting at least once and were also first-round NFL draft picks (which weeded out very good but not great players like TCU's Trevone Boykin or Alabama's AJ McCarron). The criteria is admittedly subjective, but hey, it's my blog.

So let's look at the last 11 Clemson-like teams - their record with their Deshaun Watson as a starter and their record the next year without him:

Oregon: 36-5 with Marcus Mariota, 9-4 the next year

Florida State: 26-1 with Jameis Winston, 10-3 the next year

Texas A&M: 19-6 with Johnny Manziel, 8-5 the next year

Baylor: 23-17 with Robert Griffin III, 8-5 the next year

Stanford: 31-7 with Andrew Luck, 12-2 the next year

Auburn: 14-0 with Cam Newton, 8-5 the next year

Florida: 35-6 with Tim Tebow, 8-5 the next year

Oklahoma: 24-5 with Sam Bradford, 12-2 the next year

Notre Dame: 29-17 with Brady Quinn, 3-9 the next year

Texas: 30-2 with Vince Young, 10-3 the next year

USC: 37-2 with Matt Leinart, 11-2 the next year

With transcendent quarterbacks, these teams had a .817 winning percentage (the equivalent of 10.6-2.4 over 13 games). Without them? A .688 winning percentage (9-4).

Of the 11 teams, only five won at least 10 games the next yer. And one of those (Oklahoma) is kind of an outlier, because Bradford missed almost all of his final season with the Sooners. That let backup Landry Jones get plenty of experience, which helped in the 12-2 season. If you remove OU from the equation, the post-star record dips to 8.7-4.3.

Regardless, it's possible for the Tigers to succeed without Watson. Texas followed one star (Vince Young) with another (Colt McCoy). Stanford and FSU have been chugging along.

But don't expect the Tigers to rip off another 32-3 stretch, as they did under Watson. History shows Clemson is due to regress to the mean...which is good news for the Seminoles.