South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is an absolute nightmare for opposing college offenses.
He is also the possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
But before he reaches for potential glory at the next level, Clowney still has one more year of football to play in Columbia under head coach Steve Spurrier, which gives him even more time to improve before making the jump to the NFL.
With the way Clowney ended his previous campaign, it seems the sky is the limit in what is likely his final year of college.
Clowney is listed at 6'6", 274 pounds and is such a difference-maker that he could become just the second defense-only player to ever win the Heisman Trophy (Charles Woodson being the other).
The junior Clowney closed out his sophomore season in style. Last December, he had a magnificent performance against Clemson, racking up 4.5 sacks. Against Michigan in the Outback Bowl, he famously dislodged the ball from running back Vincent Smith and recovered the fumble in one of the year's more memorable plays.
That unforgettable sequence netted Clowney an ESPY award and was the summation of all the talent he possesses in one breathtaking play.
Clowney's journey to bettering himself as a player begins on Thursday evening when the sixth-ranked Gamecocks host the North Carolina Tar Heels. The friendly crowd will be boisterous and eagerly anticipating how Clowney will fare in his season debut.
With only five returning starters from last year's defense, more of the onus will be on Clowney to be an impact player, and he will deliver.
North Carolina offensive tackle James Hurst will draw Clowney in the season opener, and it will be an exciting battle to watch. Having faced difficult SEC schedules during his first two years at North Carolina should help Clowney against Hurst, who may struggle to handle the standout lineman one-on-one.
Therefore, expect multiple blockers to be assigned to Clowney as often as possible, but even that shouldn't slow him down too much. Clowney faced double-teams throughout last season and still managed 13 sacks—tied for third most in the nation.
If Clowney comes out against the Tar Heels, beats Hurst several times and records one or two sacks on top of two other impact plays, his Heisman campaign will be off to a strong start. That would give him invaluable momentum entering the big Week 2 matchup against AP No. 5 Georgia and Bulldogs QB Aaron Murray, who intimated that he isn't scared of Clowney.
Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Murray. The Gamecocks crushed Georgia 35-7 last season, as Clowney had four tackles and a sack in the contest.
Should Clowney explode out of the gate, doing so against top-notch competition, he could very establish himself as the early front-runner for the Heisman. There is no reason that Clowney shouldn't improve on his numbers from a year ago, especially since South Carolina will see not see another current Top 25 opponent until No. 10 Florida comes visiting on Nov. 16.
Then the season-ending showdown with Clemson caps things off, and it will be interesting to see how prolific Tigers QB Tajh Boyd reacts under the pressure this time around.
Clowney will build on his 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore with even bigger numbers.
Projected numbers: 60 total tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 16 sacks.
Note: Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.
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