CLEMSON, S.C. – When Tajh Boyd announced in January that he was returning to Clemson for his senior season of college football, he did so to chase a national title.
But Boyd’s return had another fortunate benefit. As a senior quarterback and leader of one of the nation’s top programs, he immediately became a Heisman Trophy candidate.
The first two weeks of the season have done little to change that status.
Boyd was at the top of his game in a Top-10, nationally-televised showdown against then-No. 5 Georgia, accounting for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) while throwing for 270 yards and rushing for 42 more in the No. 8 Tigers’ 38-35 victory.
Heisman voters have noticed. This week, Boyd was second to Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in HeismanPundit.com’s Heisman straw poll. Heisman Pundit is one of the most accurate predictors of the Heisman race, having correctly tabbed five of the top six finishers in 2008, the top four in 2009 and 2010, the top seven in 2011 and the top six in 2012.
One sports betting site gives Boyd 10-1 odds to win the Heisman, tied for sixth-best with Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and Oregon tailback De’Anthony Thomas.
He is a legit contender for the stiff-arm trophy. But how does Boyd bring home college football’s most coveted individual prize?
The answer is less complicated than you might think.
Boyd must play well in Clemson’s biggest games, and the Tigers need to win big.
Do that, and national attention—the real key to any successful Heisman campaign—will follow, along with a shot at being invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony Dec. 14.
Boyd already has a major edge just by the nature of his position.
The Heisman is awarded to the player considered “the most outstanding player in college football.”
Since 1971, 38 of the 41 trophies awarded have gone to a quarterback or running back. The only exceptions have been Notre Dame wide receiver Tim Brown (1987), Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard (1991) and Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson (1997).
Both Howard and Woodson also had dual-threat abilities; Howard returned punts and kicks, while Woodson played both cornerback and wide receiver.
Eight of the last 10 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks; the only exceptions are Southern California tailback Reggie Bush (2005) and Alabama running back Mark Ingram (2009).
Equally important? A team that wins big. Of the last 10 Heisman winners, seven came from teams that made the BCS National Championship Game or won the BCS title.
The only exceptions were Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007; Tebow led Florida to a BCS title in 2008), Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (2011) and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (2012).
Clemson has a favorable schedule and should be favored in every game except one (Nov. 30 at South Carolina) for the rest of the regular season.
Its win over Georgia is the most impressive victory of the young season, and the Tigers have only two key roadblocks left on the slate: vs. Florida State Oct. 19 and at South Carolina.
If Boyd performs well in those games, it’ll be an immeasurable boost to his Heisman campaign.
The toughest test will likely be at South Carolina. A year ago, Gamecock star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney piled up 4.5 sacks of Boyd in South Carolina’s 27-17 win; Boyd completed only 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions were bad decisions made with Clowney bearing down on him.
Clemson’s only other road games are at N.C. State, Syracuse and Virginia, and North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech are not on the schedule due to the ACC’s schedule rotation.
Should Clemson finish the regular season 13-0, the Tigers would stand an excellent chance of making the national title game, with Boyd as their clear leader.
If both Florida State and Clemson are unbeaten, there is an excellent chance that ESPN’s College GameDay will make a return visit to Clemson for the showdown.
Which brings us to our next point: media exposure. ESPN is the most influential media source in college football. Gain the Worldwide Leader’s attention, and you’re likely to catch the eye of college football fans and, more importantly, Heisman voters.
Most Heisman voters don’t have time to watch every top candidate closely, so they pay attention to ESPN’s highlight shows and reporting. If ESPN promotes a candidate and that player performs well, their Heisman candidacy should flourish.
And ESPN has an interest in the ACC: it is the only college football league with all its games licensed to ESPN (some games are sublicensed by ESPN to Raycom and Fox Sports Net).
A year ago, 11 of Clemson’s 13 games were on the ESPN “family” of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or ABC). Expect a similar amount this year. At least three (Georgia, N.C. State and Georgia Tech) will be nationally televised on ABC/ESPN, with Florida State and South Carolina likely to join them.
Clemson and Boyd already have the national media’s ear. A steady stream of national college football writers wrote Boyd profiles in August, and ESPN made a pair of visits to campus in August with its college football mobile studio and College GameDay.
In addition, Boyd has made appearances on Dan Patrick and Scott Van Pelt’s national radio shows, among others.
Clemson will not mount an official Heisman campaign for Boyd, and that free exposure is a big reason why. Four years ago, Clemson’s sports information department made a push for tailback C.J. Spiller, including a free life-size growth chart poster distributed to voters and fans.
Spiller was the ACC Player of the Year, but wasn’t invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, finishing sixth in the voting.
Performance, says Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, trumps promotion.
“When the Heisman campaign is over, votes will come in,” Swinney said. “He’ll go on the road and campaign and people will vote. He’s just got to perform very well throughout the campaign.”
If he’s still in the race in late November or early December, Boyd says he’ll begin preparing an acceptance speech. But the far more important thing is what he can control: his on-field performance.
“I’ve got to go out and play,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about—playing at a high level. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
***Unless noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
Connect with Greg on Twitter https://twitter.com/gc_wallace