CLEMSON, S.C. — You can count the number of on-campus practices left in Tajh Boyd’s collegiate career on one hand.
You can also count the number of games left in Boyd’s collegiate career on one finger.
Boyd’s time as Clemson’s starting quarterback, along with his collegiate career, is winding to a close. The No. 12 Tigers’ Jan. 3 Orange Bowl showdown against No. 7 Ohio State will be his final college game.
It seems the perfect time to ask: What is Boyd’s legacy at Clemson?
Is it defined by his 58 Clemson and ACC single-game, single-season and career records that take up an entire page in Clemson’s game notes? His Top-10 victories over Virginia Tech, LSU and Georgia?
Or is it his 1-5 record against chief rivals South Carolina and Florida State?
Regardless, Boyd has one final chance to burnish his legacy against the Buckeyes. He is well aware of what that entails, not only for him, but for his younger teammates who he’ll leave behind once the Sun Life Stadium clock hits triple-zeros.
“You always want to end your season on a high note,” Boyd said. “For the seniors, it’s a legacy thing, but for the guys coming back who’ll still be here, it’s a building thing, too. We looked at last season and that bowl game as a building block into this season.
“As much as you want to win this game for the last game, for all that, it’s much bigger than that. It’s for those guys coming back too and those guys having momentum heading into the offseason. I think it’s very important.”
When Boyd started the second half of the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on New Year’s Eve 2010, Dabo Swinney’s Clemson tenure was at its nadir.
The Tigers trailed an average South Florida team before a half-empty stadium. The Bulls eventually built a 31-13 lead that a late Boyd-led rally couldn’t overcome in a 31-26 defeat.
Boyd’s first official half as a college starter was Billy Napier’s last as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. Napier was fired three days later, replaced by an unknown first-year college coach named Chad Morris.
With Boyd under center, Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense brought Clemson to the kind of heights it hadn’t seen since the end of the Danny Ford era. The Tigers have won 10 games in each of the last three seasons for the first time that has happened since 1987-90.
They won the 2011 ACC championship (the program’s first league title since 1991) and also shared the ACC Atlantic Division title last season.
Boyd is the ACC career leader in touchdown passes (102), combined passing and rushing scores (127) and passing efficiency (154.2). He is second all-time in the ACC in passing yards (11,526) behind N.C. State’s Philip Rivers and is also Clemson’s career leader in total offense to go with his 17 300-yard passing games and numerous 400-yard games in total offense, among his other records.
He is a 2012 AFCA first-team All-American, the 2012 ACC Player of the Year and a two-time first-team All-ACC quarterback.
With a victory over Ohio State, Boyd can tie Rodney Williams as Clemson’s winningest quarterback ever with 32 victories as a starter.
This spring, Morris will watch over a three-way battle to replace Boyd between highly touted freshman DeShaun Williams, talented rising sophomore Chad Kelly and steadily rising senior Cole Stoudt.
No matter the winner, replacing Boyd won’t be an easy task in terms of talent and leadership at Clemson.
“The next guy that comes in, because there will be another guy, has got huge shoes to fill,” Morris said. “Not just how he handles his play on the field, but off the field. To me, that’s the sign of what Tajh has meant to this university and this program. He truly has been the face of this program and this university.
“And take all the records aside, out of the equation, the way he approaches people, the way he deals with everyone is really special and really unique, because that’s not the case everywhere. Not only are you going to have to perform on the field, but you’re going to have big shoes to fill off the field.”
However, Boyd’s performance against his key rivals has left something to be desired. After posting a 35-30 win over Florida State in September 2011, Clemson has gone 0-5 against the Seminoles and South Carolina with Boyd under center.
In 2011, Boyd completed just 11-of-29 passes for 83 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 34-13 loss to South Carolina. Last fall, he completed 11-of-24 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 27-17 defeat. On Nov. 30, he completed 19-of-27 passes for 225 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 31-17 loss to the Gamecocks.
Clemson has now lost five consecutive games to South Carolina, its longest-ever losing streak to its rival, a fact that doesn’t sit well with the Tigers’ fan base.
Last fall, Boyd completed 20-of-36 passes for 237 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, but still lost to Florida State, 49-37, in Tallahassee. With the Seminoles in town for the ACC’s biggest game in recent memory back in October, he was terrible. He completed just 17-of-37 passes for 156 yards and an interception in a 51-14 defeat, adding a key early fumble which was returned for a touchdown.
Following a stirring 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU last season, in which Boyd threw for 350 yards and led a fourth-quarter comeback victory, he seriously considered declaring for the NFL draft as a likely second- to third-round selection.
Instead, he returned to chase a national title and a Heisman Trophy run.
Neither happened, although Clemson made its second BCS bowl game in three seasons, replacing the Seminoles as the ACC’s Orange Bowl representative.
Boyd says he has no regrets about how his final season unfolded.
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Clemson sports information
“Maybe I did lose some money, maybe I didn’t,” he said. “Who knows, I could still go out there and maybe be the No. 1 pick. At this level, it’s like, as you go through life, one of the biggest things you don’t want to deal with is regret. I’ve never wondered what could have happened. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve answered questions that, if I’d have left, I’d have never figured out. I think I made the perfect decision.”
Beating Ohio State can’t change Boyd’s performances against his rivals, and a loss won’t erase his mark on Clemson’s program or the record books. However, it is a final chance to leave a great impression in the minds of Tiger fans, as well as NFL executives, who’ll be evaluating him for the 2014 NFL draft.
Ohio State is a marquee program coming off its first loss since 2011 and a near-miss of the BCS national title game, a team Boyd says “you don’t play often.”
“You want to play Southern Cal, Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon, Bama, those five schools are teams everyone wants to go out and compete against,” he said. “That’s going to be fun.”
And of course there is the not-small shadow cast by Clemson’s last trip to South Florida, a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
“It’s hard to forget it,” Boyd said. “Some guys (afterward) were like, writing on my Instagram, writing on my Twitter. About every week, I had to block a 70-33. You don’t forget it.
“A lot of players (now) were in that game and they’re still here. You know the type of mentality, and we’ve made improvements in all aspects, the players, the coaches, how we organize and get ready to structure things. I’m excited about it and I’m ready for the matchup.”
What does the Orange Bowl mean to Boyd? It’s the chance to leave a lasting impression. First and final impressions are never forgotten, and with the Buckeyes on the other sideline, Boyd has a shot at a very impressive last call at Clemson.
“I think it’s more so a chance for me to go out on a high,” he said. “Playing on a big stage, playing in a BCS bowl, two of the three years, it’s awesome in itself, but we need to come out here and win a BCS game.”
* Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained firsthand.
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