The Clemson Tigers knew replacing Tajh Boyd at quarterback was not going to be easy. Boyd set every major passing record in school history and is the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leader in touchdown passes and total touchdowns.
Boyd also happened to be under center during arguably the most successful three-year run in school history. The Tigers were 32-8 in Boyd's three years as starting quarterback.
Spring practice was supposed to be an intense three-way battle to find out who the Tigers' next starting passer would be. It was—it just ended much sooner than anyone imagined.
Senior Cole Stoudt entered the spring as the presumed starter. He was competing with sophomore Chad Kelly and true freshman Deshaun Watson.
However, as Stoudt looked smooth and under control throughout the spring sessions, Kelly had a meltdown to go along with uneven performances and was kicked off the team after the spring game.
Watson, the projected future of the program, suffered a collarbone injury that sidelined him for three weeks.
So, one day after dismissing Kelly, head coach Dabo Swinney told Fox Sports' Coy Wire that Stoudt would be Clemson's unquestioned starting quarterback when the Tigers head to Georgia to begin the 2014 season.
- Cole Stoudt: 6'4", 210 pounds, senior.
- Deshaun Watson: 6'3", 190 pounds, freshman.
The Tigers' current depth chart has just two quarterbacks listed: Stoudt as the starter and Watson as the backup.
Experience was going to be an issue for the Tigers this fall behind Stoudt, but after spring practice, Swinney received some good news when David Olson—most recently of Stanford—transferred to Clemson to complete his eligibility.
Sophomore walk-on Nick Schuessler was the presumed third-string quarterback behind Stoudt and Watson.
Olson's presence changes that and could allow Watson to redshirt this fall—at least Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris hope it will.
Stoudt has waited three years for this opportunity and, by all indications, he is ready.
As the primary backup to Boyd over the last three seasons, Stoudt attempted a total of 119 passes. He completed over 70 percent of his throws and has only one career interception.
|Cole Stoudt's career statistics|
|Yards per attempt||5.48||5.44||7.03|
Clemson fans should be confident in Stoudt's knowledge of the offense. Morris will not have to scale back his playbook at all from when Boyd ran the offense.
If a player like Watson or Olson were slated to start, the offense would likely look much different—at least early on.
Stoudt doesn't have elite arm strength, but his arm is strong enough and he can make most throws. His knowledge of the offense also leads him to make quick decisions and take few sacks.
While not as athletic as Boyd, Stoudt is no slouch. He moves well in the pocket and is a good scrambler.
Two of Clemson's first three games are against Georgia and Florida State. If Stoudt performs well in those games, he'll likely be in for a big year.
Watson is the wild card in the quarterback mix.
Coaches would obviously like to redshirt him, but there is also excitement surrounding Watson. He is a playmaker, good passer and terrific runner. Watson could open up the offense in ways Boyd could.
Opposing defenses will not only have to respect Watson's arm, but he will bring an extra dimension to the running game.
Morris sees how multidimensional his offense could be with Watson at quarterback. If Clemson struggles to move the ball at any point against Georgia or FSU, don't be shocked if coaches put in Watson for a series or two to see if he can give the offense a spark.
From a passing standpoint, he's not quite ready to lead a college offense yet. He has the arm—likely the strongest on the roster—but struggled with accuracy in the spring. Much of that was likely due to not knowing his receivers or having a strong knowledge of the offense.
According to 247Sports.com, Watson was a 4-star recruit from Gainesville, Georgia, and the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation. He enrolled early because he knew he'd be given a chance to start with Boyd's departure.
Watson will likely end up being an excellent starter for the Tigers—just not this year.
However, if Watson has to relieve Stoudt due to injury, the offense would be in good hands as Morris would adjust his scheme to Watson's strengths.
Olson transferred to Clemson knowing Stoudt would be the team's starter. So why transfer from one place that has an entrenched starter (Kevin Hogan) to a team with a senior who was already named starting quarterback?
As good as Stoudt may end up being, he is still an unproven commodity.
So is Olson, though. He never took a snap at Stanford.
Shortly after joining the Tigers, Olson told TigerNet.com's Nikki Steele about why Clemson was the right place for him to complete his eligibility:
I graduated a quarter early from Stanford, so that was in late March. From there, I was essentially looking around into situations that had one year of eligibility where I could go in and contribute and help a team. I looked at some smaller schools along the way, but I first got in touch with Clemson after the spring game. They had the news break about their quarterback situation and I sent them an email and they got back with me a few days later and they said they were interested. That is how the whole thing got going.
Swinney and Morris obviously see a player in Olson who could be a strong backup for one year—nothing more. If their starter goes down during a game, then Olson could finish that contest for them.
However, if Stoudt suffers a major injury or is benched for performance reasons, look for Watson to be next in line.
Regardless of who plays quarterback for Clemson this fall, don't look for the Tigers to suffer in the win column. An outstanding defense should allow the Tigers to compete for an ACC title in 2014.