Predicting College Football's Most Clutch Performers in 2020

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIMarch 18, 2020

Predicting College Football's Most Clutch Performers in 2020

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    Clutch players can turn a respectable team into a conference title contender, and there are a handful in 2020 who will be able to do exactly that for their programs.

    It can always be difficult to define what "clutch" really is. However, for the sake of previewing players in 2020 and looking at the most clutch performances for next season, it's important to look at players who have already come up big in late-game moments, and competitors who have previously elevated their game against top-tier opponents.

    Few players were more clutch last season than LSU's Joe Burrow, who led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a national championship thanks to some big plays against elite opponents. With quarterback Burrow on his way out, there are a couple of prospects looking to take his place in the spotlight.

    A lot of last year's clutch performers, including Burrow, are now heading to the NFL, but there are still a handful of players who belong on the list for the 2020 season. We may not be 100 percent sure if the college football season will start on schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic, but if it does, here are a few players who could be clutch performers.

Bo Nix, QB, Auburn

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    He may have only been a true freshman last season for the Auburn Tigers, but quarterback Bo Nix has already displayed the clutch gene in his one college football season.

    Nix's ability to step up in big moments was on display in his first career college game against the Oregon Ducks last season. After trailing the entire game, Nix rallied the Tigers to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning 26-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining to give Auburn a 27-21 victory.

    The son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, Bo stood his ground and helped lead the Tigers to a respectable 9-4 season that included a massive 48-45 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Auburn even gave the national champion LSU Tigers a run for their money, losing a close one 23-20.

    Statistically, Nix didn't blow anyone away, throwing for 2,542 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. On the plus side, Nix also added 313 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. 

    With some big-time wins under his belt and a whole offseason to work on his craft, Nix has the chance to come up with some more clutch plays in 2020.

Jordan Howden, DB, Minnesota

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    The Minnesota Golden Gophers had one of their best seasons in a long time last year, and although they're losing some key talent, they're hoping players like Jordan Howden will be able to come up big in the clutch again this year.

    Howden may have only had one interception for the season, but that one pick came at the perfect time against the Penn State Nittany Lions early in November. With around a minute remaining and Penn State driving down the field for a potential go-ahead touchdown, Howden jumped a pass in the end zone and gave Minnesota the 31-26 win to move the Golden Gophers to 9-0.

    Minntesota finished with an 11-2 record, their most wins in a year since 1904. They even took down a talented Auburn team 31-24 in the Outback Bowl. Howden finished the year with 57 total tackles, six passes defended and the crucial interception.

    The loss of Antoine Winfield Jr. to the NFL will be a big hit to Minnesota's secondary. On the bright side, it will give Howden the opportunity for a bigger role on the defense and the chance to create some more big turnovers for the defense. 

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

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    Although Rondale Moore spent most of the 2019 season on the sidelines because of injury, the dynamic playmaker for the Purdue Boilermakers should still be on the shortlist for clutch performers in 2020.

    Moore played in just four games this past season, but as a true freshman in 2018 he took the college football world by storm. He finished the season with 114 receptions, 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, adding another 213 yards and two scores on the ground, earning near-consensus All-American honors and being selected as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

    Even as a freshman, Moore showcased an ability to step up in big games. He helped the Boilermakers dominate the Ohio State Buckeyes in a 49-20 blowout, finishing the game with 12 receptions for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    College football was worse off without Moore last season. While the quarterback position is a question mark for the Boilermakers heading into 2020, whoever is playing under center will need to make sure Moore is getting plenty of touches so that Purdue can pull off some major upsets after a 4-8 2019 season.

Keith Duncan, K, Iowa

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    College kickers are always on the tail end of jokes, but Iowa's Keith Duncan has the potential to be one of the most reliable special teams players in the country next season.

    Duncan was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the country's best kicker, in 2019. He was also a consensus All-American, setting school and Big Ten records with 29 made fields goals, which was also the most in the FBS.

    Although he hasn't had a ton of opportunities to step up in the clutch, Duncan has come through when needed. With one second remaining against Nebraska, Duncan drilled a 48-yard field goal to give the Hawkeyes the 27-24 win in November. He also hit a go-ahead field goal against Iowa State with a little under five minutes left in the 18-17 rivalry win at the start of the 2019 season.

    Duncan will likely be one of the top NFL draft prospects at the position in 2021, but before he's kicking in the pros, he'll almost certainly have a handful of opportunities to seal big wins for his Iowa team.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    When it comes to clutch performers in college football, no one planning on playing in 2020 really holds a candle to Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. 

    In his first two college seasons, Lawrence has gone 29-1, with his only loss coming to the dominant LSU Tigers last season in the national championship. During those two seasons, he's thrown for over 6,900 yards, 66 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. 

    That's not to say that there haven't been close calls, however, and the most recent one was a 16-0 deficit to the Ohio State Buckeyes a game away from the national title. Lawrence helped the Tigers score 21 straight, and then later the game-winning touchdown with fewer than two minutes remaining to help Clemson advance.

    Like every season, there will be a lot of contenders gunning for Clemson. However, with skill players like Travis Etienne and Justyn Ross returning, and Lawrence under center, they'll be a strong favorite to return to the College Football Playoff once again.

    Lawrence is already likely the unanimous No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft at this point, but he'll have plenty of opportunities to come up in the clutch again this coming season.