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Anthony Chiusano | NCAA.com | November 28, 2016

Heisman Watch: Clemson's Deshaun Watson looks to return to NY stage

College Football: Hand Him The... Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

Did you think Lamar Jackson would cruise through the end of the regular season and run away with the Heisman that he seemingly clinched in the first few weeks of the year?

In the words of college football icon and the always entertaining Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend.”

While Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals dropped their second straight game and the Heisman favorite threw three interceptions against Kentucky, a fellow ACC quarterback may have closed the gap in what’s become a more interesting award race down the stretch.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the preseason favorites for the award after finishing in third in last year’s voting, threw for a career-high six touchdown passes to go along with 366 total yards in Week 13 against in-state rival South Carolina.

In Saturday’s matchup in Death Valley, Watson led the Tigers to a 42-0 start by the early third quarter in what would be a 56-7 thrashing. It marked Watson’ sixth game this season with more than 300 yards passing and he posted his highest QBR rating of the year at 95.4.

The win, albeit against a middling 6-6 Gamecocks team, moved the Tigers up one spot in the latest AP poll to No. 3 and instills plenty of confidence heading into next week’s ACC title bout with Virginia Tech.

Now, team success certainly doesn’t completely dictate one’s Heisman chances. But Watson does hold the edge there in comparison to Jackson. Clemson will be favorites to win the ACC championship for the second straight season this upcoming Saturday against the Hokies and will then likely be a lock for another CFP appearance.

Watson and the Tigers also have bragging rights over Jackson’s Cardinals in their head-to-head matchup. Clemson won that thrilling Oct. 1 battle 42-36 and Watson finished with five touchdowns, 306 passing yards and 91 rushing yards.

WATCH: Week 13 Social Rewind

Jackson wasn’t too far behind Watson’s pace with three total touchdowns and only one interception to Watson’s three in that heavyweight matchup. But it was Watson who came away with that all-important early-season division win.

By some accounts, Watson has taken a minor step back from last year’s incredible season. He’s already thrown one more interception than he did last year and Clemson has shown its fair share of inconsistencies that led to some nail-biting wins against some easier competition like Troy in Week 2 and NC State in Week 7.

Not to mention, the Tigers dropped a home matchup to Pitt in Week 11’s crazy weekend of college football where three top four teams were stunned with their first losses of the season.

MORE: Latest AP poll: Clemson, Washington move up

But by no standard is Watson failing to live up to expectations.

Watson currently ranks sixth in the nation in passing yards (3,626) behind a handful of signal callers in pass-heavy offenses and is tied for seventh with 34 passing touchdowns. His quarterback rating is less than three points behind the pace of last season’s mark (153.5) and his completion percentage is down just 0.3 points (67.5).

  Watson finished third in Heisman voting last year behind Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey.
Watson has the edge over Jackson in all those categories, while Jackson still handily leads the pair in scoring thanks to his 21 touchdowns on the ground.

Watson isn’t the only star closing in on Jackson over the final leg of the Heisman race. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has skyrocketed in the ranks while his Sooners try to cap a remarkable season turnaround with a Big 12 title. Washington’s Jake Browning also reenters the fold after the Huskies have righted the ship and darkhorse candidates like Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Texas’ D’Onta Foreman continue to loom close behind.

But it’ll be hard to leave Watson off the New York stage if he can continue his late-season run with another big performance against the Hokies and an ACC title.

Watson still probably has a sour taste in his mouth after his personal third place finish in last year's Heisman race and his team's runner-up finish after a national championship loss to Alabama. His first step toward triumphant revenge comes on Dec. 5 when Heisman finalists are announced. 

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