With the College Football Playoff on the horizon, there is still much work to be done for the Clemson Tigers. But with the regular season over, let’s take a look back and give out some awards for the 2015 regular season.
Offensive MVP: Deshaun Watson, QB
Seeing that Watson was voted ACC Player of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association and will be in New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist, the star quarterback is the obvious choice. The sophomore from Gainesville, Ga., competed 69.5 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those statistics, coupled with Watson’s leadership qualities, spell MVP.
Defensive MVP: Shaq Lawson, DE
On an immensely talented defense, Lawson stood out. The Central, S.C., product was a finalist for the Nagurski Aaward and has been nominated for the Hendricks and Lombardi Awards after a 9.5-sack, 22.5 tackles for lost yardage campaign.
Best Freshman: Mitch Hyatt, OL
When Isaiah Battle declared for the NFL supplemental draft, the true freshman was given the responsibility of protecting Watson’s blind side. He didn’t disappoint. As the offensive line developed over the course of the season, so did Hyatt, who at times looked like the best offensive lineman on the team.
Best Play of the Season: Denying Notre Dame’s Two-Point Conversion
After jumping out to a big lead, Clemson saw Notre Dame score a touchdown with seven seconds left to get within two points. The Irish chose to run quarterback DeShone Kizer to the right side in an effort to tie the game. Defensive end Kevin Dodd beat his block and forced Kizer inside where Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware were waiting. In a season filled with flashy plays, this was perhaps the most important moment.
Best Performance by a Player in 2015: Deshaun Watson Against NC State
It had to be one of the star quarterback’s many great efforts and his performance on Halloween against the Wolfpack is the choice. Every time that Clemson seemed to put the game away, NC State charged back. But Watson always had an answer. He finished with 383 yards passing, 54 yards rushing, and accounted for six total touchdowns in the 56-41 victory.
Best Game (Team Performance): 58-0 Win at Miami
Miami head coach Al Golden was on thin ice before the game and Clemson cracked that ice into a million pieces in its destruction of the Hurricanes. It was 21-0 after the first quarter and 42-0 at halftime. Clemson outgained Miami by 421 yards and won the first down battle 33-6.
Defining Moment: Finishing Off Florida State
Clemson was leading the Seminoles 16-13 with less than seven minutes to play and FSU had the ball on the Tigers' 40 facing a third-and-one. B.J. Goodson stopped Dalvin Cook for no gain on the third down play and Shaq Lawson combined with Ben Boulware to tackle the Florida State star short of the marker on fourth down. Clemson showed its killer instinct by squashing any Florida State hopes on the ensuing drive, culminated by Wayne Gallman’s 25-yard touchdown run. That sequence, both offensively and defensively, epitomized the entire Clemson season.
Biggest Surprise: Kevin Dodd, DE
Over his first three years at Clemson, the defensive end had a total of 21 tackles, with three of those resulting in lost yardage. This fall, the redshirt junior exploded on the scene with 51 tackles, 15 tackles for lost yardage, and eight sacks. His emergence freed up Lawson and others in the front seven, allowing them to make big plays.
Biggest Disappointment: The Mike Williams Injury
13-0. ACC Champs. Top seed in the College Football Playoff. Not too many things went wrong for Clemson in 2015. But it is disappointing that Mike Williams was not a part of the Tigers’ run after breaking a bone in his neck in week one while colliding with the goalpost. Williams was a preseason first team All-ACC selection and his big-play ability would have made this offense even more dangerous.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: B.J. Goodson, LB
Clemson is actually a very young team though they will suffer losses as underclassmen declare for the draft. The senior that will be most missed is middle linebacker Goodson. A solid performer for several seasons, Goodson made the most of his first season as a true starter. He is the team leader in tackles with 91 and he played his best in the most important games. He had a fumble recovery and an interception in the win over Notre Dame and he had 3.5 tackles for lost yardage and a fumble recovery in the Florida State victory.
Player to Watch in 2016: Christian Wilkins, DT
The true freshman had some big moments this fall and finished the year with 27 tackles and two sacks. With another year in the system and more time in the strength and conditioning program, Wilkins may blossom into an all-conference performer in 2016.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Defensive Early Entrees
While Clemson is young, they have several draft-eligible defensive players that may receive first-round grades. Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander are virtual first-round locks while safety Jayron Kearse and cornerback Codrea Tankersley are also highly regarded in NFL circles. Clemson has its core eligible to return, but if these defenders head to the next level, the unit could take a step back. Of course, wasn’t that supposed to happen this year?
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.