Will Clemson finally unleash Trevor Lawrence in 2020?

Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Lawrence is one of the most gifted pure passers to come into college football in years, but Clemson has yet to unleash his true potential.

Is this the year it finally happens?

The skinny: The Tigers perennially feature one of the nation’s best defenses. With running back Travis Etienne coming back for his senior campaign, it’s not hard to imagine Dabo Swinney will continue to keep Lawrence handcuffed to a certain degree.

But if ever there was a perfect opportunity to flip the script, it’s this season. Here’s why we’d love to see Lawrence take the next step in his development, and for the Clemson offense to evolve.

Championship or bust: The Clemson program has reached ‘Bama status, meaning that anything less than a national championship is a failed season.

  • A new trend? LSU proved last season that you don’t need a dominant defense to win a championship. That’s not to say the Tigers weren’t talented on that side of the ball, but it was all about Joe Burrow and the offense.
  • Bama’s influence: Even before Burrow burst onto the scene, the Crimson Tide evolved from a defense-oriented squad into an offensive juggernaut with Tua Tagovailoa as the trigger man.

The Clemson defense is going to be incredible again this year. So that’s not even an issue. The big issue is that last year, Lawrence only averaged 27 passing attempts per game, and when it came time to go toe-to-toe with Burrow, he wasn’t remotely up to the challenge.

Will offensive coordinator Tony Elliott put a stamp on the offense during his first year without Jeff Scott? Letting Lawrence sling the pigskin around more would be a great way to do just that.

The arsenal: The Clemson offense isn’t lacking offensive firepower when it comes to the passing game. In fact, despite losing Tee Higgins to the 2020 NFL Draft, the Tigers may be even more explosive in the passing game this year.

  • Dynamic receivers: Amari Rodgers should get more involved in his senior season with Higgins gone. Joe Ngata is entering his second year, along with Frank Ladson, and both of these young receivers have star potential. Oh, and don’t forget about Justyn Ross, who showed off unbelievable skills the past couple of years.
  • Solid tight ends: Last season, Clemson didn’t get a ton out of its tight ends in the passing game. But Luke Price and Davis Allen should improve in 2020, giving the Tigers’ offense an added dimension.
  • Etienne is a monster: One of the best pure runners in the nation, Etienne proved last season (37 receptions) that he’s a dynamo in the passing game as well. If offensive coordinator Tony Elliott wants to, he can absolutely confound opposing defenses by expanding the screen game with Etienne as the centerpiece.

This roster is stacked with playmakers. Lawrence, in his third year as the Clemson starter, should continue to develop and has a chance to win the Heisman Trophy, provided he’s allowed to shred.

The legacy card: Dabo Swinney has already turned Clemson into a national powerhouse that is vying for a title every year. Now, he has a chance to turn Clemson into QB U.

  • He already landed the top pro-style quarterback in the nation for the 2020 recruiting class.
  • If Lawrence does end up winning the Heisman and goes No. 1 overall, as many expect, in 2021, that will only further enhance Clemson’s standing as a premier destination for the top quarterbacks in the nation.

Swinney has a real chance to establish his program as the place to be for quarterbacks looking to go pro for the foreseeable future. But if he doesn’t unleash Lawrence in 2020, and if the Tigers remain a run-first team, the momentum Swinney has built up on this front could end up dissipating.

The bottom line: The Tigers need to give Lawrence the keys to the offense from Day 1 in 2020. All the pieces are in place for him to evolve from uber-talented game manager into a legitimate Heisman candidate in 2020.

One big question remains: Will the Tigers let Lawrence rip it, or will they continue to keep him from realizing his full potential? For the sake of everyone who loves watching big-armed quarterbacks sling it all over the yard, we’re hoping it’s the former.