A few SEC schools could’ve helped limit the threat to Alabama’s reign as national champions. Instead, the Crimson Tide will take to the field tonight and face talented players for the Clemson Tigers, some of whom could have ended up at other SEC programs.
The College Football Playoff national title game begins at 8:17 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. TV: ESPN. Alabama had to game plan for these five talented players.
Deshaun Watson, QB
Gus Malzahn and Auburn were after Watson even after he committed to Clemson. The past two seasons could have been different for Malzahn’s Tigers had they kept Watson, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, in the Class of 2014.
Watson caused panic in Death Valley before he was enrolled at Clemson. In 2013, when Watson was a highly-touted commit to the Clemson program, he wanted to make sure he saw everything that was available to him when it came to making his college decision. That resulted in a much-publicized visit to Auburn that was intended to be kept discreet.
That May, rumors began to swirl about whether Watson was on campus for one of Auburn’s big recruiting weekends. Watson, who had been committed to Clemson for more than a year at that point, initially denied he was in Auburn. He later copped to the visit, and his high school coach smoothed things over with the media.
Watson, a 4-star prospect from Gainesville, Ga., decided to go to Clemson, and the rest is history.
Deon Cain, WR
Cain was a 5-star wide receiver from Tampa, and when it came down to the home stretch of his recruitment, it seemed he would land at an SEC school.
Georgia, Florida, LSU and Tennessee were finalists. So was Clemson, which joined the pursuit of Cain about the same time as Tennessee and Florida.
Cain played quarterback and receiver in high school. LSU was interested in him at quarterback, according to reports.
Cain was the nation’s third-ranked wide receiver in the Class of 2015. And it was Watson who helped land him. The Clemson coaching staff sold Cain on being a top receiver for its star quarterback, who was a freshman during Cain’s visit.
Mike Williams, WR
Clemson missed out on its biggest target in the Class of 2013, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and its biggest in-state target, Tramel Terry. Both players went to SEC programs, which would seem a blessing in disguise. Terry never panned out at Georgia, and Nkemdiche had some issues at Ole Miss.
However, Williams was one of Clemson’s biggest wins in that recruiting class.
Marion Hobby and Jeff Scott recruited the 4-star receiver from Lake Marion High in Santee, S.C. They beat out rival South Carolina for the services of the state’s fourth-ranked recruit.
Williams, a 6-foot-4 wideout, said at his signing he didn’t seriously consider Alabama, the defending national champion at the time. He narrowed his list to the Gamecocks and Tigers. South Carolina was Williams’ top choice for most of his recruitment. It was reported that in the final couple of weeks he started to change his mind and lean toward the Tigers.
Now, Williams is the Clemson offense’s most dangerous weapon.
Carlos Watkins, DT
Watkins was supposed to be a big part of Will Muschamp’s 2012 Florida recruiting class, and Gators fans expected Muschamp to deliver. It never happened.
Watkins, a 4-star recruit from Forest City, N.C., wanted to be closer to home, so he chose Clemson over Florida. He wasted little time making an impact and is now a disruptive presence. Watkins missed part of 2013 after he was injured in a car crash in North Carolina.
He chose not to leave after his junior season. Now a redshirt senior, Watkins is in position to make an impact in another national championship game against Alabama.
Artavis Scott, WR
Scott’s decision came down to six schools, Clemson and Florida among them. Scott, a 4-star recruit from Tarpon Springs, Fla., passed on Gators.
He ended his recruiting process at The Opening, a 2013 summer prospect showcase in Oregon, by committing to Clemson. He joined the 2014 class that included Watson. Since then he’s grabbed 242 passes to become the school’s all-time leader in receptions.