Travis Etienne starts the 2019 college football season with a weight of expectation on his shoulders. Previously, the Clemson running back has flown under the radar going in to the season only to explode during it. This year, he enters the season with a mark on his back. He is without doubt one of, if not the, best backs in the league.
Bleacher Report rank Etienne as their number three back in their Top 10 Running Back Superstars for 2019.
CBS Sports list him as the third best 2020 NFL Draft eligible running back.
If this season lives up to his first two, then he will rank as the best running back in college football for me.
It’s difficult to imagine how this season may be better than 2018 for Travis Etienne.
For all the hype of Trevor Lawrence and the lauded Clemson defence, Etienne strapped the Clemson Tigers on his back in 2018 and delivered where it mattered. This was no more evident than on a late September afternoon in Death Valley. Lawrence had been named the starting quarterback for the first time, paving the way for Kelly Bryant’s departure. All eyes were on the talented freshman. However, when Lawrence was took out of the game with a head injury, Clemson needed a new hero. With the game on the line, and an unthinkable defeat just minutes away, Travis Etienne was that hero. His 26 yard touchdown pulled the Tigers back to 23-20 with under two minutes to play. After some magic from Chase Brice kept the game alive, Etienne put it to bed with 0.41 on the clock. His 2 yard touchdown run gave Clemson a 27-23 victory.
His 203 yards and 3 touchdowns that day against Syracuse set Travis Etienne on a course for the Clemson record books. He broke the school records for single season rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points scored. His 26 total touchdowns tied the record for single season total touchdowns in the ACC conference. It’s a record he now holds jointly with Pitt’s James Conner, who is crafting himself a stellar NFL career.
Etienne’s on field work led to many plaudits off it.
He was voted a first team All-American by Sporting News and ESPN. In addition, he was voted the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year.
However, it’s the biggest trophy that Travis Etienne acquired in 2018 that helps him stand out from the running back crowd.
The National Championship Trophy.
All the records in the world don’t mean anything without success. Whilst there can be no denying the skills of Jonathan Taylor and co, Travis Etienne has produced on the biggest of stages. He has the silverware to show for it. Etienne has graced the highest platform in college football and he has performed. He was a crucial cog in the machine that was the 2018 Clemson Tigers National Championship team. The victory over Alabama in January was the fourth game of the season where Etienne contributed 3 touchdowns in a single game. After Alabama had taken a second quarter lead, it was Etienne’s consecutive touchdowns that broke the will of the Crimson Tide. Alabama never got close again.
Not getting close defines what makes Travis Etienne such an incredible running back.
He has got INCREDIBLE pace. He is a legitimate track sprinter and that shows up in his play. If he finds the tiniest crease to get through and in to the open field, no player is going to get close to him. Etienne makes sensible decisions and quickly too. Whereas a number of running backs dance around in the backfield, Etienne knows where he is going and gets there as quickly as possible. All this was demonstrated perfectly on the first play of the 2018 ACC Championship game versus Pitt.
2018 was an incredible year for Travis Etienne but 2019 is going to bring big things too. With Etienne alongside Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, Clemson have one of the most potent offences in the whole of college football. There is absolutely no way of stopping all of those pieces.
There may be a mark on his back, but Travis Etienne is fast enough to out run anyone trying to hit it.
Photo Credit: Carl Ackerman Jr