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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — Two Tigers are top Heisman Trophy contenders, at least when it comes to the NFL.com.

NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, the website’s top college football writer, listed two members of the 2018 Clemson Tiger football team as contenders for the nation’s top individual award in college football.

No. 13 on the list is rising sophomore running back Travis Etienne, who exploded onto the scene last year.

In his true freshman season, Etienne amassed 766 yards and 13 touchdowns on 107 carries, along with five receptions for 57 yards in 244 snaps over 13 games. He had 7.2 yards per carry, was tied for 10th in the nation in carries of 50-plus yards (four) and finished sixth in the ACC in points per game (6).

“To see Etienne play is to understand why he shouldn't be discounted in this race,” Goodbread wrote. “Etienne rushed for a team-high 766 yards last year as a freshman -- not exactly a Heisman-level foundation -- but his explosiveness in the open field is elite, and his full potential is far from tapped. His average of 7.2 yards per carry ranked fourth in school history.

“To contend for the Heisman, he'll need to become more of a focal point in a Clemson offense that typically spreads touches to many weapons. He should see an increase in opportunities in his sophomore year.”

Inside the top five on the list of top Heisman Trophy contenders is quarterback Kelly Bryant — who according to many around the country is not a lock to even win the starting job with true freshman Trevor Lawrence, rising sophomore Hunter Johnson and redshirt freshman Chase Brice pushing Bryant this spring.

However, according to Goodbread, the fact that Bryant was so successful last year, leading the Tigers to a third straight ACC title and a third straight College Football Playoff appearance, makes the belief that Bryant will not be the starting quarterback hard to fathom.

“Bryant helped lead Clemson all the way to the College Football Playoff last season in his first year as a starter, taking over for Deshaun Watson," Goodbread said. “He’s an exciting dual-threat quarterback like Watson was, but will need to improve significantly on a 13-8 TD-INT ratio if he is to contend for the Heisman.

“Surprisingly, coach Dabo Swinney said after spring practice that the QB job is an open competition, but it's hard to imagine the quarterback who won 12 games and an ACC title last year won't be back under center.”

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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