By Zac Pike
There have been a lot of near misses for Auburn recruiting in the past few years. Each signing day it seems Auburn comes in second for many of the nation’s top prospects. Eddie Goldman, Reuben Foster, Ben Davis, and MacKensie Alexander are a few prospects that immediately come to mind. However, one name in particular stands out more than the rest, Deshaun Watson. Given Auburn’s struggles at the QB position last year, misses on quarterbacks in recruiting can make more of a difference than any other position. Auburn was tabbed the #6 team in America in the preseason with most people in the media saying they were the favorites to win the SEC. All the pieces seemed to be in place. Jeremy Johnson was supposed to be Gus’s guy and most of the country seemed to agree, as he was named a dark horse Heisman candidate. Fast forward to the end of last year and it was obvious things at the QB position were unstable at best. Throughout Gus Malzahn’s career he has been known as a QB and offensive guru but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you expect them to.
Enter Deshaun Watson. During his recruitment, it seemed all along he was a lock to stay committed to Clemson. However, things started to heat up late in his recruitment, and despite Clemson fans constantly denying his interest in Auburn, Watson actually made a surprise visit to Auburn before signing day. It was pretty well known that Watson was atop Coach Malzahn’s QB board, so the secret visit became a pretty big deal, in not only Auburn’s eyes, but Clemson’s as well. Well obviously everyone now knows Deshaun Watson stayed true to his word and enrolled at Clemson, coming up minutes short of winning a national championship last year. BUT…what if Deshaun chose Auburn instead of Clemson? Things would be quite different for both schools.
If someone were to ask what Auburn’s biggest issue was last year, almost everyone would say lack of production at quarterback. The defense was well improved, there was talent at the skill positions on offense, and the offensive line was solid if not great. The one thing lacking was consistency QB position. Even with that lack of production, Auburn was had a chance to actually win almost every game on their schedule (minus the beat down in Baton Rouge). Imagine what could have happened last year had Deshaun Watson been Auburn’s signal caller. A dynamic playmaker of Watson’s skill can be successful in any offense, but pairing him up with Coach Malzahn’s success, with duel threat QB’s could have been a match made in heaven for both sides. Watson alone would have been worth an extra 2 to 3 wins. One could even argue that swapping Watson from Clemson to Auburn could have placed Auburn in the national championship. He is that big of a difference maker!
Part of what’s great about being a fan is imagining all the possibilities of what could have happened or what can happen in the future. That’s why recruiting and signing day has become so popular. There’s nothing better for a fan base than the hope of things becoming better in the future. However, sometimes it can be fun to look back on how things played out and ask “What if…?” In this case…what if Auburn had landed Deshaun Watson?