Trevor Lawrence's legacy and place in history aren't decided.
The Clemson quarterback controls much of his own destiny heading into Friday's Sugar Bowl against Ohio State. Should the No. 2 Tigers win their fifth College Football Playoff semifinal in six years, and third consecutive with Lawrence behind center, they'll have a shot at the second national title in three seasons.
No QB has won multiple CFP championships since this system began in 2014. The last starter to win a pair of titles in his career was Alabama's A.J. McCarron (2011-12). Before that, Tommie Frazier (1994-95) did it with Nebraska.
Tim Tebow won one as a starter and another as a backup. Deshaun Watson, Vince Young, Matt Lienart, Danny Wuerfuell, Cam Newton, Sammy Baugh, Jameis Winston and Charlie Ward had one each. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the closest comparisons to Lawrence, never won a national title at all.
Lawrence is two games away from rare company, and there won't be many arguments between him and McCarron. Frazier? Let's save that for when Clemson's season is over.
Regardless, these are the QBs Lawrence is going to be compared to on sports talk shows, website rankings and bar discussions for decades.
“He’s as good as there’s ever been, that’s for sure," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "I’ll let other people argue if he’s the best ever.”
So maybe there's some bias there, but the way Swinney talks about his star QB, you'd forget sometimes that he coached Watson and Tajh Boyd. Lawrence is special. It's been known since he was a kid in high school.
Now he's a man about to be the first selection in the 2021 NFL Draft and the face of college football. Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs knows what he's up against.
Lawrence, meanwhile, isn't ready to have those discussions.
“I haven’t necessarily thought about what my legacy would be," Lawrence said earlier this week. "I have been trying to live in the moment these past three years and trying to be the best I can be whatever moment I’m in. So, that has been my mindset and I think that helps you leave a legacy if you just try to live and be your best in every moment."
There will be debates about his career for sure. He's likely not going to win the Heisman Trophy this year, meaning he'll leave the college game without the most illustrious award in the sport. Lawrence didn't make first-team All-America the last three years.
He also lost a national championship game earlier this calendar year when LSU and Joe Borrow got the best of Clemson with a 42-25 victory. It was the worst performance of Lawrence's career.
But Friday is a step to forgetting about that game. Beating Ohio State would give a player who is 34-1 all-time as a starter two wins over the Buckeyes, two over Notre Dame, and one over Alabama. The Crimson Tide is the clear No. 1 team this season, so beating them in a national title game would further enhance Lawrence's impressive victories.
"At the end of the day, I just want people to say, I want people to speak to my character more than the type of player I am or was," Lawrence said. "I want to just be a good person, and I think that’s the number one goal for me. Obviously, the play and all that stuff, all the accolades, kind of will eventually speak for itself. But, that is really not the main thing for me. It’s just being a good person and being a good teammate. I hope that is what people say about me when whenever I leave here.”
That's quite admirable for a young man who was outspoken about social injustice and helped lead the movement to play college football during a pandemic. Those things can't be overlooked.
By early Saturday morning, though, people will only want to talk about the outcome of the Sugar Bowl, and Lawrence, even without his offensive coordinator, is primed to put on a show. Based on his last game, a 34-10 drubbing of the Irish, Lawrence is playing the best football of his career. He's overcome COVID-19 and not having three highly-regarded receivers for much of the season.
That won't stop him from putting forth his best effort against Ohio State in New Orleans. Watch him closely. Don't pay so much attention to the NFL arm strength or the deceptive speed. Observe the way he handles his team, the pocket, the pre-snap reads, the post-snap decisions and the entire game. Like a great pitcher in baseball, he puts pressure on the other team to nearly be perfect. Lawrence isn't going to let you beat him. He's too much in control.
And that's the keyword that will ultimately define his legacy and determine how far he takes the Tigers in 2020.