Travis Etienne is good at football.
That's pretty obvious by looking at his 4,038 career rushing yards and 56 rushing touchdowns. The Clemson senior running back is already the school and ACC record-holder for multiple categories.
He's a scoring machine, but instead of looking at how far he's about to distance himself from the rest of the humanity with records he already owns, what could a huge 2020 do for his status all-time in college football?
When he made his decision to spurn the NFL draft, return to Clemson and then not opting out when several of college football's biggest playmakers chose to do so, Etienne set himself up to chase more elusive records:
- Etienne is 565 yards away from becoming the ACC's all-time leading rusher.
- His 62 career total touchdowns rank 16th in FBS history, and he needs 26 more to catch record-holder Keenan Reynolds (88) of Navy.
- If Etienne can score 20 touchdowns in 2020, he'll be the first ACC player to accomplish that mark in three different seasons and only the second player in FBS since 2000 to do so, joining Louisana Tech's Kenneth Dixon.
- Etienne needs just three games with either a rushing or receiving touchdown to pass Florida's Tim Tebow and Dixon (38 games each) for the most in FBS history.
- If Etienne can score multiple touchdowns in a game seven more times, he'll tie Miami (Ohio)'s Travis Prentice and Wisconsin's Montee Ball with the most ever in FBS; Etienne has 18 career games with more than one TD scored.
- Etienne needs 33 points to pass former kicker Chandler Catanzaro as Clemson's all-time leading scorer.
- If the Tigers can reach the national championship game for the third consecutive season, and Etienne stays healthy, he could pass James Davis' school record of 43 starts by a Clemson running back.
- With a third consecutive ACC Player of the Year honor, Etienne would become the first player in conference history to earn that feat and the second player in Power 5 history to do so along with legendary Georgia running back Herschel Walker.
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There are several other career milestones he could reach that would put him in the same sentences with names like Tony Dorsett, Warrick Dunn, Lamar Jackson, Errict Rhett, Donnel Pumphrey, LaMichael James and Jonathan Taylor.
Many of those marks seem obtainable with another solid season when you look at Etienne's averages throughout his career: 1,346 yards per season, 93.9 yards per game and 18.7 touchdowns per contest.
Remember that he wasn't a starter in 2017 and yet still led the Tigers in rushing despite having just 107 carries. Even when he took over the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, Etienne has never been a workhorse. He's had just two games of 20-plus carries in his career.
By comparison, Oklahoma State's Chubba Hubbard, the nation's leading rusher a year ago who's also returned for his senior season, went over 20 carries in 11 of his 13 games in 2019 and even had four games over 30 rushes.
Hubbard had 121 more carries than Etienne (207) and averaged nearly 1.5 yards less per rush. Etienne had 480 fewer yards and played two more games, but he's always been a big-play in smaller doses kind of running back.
If he were to even receive a modest increase in carries, say, split the difference in the 121-rush gap between he and Hubbard, Etienne would've rushed for 2,082 yards, just 12 yards fewer than Hubbard last year.
Figuring out what his final 2020 numbers will look like isn't that easy, though. One less regular-season game and the prospect of potential forfeits or a stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic exist. It's also difficult to figure out his usage. He's become a much more integral part of the passing game, which cuts down on his carries, and Clemson is already favored by 33 points Saturday at Wake Forest. How much will Etienne play in second halves, even against 10, instead of eight, ACC schools?
With his career average of 7.8 yards per rush, which is the second-best in FBS with a minimum of 400 carries since 1956, Etienne should get in range of the 1,600 yards he's posted the last two seasons. Those 26 total touchdowns (he had 23 a year ago) might be hard to accomplish, even with receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross not members of the offense this year.
Trevor Lawrence will spread the ball around more, and tight end Braden Galloway and slot receiver Amari Rodgers will help the Tigers exploit the middle of the field. Clemson wants to be balanced.
And then there's this from offensive coordinator Tony Elliott on knowing when in doubt as a play-caller, he could just hand the ball to No. 9:
"I think that initially, on the surface, you know, there's a lot of confidence, but at the same time, too, you respect every opponent," Elliott said. "Obviously we know that that we have great players here at Clemson and they're gonna be well prepared, but we also respect our opponent, too. We don't take anything for granted, and so we have a plan to be able to go in and run the football. We have an expectation to run the football, but I'm not going to be overconfident from the standpoint of just having (Etienne) and that's gonna solve all my problems."
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