Could Etienne Push for Greatest ACC Player Ever?

Brad Senkiw

Mark Packer, host of “Off Campus” on SiriusXM and “Packer and Durham” on ACC Network, recently released his ACC All-Decade Team.

Packer had two former Clemson players (quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver Sammy Watkins) on his offensive squad and four Tigers (defensive linemen Shaq Lawson, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and linebacker Isaiah Simmons) on his defensive team.

These lists are fun to pick apart and make for great summer fodder, especially while we continue to deal with a global pandemic.

But these also raise thoughts of snubs and debates of players who deserve more credit, and looking at Packer’s choice for running back of the 2010s, it raises some questions concerning a certain Clemson record-holder.

Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Packer’s choice, is certainly not a bad selection. The current Minnesota Vikings rusher had a tremendous career, rushing for 4,464 yards and totaling 5,399 scrimmage yards in three seasons. Cook scored 46 touchdowns and averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry.

There haven’t been many electrifying, home-run hitters better than Cook in the totality of this conference.

However, there’s a back who has done more than any other in the long history of the ACC who could actually be hurt by reverse recency bias since his career isn’t over.

Clemson running back Travis Etienne’s 4,038 rushing yards is bested by no one at his own school or in the history of the league. His 56 touchdowns are also the most ever in the ACC, and his current 8.1 yards per carry is the best the league has ever seen.

It’s not a stretch to go with Cook over Etienne, even though they have both played the same number of seasons, but it’s hard to rank or rate Etienne knowing he has a season left. And there’s sometimes the issue of naming a player the running back of the decade when it came on the backend of the 10 years.

Still, Etienne is the most prolific rusher of any era in the ACC, and with a season left to play, the question bears asking: Could Etienne be the best ACC player, not just running back of the last or previous decades, that the league has ever seen?

That's a lot of players to sort through to figure that out, and most people will only look at quarterbacks and forget about defensive players. But calling Etienne the most prolific player the ACC has ever seen might not be a stretch.

After all, he’s going to create a tremendous amount of distance between himself and any other rushers. The Louisiana native has averaged 1,600 yards the last two seasons. If he reaches anything close to that mark again, Etienne will be well over 5,000 if not 5,500 rushing yards. That’s going to put him light years ahead of Cook, who’s No. 2.

Etienne’s touchdown totals might never be reached, especially in more of a passing era. This isn’t “student body left, student body right” of yesteryear.

There will certainly be pushback, though, to this debate. Etienne hasn’t played against the best competition in the last couple of seasons. The ACC is down as a whole. In the 2020 NFL Draft, there wasn’t a single defensive player taken who wasn’t from Clemson until the fourth round.

But at the same time, factor in all the carries Etienne hasn’t gotten because the Tigers are up huge and he’s already rushed for 150 yards by the third quarter.

He averaged nearly 11 fewer carries per game than ACC leader A.J. Dillon of Boston College in 2019.

Bottom line, this is going to be a debate worth having once his career is all said and done. If Etienne adds in a fourth consecutive ACC crown and another potential national title, there will be some validity to calling him the best ACC player ever.

Seeing a list of the best players of the last decade without Etienne just means people aren’t thinking this way yet, but there’s a good chance they should. 

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