Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says there's no dilemma, controversy or question about the Tigers' starting quarterback — no matter how many dazzling moments five-star freshman Deshaun Watson creates on the field.
Swinney believes senior Cole Stoudt gives the 23rd-ranked Tigers (1-1) the best chance to win their next game in two weeks at defending national champion and No. 1 Florida State (2-0). That won't stop fans and others from speculating about having Watson behind center fulltime, especially with what he's accomplished during his handful of chances to play these first two games.
Stoudt "hasn't played perfect, but he's played well as the starter, very well," Swinney said Monday. "And it's frustrating when people don't want to recognize that."
It's hard to ignore Watson when he's in the game.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman from Gainesville, Georgia had led five touchdown drives in his six series played. More than points are the "Wow" moments that come with Watson in control like his missile-strike, 30-yard TD throw to Charone Peake in the loss to Georgia or his whirling escape of a sack and first-down run against South Carolina State last Saturday.
Watson is 10 of 13 for 213 yards passing with four touchdown throws, three more than Stoudt's put up this fall. He seems a perfect fit for coordinator Chad Morris' fast-moving attack, accounting for a Georgia state prep record with 17,134 total yards and 218 total touchdowns.
"We know that we have a very special talent in Deshaun Watson," Swinney said. "It's not some big, shocking thing to us. We know that. And he has to play well with his opportunities."
Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have allowed Watson the chance to play meaningful minutes, something Stoudt did not do the past three seasons.
The most significant stretch Stoudt played came his freshman season when he entered early in the third quarter for a banged-up Boyd and Clemson up 23-7 on Boston College. Stoudt drove the Tigers to two field goals and a touchdown to wrap up the 36-14 victory.
A look at play-by-play from Stoudt's three previous seasons shows his 19 other appearances came with Clemson in front or behind by double digits.
Stoudt is 38 of 60 for 466 yards with an interception and a touchdown. The senior said he's long made peace with those who'll want Watson in the game.
"I know how the team thinks about me," Stoudt said. "I know how I feel about the team. That's all that really matters to me."
Swinney has not had quarterback shuffles since taking over as head coach midway through the 2008 season. Kyle Parker was his starting quarterback in 2009 and 2010 before Boyd moved into the job the next three seasons and led the Tigers to a 32-8 mark. He knew the debate was coming when he and Morris chose to play Watson early in each game.
"Had he gone out and played bad, then everybody would've said, 'Why are you playing that guy? Your starter's playing good,' " Swinney said. "But, if he goes in and plays good, which we expect him to play good, it's, 'How come he (isn't) playing more?' You just can't win in that situation."
Still, Swinney said Stoudt does not have a "lifetime contract" to be Clemson's starting quarterback if he doesn't perform.
Stoudt, the son of former NFL passer Cliff Stoudt, waited patiently for his chance behind Boyd and believes he's taken advantage of the opportunity. He's friends with Watson and tutors him on the offense as Boyd did the past three seasons.
"It's kind of like me and Tajh (Boyd) were. We are just trying to get each other better and try to be the best we can be for this team," he said.
Watson has continually said he's comfortable awaiting his time as starting quarterback and is not in a hurry to make that leap.
"I just go with the flow. I play my role and try to be the best teammates I can be," he said. "Coach Swinney and coach Morris call the shots, so whatever they want to do that's best for the team, we are going to go with that."