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Clemson has no finalists for individual awards, but the Tigers are 12-1 and college football’s top-ranked team
SCOTT KEEPFER/Greenville News/Wochit

CLEMSON – The College Football Awards Show is set for Thursday night in Atlanta, and the nation’s No. 1 team will be conspicuously absent.

Other than Tony Elliott, Clemson’s up-and-coming co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach, and head coach Dabo Swinney, there will be no one with a Clemson affiliation on hand for the annual awards program.

Elliott will be recognized for the Broyles Award, which is presented to the nation’s top assistant coach, won Monday night in Little Rock, Arkansas. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables won the award last year.

But as far as players go, Clemson will be on the outside looking in, which represents an abrupt change from recent years. 

The Tigers have had no shortage of award finalists — and winners — of late, what with players such as Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley, Ben Boulware, Jordan Leggett and Sammy Watkins, but this season has produced a much different story.

Clemson will have no finalists for the Biletnikoff Award or the Bednarik Award.

No one up for the Outland Trophy or the Maxwell Trophy, either, for that matter.

But perhaps therein lies to secret to Clemson’s success this season: There has been no single player bigger than the team.

“Definitely,” said junior center Justin Falcinelli, “this year that’s how it’s been. We’re not a group of stars put together; we’re guys who work together and play as a team.”

It’s not that previous teams, including last year’s national champion, didn’t have team unity; it’s just that this year’s team features no players with eye-popping statistics, and that’s typically a standard prerequisite for what it takes to gain inclusion among award finalists.

“We’re just a team — we don’t have any individuals trying to put themselves out there,” said freshman wide receiver Tee Higgins. “That kind of stuff doesn’t matter to us.”

To wit, Clemson ranks second in the nation in sacks per game, but no player has more than 8½.

“We just take care of our 1/11th of the field, and everything else will fall into place,” junior defensive end Austin Bryant said.

Clemson has a plethora of talented wide receivers, but 23 different players have caught a pass this season, and no one has more than 55 receptions.

Clemson’s rushing attack is averaging 35 more yards per game than it did a year ago, but there is no 1,000-yard rusher to be found.

The Tigers don’t have a quarterback who has thrown for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns, nor do they have a linebacker with 120 tackles or a cornerback with five interceptions.

For the first time in recent memory, Clemson did not have an Atlantic Coast Conference leader in any major individual offensive or defensive statistical category, and that suits the Tigers just fine.

“It shows how underrated some players are and how great of a team we are,” said junior wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. “To make a team you’ve got to have great players who are willing to be part of something.

“We’ve got a lot of players who are willing to sacrifice what they’ve got going on for someone else. That’s what makes us so good.”

It’s known as sharing the wealth, and that approach has paid handsome dividends for the Tigers this season.

Clemson played a school-record 93 players against The Citadel on Nov. 18, and 91 players saw action in the season-opener against Kent State. The Tigers sacrificed a couple of shutouts and plenty of yards by inserting back-ups on defense early in the third quarter; they also kept scores in check and undoubtedly curtailed individual statistics by playing reserves on offense on a regular basis.

Individual awards are nice, but you know what’s much sweeter?

A 12-1 record and being one win away from playing for a national championship for a third consecutive year.