Every college football fan recognized the freakish athletic ability of Jadeveon Clowney in 2011, when the South Carolina defensive end wreaked havoc on opposing offensive linemen on a weekly basis.
So it came as no surprise that the sophomore stole the show in the Gamecocks' win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day — even stealing some thunder from the game-winning 32-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Thompson to Bruce Ellington in the final seconds that beat the Wolverines 33-28.
Quite simply, Clowney made one of the best football plays I have ever seen when he burst into the backfield and gave Wolverines running back Vincent Smith a wake-up call.
Clowney's forced fumble in the fourth quarter led to a touchdown for the Gamecocks, who were trailing 22-21 with a little more than eight minutes to go when he made the jarring hit. And, as if he needed any momentum to be on a lot of Heisman Trophy Watch lists for 2013, Clowney became the star of the 2012-13 bowl season.
With Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o coming awfully close to capturing the award this season — and he arguably would have won it if not for the ridiculousness of Johnny Manziel — voters may finally be ready to embrace a true defensive player who does not participate on offense or special teams as Charles Woodson did. Of course, we don't know yet exactly what type of season Clowney and the Gamecocks will have in 2013. But by stealing the show on New Year's Day and becoming a YouTube sensation, Clowney set himself up for a lot of preseason hype throughout the summer and early part of next fall.
Another discussion that the “hit heard 'round the world” prompted was whether or not Clowney and others who are already deemed ready for the NFL should be able to leave whenever they choose. Of course, the NFL requires that a player must be three years out of high school in order to be eligible for the draft. Clowney, who turns 20 next month, is two years out. While Clowney could challenge the rule, former Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett’s attempt was unsuccessful.
Which is great for college football fans, because we could be in store for even more ridiculous plays as Clowney trends toward being the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.