Tigers' QB outlook started in Clemson-Ohio State recruiting battles

Clemson quarterbacks, from left, Tajh Boyd, Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly run a drill during the Tigers' Orange Bowl practice session at their indoor facility on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 in Clemson, S.C. Clemson plays Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl in Miami, Fl. on Jan. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson quarterbacks, from left, Tajh Boyd, Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly run a drill during the Tigers' Orange Bowl practice session at their indoor facility on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 in Clemson, S.C. Clemson plays Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl in Miami, Fl. on Jan. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

CLEMSON - Orange Bowl foes Clemson and Ohio State wouldn't seem like direct competitors on the recruiting trail, but for top talent lately, that's been the case.

Just this week, the Buckeyes went into Georgia to nab a commitment from five-star 2014 linebacker Raekwon McMillan, beating out Clemson and Alabama.

Earlier in the cycle, the Tigers fended off Ohio State for the Peach State's top quarterback, Deshaun Watson, and wide receiver, Demarre Kitt. They both have signed financial-aid agreements to enroll in January.

Deshaun Watson, other Tigers have big shoes to fill

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The ACC-Big Ten recruiting rivalry really can be traced back to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's first class – and one soon-to-be-record-shattering quarterback, Tajh Boyd.

“Jim Tressel was at Ohio State and Mike Bellotti was at Oregon,” Swinney recalled back at July’s ACC Football Kickoff. “They had pretty good track records and here I am — trying to lay it out on paper for him. Here’s the vision. Here’s the plan. You come to Clemson and we can change Clemson and we’ll have a lot of fun doing it, but I got to have a guy that’s willing to hitch his saddle up next to me."

Boyd, however, grew up idolizing Buckeye quarterback great Troy Smith, who won the 2006 Heisman Trophy.

"It was really close. They finished No. 2 as far as me going there," he said. "It was a little difficult choice because Troy Smith was my favorite player growing up in high school. Just trying to emulate him and be in the same mold. Getting a chance to go up there and visit in high school and just seeing all the pageantry and just the history behind that program is pretty awesome."

On that visit, Boyd became familiar with another QB prospect, current Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year was a rising junior at the time and committed to Ohio State about a year and a half after Boyd signed on with Clemson.

"I did hear about Braxton on my visit up there. Some of the alums and players were talking about Braxton," he said. "We've developed a great relationship over the years. Called him on Sunday to make sure he's alright from the previous game and told the boys they better be ready."

When the Orange Bowl matchup appeared likely, Boyd couldn't help but look back a bit.

"I woke up Sunday morning and kinda replayed some things in my head trying to think of what the scenarios would be (with Ohio State)," said Boyd. "I was excited about the choice because it's different. You play a SEC team or this or that team seems like every week. Getting a chance to play a Big Ten school, just the historical-ness of Ohio State and what they offer – it's going to be real fun."

Looking forward, the latest Buckeyes-Tigers’ recruiting clash was more Urban Meyer and co. trying catch up.

Clemson was the Gainesville (Ga.) quarterback Watson's first offer and a commit since his sophomore year, and one that Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris knew he personally needed to invest in.

"He's a young man who's been true to his word," Morris said. "We knew that we were going to battle some waves along the way, but I remember sitting there watching him play basketball his sophomore year and I was the only coach in the stands. (I was) just thinking, 'Hope this is going to be worth it.' Just building the relationship, that's what you do."

And it was worth it and more, as the offers piled up while he set the state record for passing yards (13,077) and accounted for over 16,000 total yards with 218 touchdowns.

"What he's done in Georgia and the records he's broken have been pretty remarkable in just three years essentially," Morris said. "Led his team to a state championship and got beat one game shy of it this year. Very talented, very athletic. He's a playmaker – there's no question about that."

The third-year coordinator is already looking forward to the three-way "quarterback race" this spring, but he's mindful of what he's replacing.

"He's got huge shoes to fill," Morris said. "Not just his play on the field, but how he handles it off the field. To me, that's the sign of what Tajh has meant to this university and program. He truly has been the face of this university."

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