By all accounts, University of South Carolina freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has lived up to the tremendous hype that accompanied his arrival on campus this fall.

The 6-foot-6, 254-pound defensive end – the most celebrated high school recruit in the entire nation in 2010 – won freshman of the year honors in the Southeastern Conference, registering six sacks, ten tackles for losses and five forced fumbles. Those numbers probably would have been even better if opposing offensive lineman weren’t holding him on virtually every play.

Clowney’s play helped turn USC’s defense into one of the nation’s most feared units – and is one of the main reasons the Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2 SEC) are on the verge of their first-ever 11-win season and Top Ten finish.

But did Clowney exceed the hype? And is it really time to start comparing him to the greatest defensive player in football history?

Apparently so …

Earlier this week, Clowney was named to ESPN’s NEXT list – an “elite group of emerging athletes.”

According to the network this list (which also features Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck) is comprised of “competitors not only on the cusp of stardom, but on the verge of transcending their sports. NEXT is what happens when the hype is real.”

Okay … we’re on board with all of that. But it was the specific praise reserved for Clowney that gave us cause for pause.

Lawrence Taylor

“Lawrence Taylor’s name isn’t thrown around lightly. But with every play Jadeveon Clowney makes, the LT shadow looms larger,” the article noted.

Quoting former USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who said last February that Clowney was “already almost NFL caliber in physical abilities,” ESPN added “he’ll be there soon, which is when he’ll live up to the LT comparison.”

Wow …

In thirteen NFL seasons, Taylor recorded 142 sacks – including 20.5 sacks in 1986, the year he was named league MVP. He was named to ten Pro Bowls and led the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl championships.

Of course as anybody who has read The Blind Side knows, Taylor’s impact on the game truly transcended the gaudy defensive statistics and individual honors he accumulated. Specifically, his career-ending hit on Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann is portrayed in the book as being the impetus for the evolution of the left tackle position.

Thanks to Taylor’s “tenacious D,” these big offensive linemen – who protect the quarterback’s “blind side” – are among the earliest-drafted, highest-paid players in the NFL.

Is Clowney really going to live up to that hype?

Nothing against USC’s superfrosh, but we think the comparison is a bit premature. Of course that’s just our opinion, you can share yours by voting in our poll and posting your thoughts in our comments section below.

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Clowney and the Gamecocks play No. 20 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Monday. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. EST, with ESPN televising the game nationally. USC has been installed as a two-point favorite.