High Hopes for C.J.
SUNSET — While national prognosticators are bearish on Clemson, expectations for an individual Tiger have rarely been higher.
Following a media golf outing Tuesday at The Reserve, Clemson unveiled life-size posters — that's 5 feet, 11 inches — of C.J. Spiller, touting the senior running back as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
The campaign is ambitious considering the last two Heisman winners — Florida's Tim Tebow and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford — are back on campus.
But the marketing push, which after sponsorships is costing the school $1,000 in postage to mail the Spiller gear to various media outlets, is indicative of big plans — and expectations — for Spiller as he takes over the feature role for the first time in his career.
So what just might a Heisman- contending campaign for Spiller look like? Clemson coach Dabo Swinney did not offer a direct statistical projection, but did say Spiller is a threat to break the ACC's all-purpose yardage mark "by midseason." Spiller needs 921 yards to pass North Carolina's Leon Johnson (1995). And with this being Spiller's final year, Swinney noted he is not particularly concerned with putting miles on Spiller.
Still, Swinney said he has not created benchmark numbers for Spiller, like, 250 touches.
"There's no limit," Swinney said of Spiller's 2009 potential. "But there are no set numbers like 22 carries a game."
Last season, Spiller accounted for 27 percent of the team's rushes, a number that should increase appreciably. How much so is unclear, as Jamie Harper and others will figure in the backfield.
Offensive coordinator Billy Napier was influenced by reading Urban Meyer's book this summer, taking from it the importance of catering to your players' strengths and not a coach's system.
"We'll cater to our best football players," Napier said. "Just really trying to give guys a fair chance.
"In college, it's not like the NFL. You can't swap players, sign a tight end who is ready to play."
With an inexperienced quarterback and an improved offensive line, there will be balance on the ground. Whether it's enough to make Spiller more than a darkhorse remains to be seen.
Of the last 11 Heisman winners, three have been running backs: Ricky Williams (1998), Ron Dayne (1999) and Reggie Bush (2005).
Spiller will not see a Williams or Dayne-like workload. Williams carried the ball 391 times for 2,397 yards and caught another 29 passes for 307 yards during his Heisman year. Dayne rushed for 1,863 yards in 1999.
However, a high-end Spiller projection might look like Bush's 2005 season when Bush carried the ball 200 times for 1,740 yards (8.7 avg.) and caught 37 passes for 478 yards (12.9 avg.).
Last season Spiller, gained 629 yards on 116 carries (5.4 avg.) and caught 34 passes for 436 yards (12.8 avg.).
If Spiller carries roughly half the rushing workload (200-220 carries) and retains his 2006 efficiency — 7.3 yard per carry — he could breach 2,000 total yards.
To carry the extra work, Spiller said last week he has not changed his offseason work or added much bulk. He's listed at 195 pounds.
Even if he doesn't make an improbable run at college football's MVP, Spiller can still make history. Clemson has never had a Heisman finalist. Steve Fuller came the closest in 1978, finishing sixth.
The only projections related to the program, said Swinney, is 12, which he hopes falls under wins. It is a number paramount for a Heisman hopeful, which Swinney hopes is Spiller, whom he recruited doggedly and had sign a promise to visit Clemson on the back of a card nearly four years ago, which he still keeps in the office.
"He is one of the best players in the college football," Swinney said, "if not the best."
Swinney said all scholarship players are expected to return Aug. 3 when the team reports … There is little in the way of health concerns. Ricky Sapp has been cleared and has told Swinney he is near 100 percent. Freshman quarterback Tajh Boyd still must be cleared to play, but he has participated in summer workouts. The primary concerns are the health of Stanley Hunter, who is medicated for epilepsy, and reserve defensive tackle Jamal Medlin, who will medical redshirt.
Reach Travis Sawchik at email@example.com