Spiller revives Heisman hopes

Analysts take note of player's extensive highlight reel, team's rejuvenation

pstrelow@thestate.comOctober 28, 2009 

CLEMSON - Those life-size posters promoting Clemson senior running back C.J. Spiller for the Heisman Trophy could wind up as a collector's item.

Especially if the Tigers' resurgence is more than a novelty.

Such is the apparent result of Spiller's highlight-reel performance against a top-10 opponent on a regional telecast.

"I'm not going to shy away from the opportunity, sit here and act like it's not important to me," Spiller said Tuesday. "It's very important not only to me but my team."

Spiller's prowess in Saturday's 40-37 overtime victory at then-No. 8 Miami has spawned sudden support for his Heisman candidacy.

He finished with 310 all-purpose yards, tied for the best single-game performance this season by an FBS player (Kentucky RB Derrick Locke, vs. Louisville).

Spiller supplied the splash to go with the substance, producing a 56-yard touchdown catch and a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown that showcased his blend of speed and shiftiness.

The national media has taken notice.

Spiller jumped to seventh on ESPN's Heisman watch, which is the composite vote of 15 of its college football writers. CBSSportsline.com national writer Dennis Dodd lists Spiller fifth. Gene Menez, SI.com's Heisman ranker, has Spiller fourth.

"Everyone's excited about it, but we understand it comes with team success," Spiller said. "The guys love it and have challenged me. They'd love to see me there. Jacoby (Ford) put it best: You have a guy on your team who's a Heisman candidate, it represents your whole team and university and town. To have the chance to be considered one of the best, we need to play hard."

Clemson plans to try to capitalize on the momentum by creating a new design for the front page of its athletics Web site that features a link to a new Spiller-for-Heisman site. School officials hope to launch it by the end of the week.

A file highlighting Spiller's eight plays of 60-plus yards is slated to be e-mailed to national media outlets, and Clemson held off distributing a portion of its Spiller posters during the summer in case his candidacy gained steam.

Coach Dabo Swinney, who has publicly touted Spiller as a deserving candidate throughout the season, acknowledged what's at stake by bringing Spiller's bid to players' attention during Monday's team meeting.

"You should enjoy having the best player in the country on your football team," Swinney said. "It's not about C.J. winning the Heisman. ... But we don't have our head in the mud around here, either. This is a special kid, a great player, and our players need to learn from a guy like that.

"This guy ought to be in New York (for the Heisman ceremony). I wanted to make sure that some guys observe how he works. You want to know what a Heisman candidate looks like? You've got one on your team."

Swinney said the newfound attention paid to Spiller will not influence how much he will be used in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. against FCS team Coastal Carolina.

Odds favor the game getting out of hand considering the struggles of the Chanticleers (3-4), and Spiller probably could stand to minimize the wear on his nagging turf toe headed into next week's pivotal Atlantic Division showdown with Florida State.

But much like Clemson's positioning in the division race, Spiller has gained a reprieve in the Heisman hunt in part because no one appears to want to remain on top.

The trifecta of preseason favorites - quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida, Colt McCoy of Texas and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma - have been unspectacular, with Bradford out for the season because of an injury.

The front-runners appear to be Alabama back Mark Ingram, who is arguably not even his team's most valuable player, and Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, whose profile is enhanced by his program's tradition.

And for Spiller even to be a finalist, Clemson figures to have to advance to the ACC title game.

Because winning matters. Nine of the past 10 Heisman winners played on teams that finished in the top 10 of the AP poll. And seven of the past 11 winners competed in the BCS title game.

"I like my chances," Spiller said. "When it first started, I told everyone my goal was to win it. That's not being cocky, that's just having confidence in your ability and your team. At the end of the year, we'll see where we're at."

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