Ron Morris

Morris: In lieu of trophy, enjoy Spiller's dazzling play

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller walks away from a tackle after a punt return.
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller walks away from a tackle after a punt return.

CLEMSON | C.J. SPILLER'S HEISMAN Trophy campaign continued Saturday at Death Valley. Too bad most of the nation was not paying much attention, and that Spiller does not possess the requirements to win the award.

Spiller again proved in Clemson's victory against Boston College he is one of college football's elite players. There is not a team or coach in the country that would not dearly love to have No. 28 in its backfield, on its punt return team or on its kickoff return team.

"C.J.," says his coach, Dabo Swinney, "is special."

Spiller returned a first-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown. Two more punt returns gave him a career-best 119 yards. He carried the ball 17 times for 77 yards.

Are you ready for this? He sat out the fourth quarter with a recurring toe injury.

And this? He said he played at 85 percent.

"I can only go so fast on it," Spiller said of the right toe he first injured in Clemson's season-opener against Middle Tennessee. "If I'm 85 percent, I'm good to go. I don't have to be 100 percent to do what I do. It limits some of the things I'm able to do. . . . You need to be able to cut. It limits everything. But I block it out once I get on the field and go play."

Spiller's touchdown -- the first punt return for a score in his career -- gave him an astonishing 15 touchdowns in excess of 50 yards. That total is Clemson's highest and equals the number of the next two big-play guys (Jacoby Ford with eight and Derrick Hamilton with seven) combined.

Spiller also showed against Boston College just how much he has expanded his game. When Clemson was backed up to its 8-yard-line in the first quarter, he dug the Tigers out of the hole. Back-to-back 6-yard runs were logged between the tackles.

Swinney said nothing Spiller does these days surprises him.

Part of the deal in convincing Spiller to return for his senior season was for Swinney to assure Spiller he would be the focal point of the offense. The more Spiller touched the ball, Swinney said, the greater the chances for Clemson success.

With that in mind, the Clemson publicity staff went into full-bore promotion mode. It distributed life-size posters of Spiller and touted him as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Spiller's campaign got to a spectacular start when he returned Clemson's season-opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against Middle Tennessee. Unfortunately, in a game in which Spiller could have padded his statistics, he was sidelined by the toe injury and carried the ball four times for 12 yards.

Spiller then gave his first stump speech to a national audience on a Thursday night ESPN game against Georgia Tech. He rushed for 87 yards, caught four passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and returned three kickoffs for 78 yards.

Then came Saturday's show, another dazzler. Yet it will not matter much in the Heisman race.

Quarterbacks and traditional runners win the Heisman, not running backs/return specialists like Spiller. Look at the list of winners. Since 1960 all but three have either been QBs or RBs. Two of those winners played for Michigan, Desmond Howard in 1991 as a receiver/return specialist and Charles Woodson in 1997 as a cornerback/return specialist. Wide receiver Tim Brown won for Notre Dame in 1987.

The other problem with Spiller's campaign is there may never have been stiffer competition for the award. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Tim Tebow of Florida already own Heisman trophies. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is considered a strong candidate to challenge those two.

If there is a factor that could play in Spiller's favor -- and it is a long shot -- it would be if he sparked Clemson to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship (possible) and into the national title hunt (no chance). Heck, even a BCS bowl appearance might get Spiller's name on a few Heisman ballots.

Nevertheless, even with a spectacularly big year, the likelihood is slim Spiller will finish among the leading vote getters. It would be a huge upset if Spiller is invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a serious contender.

No matter. As he did Saturday, Spiller continues to prove he is the best player on the field each Saturday and one of the most exciting players in all of college football. However unfair, that alone does not equate to Heisman Trophy consideration.

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