Burns: C.J. Spiller is Clemson’s best, ever

by - Correspondent -
On Saturday Spiller is set to become just the 27th player in FBS history to reach 6,000 all-purpose yards.
On Saturday Spiller is set to become just the 27th player in FBS history to reach 6,000 all-purpose yards.

No matter how the team fares Saturday, Clemson football fans will cheer true excellence. C.J. Spiller is one of the best running backs in the country. He’s the best all-purpose back in Clemson history. He may be the best running back in Clemson history.

No other Tiger has had this level and combination of speed, moves and power.

He’s persevered and blossomed through tested devotion.

Spiller is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career leader in all-purpose yards. He needs just 59 to reach 6,000. He’s on pace for 7,000, accomplished by only three previous Bowl Subdivision players. Former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush of Southern California is the only other FBS player in history with at least 2,500 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving, 1,500 in kickoff returns and 500 in punt returns.

Spiller’s averaging 207 yards per game heading into Saturday’s 12:10 kickoff against Wake Forest in Death Valley.

Yet the senior didn’t hit the holes, danced too much, gambled singles for big swings and too often risked a loss of 10 instead of earning a hard 3 when he first arrived as a freshman. He’s so much better now. He runs through arm tackles and pushes piles forward. He’s developed an edge and remains capable of taking it the distance every time he touches the ball.

His mother didn’t want him to leave Florida to come to Clemson, but Spiller felt drawn. She wanted him to transfer, but he remained. She wanted him to go pro when he could have entered last year’s NFL draft and been a millionaire, already, but he remained drawn to Clemson. He said he wanted to act like a “man” and lead by example for his daughter and others.

He’s the poster man, the Heisman candidate. He’s a track All-American. He’s degree-bound and Dean’s List-crowned, Academic All-ACC. He’s the All-Purpetrator. He’s Lightning.

He has 2,695 yards rushing, 1,074 receiving, 1,631 in kickoff returns and 541 in punt returns in his career. He has 16 touchdowns of at least 50 yards, including four this year; Bush had 13.

On Saturday he’s set to become the 27th player in FBS history to reach 6,000 all-purpose yards. He needs three receptions to reach 100 for his career, and he needs nine to become Clemson’s career leader for a running back.

Raymond Priester is Clemson’s all-time rushing leader with 3,966 yards. He earned every single one with a brutal style – gained 1,000 by crawling for extra on one hand. Banks McFadden, Bobby Gage and Terrence Flagler were All-Americans. There’s been Fred Cone, Buddy Gore, Ray Yauger, Kevin Mack and Travis Zachery. James Davis and Kenny Flowers were two of the best I’ve seen.

Terry Allen was the best I’ve seen. When he wasn’t hampered by a knee injury, he slashed and burned. He won ACC titles in the late 1980s.
It does not take team championships to be one of the best. For years Dan Marino had the most career passing yards and touchdowns in NFL history, before Brett Favre passed him, but Marino never won a Super Bowl. Priester, who played 1994-97, never won an ACC title.

Barring an epic rise around him, Spiller won’t either. He’s yet to win a bowl game. But no matter what happens the rest of the year, no matter all that’s pulled him in other directions, Spiller has cut and flown run his way into consideration among Clemson’s very best.

Lies and statistics

The numbers tell the story.

Spiller has had a play of at least 60 yards in each game so far this year. He has three kick returns of at least 77 yards for touchdowns, two on kickoffs and one on a punt.

With his rushing touchdown in last week’s loss to Maryland, Jacoby Ford became just the fifth player in Clemson history to account for a touchdown at least four different ways. Spiller has accounted for a touchdown five different ways - rushing, receiving, punt returning and kickoff returning plus passing. He threw a touchdown at Virginia last year.

The Tigers own 56 wins over Wake Forest. The only team Clemson has beaten more is South Carolina. That’s happened 65 times. Only sunrises and tides happen more.

The last time Wake Forest won at Clemson was 1998. Clemson coach Tommy West was fired that year. The previous time Wake won at Clemson was 1993. Ken Hatfield was fired that year.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Dabo Swinney taking over as coach for Tommy Bowden. It’s too early to tell if the Tigers are better off for the long haul. Many fans expected the Tigers to be better off at this point, but they’re not that far away.

Clemson has seven offensive touchdowns in five games, two in the last three games, including games against Maryland and Boston College. Wake Forest scored nine against those two opponents.

Clemson and Wake have two sets of players from the same Jacksonville, Fla., high schools with the same last names, but none are re¬lated. Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker and Wake tight end Andrew Parker played at Bartram Trail. Clemson snapper Matt Skinner and Wake quarterback Riley Skinner attended Bolles School.

Hater’s game

Posted by “Deacs91” on DeaconSports.com about reports of a heated exchange between Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier:
“Re: Clemsux Turmoil Blog ¬- You gotta love it! No team chemistry and infighting makes it tough for kids to stay focused. Maybe we are catching them at the right time. A well-oiled machine is headed into the Valley to eat some tigermeat.”

Is that right? You’ve got a gritty coach who’s maximized that program, the best you’ve ever had, in Jim Grobe, but he’s 3-5 against the Tigers. He’s never won in Death Valley. You’re still Weak Forest, the neutral Swiss, not good enough to hate.

Postgame shake

Yes, you are. Wake may be good enough to play for an ACC title, again. Quarterback Riley Skinner led the way to the championship in 2006, when he was the league’s rookie of the year. The Deacs (4-2 overall, 2-1 in the ACC) and the Tigers (2-3, 1-2) are playing for position in a soft and bewildering Atlantic Division. In a musty season, this is must-win for Clemson. A loss would leave the Tigers 2-4, staring a date at No. 9 Miami (4-1, 2-1).
Wake’s offense is rolling while Clemson’s is struggling to get in the end zone, but oddsmakers have the Tigers favored by about a touchdown. Offer me the margin of a field goal by Richard Jackson, who leads the nation with 14, and I’ll take it.

Other Columns by Michael Burns

- Burns: I hate it when Tommy Bowden is right

- Watch it the old-fashioned way

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