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Turning Point: The C.J. Spiller Effect on Clemson Football

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2015 could be a special season for the Tigers. If it is, a huge credit should go to C.J. Spiller.

Still the Man
Still the Man
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson football knocked on the door of elite status for the last four seasons.  Over the last few years, the staff at STS provided a great deal of analysis into what is left for the Tigers to get over the final hump.  The biggest statistic appears to be the yards per carry that reveals the true effectiveness of running the football. If the Tigers can surpass the 4.5 ypc number (and, in a perfect world, the 5.0 number), great things should be in store for the 2015 season.  The opportunity is certainly there as the major challengers to the Tigers have to come to Death Valley (save USCjr...sorta).  Hopefully we will celebrate something very special in January, and if we are, we should all send a big thank you note to C.J. Spiller.

Even though Spiller graduated in 2009, his impact on Clemson football cannot be understated. His signing was perhaps the biggest recruiting coup in Clemson history as a young receiver coach named Dabo Swinney refused to believe he couldn't bring the 5 star stud to Tigertown.  ESPN's college football analysts have talked a good bit about the relevance of "program history" and rightly stated that today's youth only understand the recent history.  As much as Notre Dame was the big boy on the block for decades past, it hasn't mattered nearly as much to the recent numbers of high school players as it did their parents or grandparents.  Even the mighty "U" down in Miami's run in the early 2000's doesn't carry the weight with the current crop as you would think it might.  It is unbelievably important to have at least one "it" player coming through your program every 5-6 years as they cycle through college to stay on the map for this current generation.  For Clemson to recruit to the level necessary to compete for and win a national title, it was and is vital to keep this type of name in the program on a regular basis.

Now, before you all say "well, duh, of course you need top level guys to win it all," note that Clemson has had some very, very good players even through the West and early Bowden years.  Woody Dantzler was on the brink of becoming a truly national name in 2001 before the UNC defense stoned him in Death Valley.  However, that was just before the internet brought high school recruiting into the limelight like never before.  By the time C.J. Spiller tore up high school football in Florida, he was a national name thanks to the increase of coverage by Rivals, Scout, ESPN, etc.  When Spiller shocked the southeast, if not the nation, and donned the Clemson hat on signing day in 2006, it truly began the process Clemson fans hope pays off this season.  Not only was Spiller a dynamic superstar during his time at Clemson, especially his historic 2009 campaign, he showed you could come to Clemson and reach those levels of national recognition.  Now, guys like Sammy Watkins growing up in Florida take notice and think about that Tiger Paw as much as they might the spear or whatever.

Look at the recent powers in college football and you can generally point to an "it" player that really got things rolling. Nick Saban was huge for Alabama, but it certainly helped when he landed Julio Jones when he got there.  What about the Baylor Bears going from joke to title contender?  RG3 got it rolling there.  Ohio State had Braxton Miller burst onto the scene when Urban Meyer started.  Oregon was good, then Marcus Mariota and some crazy uniforms took it up a notch.  Auburn was able to rebound pretty quickly thanks to Cam Newton.  ESPN is dying for these guys to love on, and not just in the SEC (though that would clearly be their preference).  Sammy got a TON of publicity from the four letter network during his history freshman campaign.  Who knows how big the hype train for Deshaun Watson would have been last year had he not been hurt?  Hopefully we will find out this year.

Guys like Jeff Scott and Brent Venables can walk into high schools across the country and know that players will know our paw.  The biggest reason for this being the case is C.J. Spiller put the Tigers back on the map beyond the southeast.  Sammy Watkins kept it going, and now Deshaun Watson is the dynamic figure the country is just dying to have shoved down its throat this fall.

C.J. Spiller's impact on Clemson can still be felt and he will no doubt go into the Ring of Honor as soon as he is eligible to do so (or something is very wrong).  He continues to be a great ambassador (if not the greatest) of the University as he makes his living in the NFL.  If Clemson wins it all in the next year or two, we need to remember #28.