Clemson University

Football Poll - November 8, 2007

Mention Clemson's 27-17 victory against Wake Forest last season and visions of Gaines Adams follow automatically.

Remember the signature play of Adams' All-American career? Remember his punching the ball free, grabbing the fumble and rambling 66 yards to score and ignite the Tigers' rally?

The spectacular play so dominated the headlines that a breakout performance -- highlighted by a 72-yard lightning bolt for the winning touchdown -- went almost unnoticed.

C.J. Spiller has seldom been overlooked since.

Whether he sizzled or slumped, he has lived under the microscope, and his mediocre rushing numbers -- 462 yards in the Tigers' nine games this season -- invite questions.

Where is the freshman sensation of 2006 who provided six scoring plays covering at least 50 yards? Where is the tailback who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season? Where is the Spiller who drew comparisons to Reggie Bush?

Spiller shakes off the potential barbs with the ease he shed defenders on his 84-yard kick return against Duke last week and looks instead at the big picture.

"I don't worry about my (individual) statistics," he said. "I worry only about the won-loss record and right now we're 7-2 with a big game Saturday and a chance to determine our season.

"The team is what matters to me."

Pundits come up with a myriad of reasons -- Clemson's inexperienced offensive line, Spiller's over-reliance on speed and cutting ability to break big plays, play selections by the coaches -- for his modest production.

Do not overlook opposing teams, Spiller said.

"Oh, yes, they have been studying me and playing me differently this year," he said. "They know I do a lot of juking with the ball, so they defend me outside and force me in (to the pursuit)."

Spiller counters by studying film, too, and he makes adjustments along the way.

"The season is going well; I feel personally that I'm improving each week," he said. "Every game is an opportunity to gain experience, and I hope I take advantage every week."

Wake Forest provides this week's chance to grow and, yes, he remembers his decisive run last season. But he recalls Adams' play more.

"That's the one," he said. "On mine, I just went off tackle, made a guy miss, kept my balance. I used the talent God gave me and scored.

"I'm sure those guys will be ready for (the cutback) Saturday. They know what kind of speed I have, and they will be ready for me. But winning is more important than anything I do."

The absence of long-range bombs contributes to the questions about his season. Maybe, he said, the kick return against Duke will be an omen.

"Plays like that spark the team," he said. "(The touchdown return) just came and hopefully there are more to come."

In a way, Spiller said, he mirrors the 2007 Tigers in terms of maturity, focus and playing one game at a time.

Skeptics adopted a sky-is-falling attitude after Clemson dropped back-to-back games to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The Tigers rebounded with three consecutive wins and head into the home stretch with a chance to play in the ACC championship game.

Likewise, tongues wagged after Spiller netted 5 yards rushing on 24 carries in three games (the losses and a win against Furman). He followed with 258 yards rushing in the next three games.

"I never stopped believing in the team or in myself," he said. "We always believed, even at the two losses. That's the thing I love about this team; we don't focus on the past. We look ahead, one game at a time."

The Tigers will earn a berth in the ACC championship game with victories Saturday against Wake Forest and Nov. 17 against Boston College.

Do not make the assumption that the Tigers will look past Wake Forest and focus on Boston College, ranked second nationally before last week's loss to Florida State, Spiller said.

"We know about Wake Forest," he said. "We know what's at stake, and we know we're playing the defending (ACC) champion.

"They're tough and physical. They put a lot of guys in the box and move just before the snap. They try to make running backs make a quick decision."

Spiller's quick decision against Wake Forest a year ago produced the winning touchdown on a 72-yard run.

"That felt great, but what mattered is we won the game," he said. "Winning is the most important thing."