It was yet another record-setting performance by Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, but the good news for Tigers fans is that Spiller wasn’t a one-man show in the 21-13 win over Kentucky Sunday night in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl.
Clemson showed promise for 2010 despite the grand finale of one of the program’s -- and the country’s -- most accomplished players.
Running back Jamie Harper had 65 yards in the first half, and averaged nearly 10 yards per rush. All but Thomas Austin (the best player) returns on the offensive line. Quarterback Kyle Parker, who will eventually have to make a decision about whether he wants to pursue a professional baseball career, finished his freshman season with 20 touchdown passes, the most in Clemson history by a freshman and fourth overall in school history.
Parker tied for first in the nation in wins by freshman quarterbacks with Matt Barkley of USC, who gained his ninth win with the victory over Boston College on Saturday night. No other freshman quarterback active in the bowl season has a chance to reach nine wins this year, so Parker and Barkley will end the year as the national leaders in that category.
DeAndre McDaniel finished with 13 tackles and was a factor throughout the entire game, and if he comes back should again be one of the top players in the country.
It’s not just the players, though. This staff, in its first year, managed to change the mindset at Clemson. Dabo Swinney and his staff got Clemson to its first ACC championship game. It coaxed the team out of a rut -- twice. Once at the beginning of the season after a 2-3 start, and again at the end of the season, after tough back-to-back losses to rival South Carolina and Georgia Tech. And Swinney suspended four backups for breaking their bowl curfew, instilling discipline along the way.
Clemson won’t be the same without Spiller and Jacoby Ford next year. The Tigers will have some work to do in the Atlantic Division. But the program took an important step forward this season under Swinney, and they did it when nobody was expecting it.
In 2010, feel free to expect something from the Tigers -- even without No. 28.