- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

CLEMSON, S.C. | When C.J. Spiller stands beside Howard’s Rock for his senior day run down Clemson’s famed hill Saturday, he won’t think about the friends he’s made, the highlight reels he’s filled or the nearly four miles he’s run since picking the Tigers four seasons ago.

He’ll focus, as he always has, on the 60 minutes ahead and guaranteeing his Tigers come out on top.

“It might be emotional, it might not,” Spiller said. “Once the game starts, I’ll block all that out. My objective will be to position myself to help my team win Saturday.”

The 18th-ranked Tigers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) are heavily favored to do just that against Virginia (3-7, 2-4). A win would wrap up the ACC’s Atlantic Division and send Clemson to Tampa, Fla., in two weeks to face Coastal champ Georgia Tech for the conference title.

The Tigers have been this close to the title game before, two years ago when all they needed was a victory at home over Boston College. But Matt Ryan’s 43-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left sent the Eagles on and kept Clemson waiting for success.

That was a disheartening time, Spiller recalled. Yet the Tigers haven’t spent one second considering anything other than the Cavaliers this week. Clemson has traveled too far the past two seasons to throw it away now.

“That’s what we’ve been preaching this week,” Spiller said.

Still, it figures to be one of Death Valley’s rowdiest days in quite some time. Fans who fled the team when it returned from a Maryland loss at 2-3 have packed the place during Clemson’s five-game winning streak. There’s a chance the Tigers could wrap things up before kickoff; the Eagles - at 4-2 the only division team that could catch Clemson - play North Carolina at noon, and Clemson has a 3:30 p.m. start.

The Tigers hold the tiebreaker over Boston College because of a 25-7 win in September.

Coach Dabo Swinney said that won’t matter. He won’t talk about the result to his players or let them discuss it before the game.

“Let’s line up and play,” he said. “I don’t want anything given to us. Let’s go to work and earn what we get.”

It helps to have Spiller, a rising Heisman Trophy contender, on your side.

He seemingly sets a “first time ever” feat each time he touches the ball, Swinney said.

Spiller put up a school-record 310 all-purpose yards in Clemson’s eye-opening, 40-37 overtime win over then-No. 8 Miami. He broke it two games later with 312, including a career-high 165 yards rushing, to beat Florida State 40-24. Last week, he rushed for, caught and threw for a touchdown in the Tigers’ 43-23 victory over N.C. State.

Spiller needs just 140 yards to become the fifth NCAA player to surpass 7,000 all-purpose yards.

Virginia coach Al Groh echoed what most other opposing coaches have said about Spiller.

“You need about 14 guys to stop him,” Groh said.

The Cavaliers used only 11 last year in holding Spiller in check. Clemson’s star managed only 18 yards rushing on 14 carries, although he did throw a touchdown pass in the Tigers’ 13-3 win.

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