Tajh's path to the Heisman

CLEMSON – Near the end of Tuesday's weekly press conference, the subject of Tajh Boyd's Heisman Trophy campaign came up.

And, like for virtually all questions, Dabo Swinney had an answer. Just not what you might think.

"People ask, are you going to do a Heisman campaign for Tajh Boyd?" he asked. "He has a Heisman campaign. It's Georgia, South Carolina State, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Boston College, Florida State...

"That's his campaign."

Swinney has a point. An excellent one.

Why spend money on a direct-mail campaign or a flashy promotional item when they don't make a difference in voters' minds, aside from a nice trinket for their office desk or shelves?

You know what matters for a successful Heisman campaign?

1. On-field performance.

2. ESPN.

That's it. Pretty simple, right?

Those two factors go hand-in-hand. The Heisman is awarded annually to the player deemed "the most outstanding player in college football," which leaves a wide berth for interpretation.

In modern times, it might as well be given to "the most outstanding quarterback or running back in college football." Since 1971, 38 of the 41 stiff-arm trophies awarded have gone to a quarterback or running back.

The only exceptions? Notre Dame wide receiver Tim Brown, Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard and Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson. And it can be argued that Howard and Woodson won for their dual-threat nature: Howard returned punts and kicks while catching passes and Woodson played both ways.

How do you get attention? Play well and be featured on ESPN. And if you haven't noticed, Clemson has ESPN's ear. The Worldwide Leader made its first College GameDay visit to campus since 2006 for the triumphant season-opening win over Georgia, fawning over Swinney's program.

And before opening kickoff of the 38-35 victory, ABC's national telecast spent a full six minutes focusing on Clemson's pre-game entrance ritual – from the bus ride around Memorial Stadium to the run down the Hill, and everything in between. All the while, Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit extolled the stadium and Clemson's virtues.

It was the best exposure Clemson has had in years – and all free.

GameDay was preceded by an day-long visit from ESPN's mobile studio, which set up in the WestZone parking lot and broadcast a day's worth of college football programming from the WestZone.

"ESPN is well aware of Boyd. And his outgoing, clean-cut nature makes him a natural face for Clemson's run at a BCS national title game berth."

ESPN is well aware of Boyd. And his outgoing, clean-cut nature makes him a natural face for Clemson's run at a BCS national title game berth. ESPN drives college football's narrative, for better (Johnny Manziel, fall 2012) or worse (Johnny Manziel, summer 2013). If the Four-Letter is invested in you, you'll get attention from its armada of analysts, reporters, commentators, and whatever it is Lou Holtz and Mark May call themselves.

And ESPN has an interest in the ACC: it is the only college football league with all its games licensed to ESPN (some games are sublicensed by ESPN to Raycom and Fox Sports Net).

A year ago, 11 of Clemson's 13 games were on the ESPN "family" of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or ABC). Expect a similar amount this year. At least three (Georgia, N.C. State and Georgia Tech) will be nationally televised on ABC/ESPN, with Florida State and South Carolina likely to join them. If Boyd improves from his already-impressive 2012 season and keeps Clemson in contention for a BCS title game berth, he'll get the attention he deserves, gimmicks aside.

I don't have a Heisman vote, but as a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for numerous awards, including the Davey O'Brien Award (given to the nation's top quarterback), I get my share of swag. My office floor is littered with notepads extolling the virtues of players across America.

Outside Clemson's team dining facility hangs the growth-chart poster the athletic department commissioned to promote Spiller for Heisman in 2009. It got some great buzz – and Spiller had a tremendous season – but did Clemson win an ACC title or get him to New York for the trophy ceremony? No.

"I would have liked to have had a poster," Boyd said. "But I got my own poster. I made my own in my room."

Promotion doesn't matter. Performance matters. Bottom line.

"When the Heisman campaign is over, votes will come in," Swinney said. "He'll go on the road and campaign and people will vote. He's just got to perform very well throughout the campaign." Boyd knows it, too.

"I've got to go out and play," he said. "At the end of the day, that's what it's all about – playing at a high level. That's what I'm trying to do."

At some point, in November or December, Boyd says he'll begin writing an acceptance speech if it is clear he is still in contention for the trophy. At this point, he and Clemson have complete control over whether that happens or not.

Which is the way it should be.

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