Pick Your Poison

It was said in this space right after the end of the 2007 season in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl that Clemson would return more skill talent in 2008 than it had ever seen in school history.

And it holds true still today.

After Cullen Harper, Aaron Kelly and James Davis all decided to return to school for their senior seasons instead of bolting for the NFL, the table was set.

Now it's almost time to see what may be the most explosive offense in school history can do.

Returning for the Tigers this season will be second-team All-ACC quarterback Cullen Harper. All the redshirt senior did in his first year as a starter in 2007 was throw for almost 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Oh by the way he set over 20 single season school records along the way.

He'll throw to one of the most difficult to cover wide receivers in the country - 6-6 Aaron Kelly. With a good senior year, Kelly could walk away from the college game as the most productive wide receiver in ACC history.

Harper will also have the luxury of handing off to a pair of potential first-team All ACC running backs in C.J. Spiller and James Davis. Assuming he stays healthy, Davis will leave Clemson as the school's all-time leading rusher. A powerful back, Davis will also play in 2009 in the National Football League and could be a first day draft pick with a good senior season.

Meanwhile Spiller still has an explosive second gear that leaves opposing defensive coordinators speechless. He makes moves that quite frankly, nobody else in the nation can make.

And then there's Jacoby Ford, Tyler Grisham and Jamie Harper. Ford has similar explosiveness as Spiller. Grisham catches everything thrown his way and Harper should be the big back Clemson's offense has needed the last few seasons.

What else could you want?

With so many playmakers and only one football to go around, could it actually be a problem to have so much talent assembled on one side of the ball?

Don't tell that to Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden.

"Is that a problem?" Bowden said. "No. You have to talk a lot about being unselfish and that's going to be important but it's not a problem. James wants to go the NFL. C.J. wants to go the NFL. Aaron Kelly wants to go and Cullen [wants to go]. So Cullen would like to throw it. Aaron wants to catch it and James wants to carry it and Tyler [Grisham] wants the ball. They all want to go to the NFL.

"It's not a problem but it's going to be another piece of the puzzle on how those guys respond. Maybe one game one of them gets the ball three times and the other gets it 15. The guy happened to have the hot hand and things go his way, well how does the other guy respond the next game? That's important."

Of course, it's important to point out that the entire offense is held together by the offensive line.

And as you know by now because it's been documented by every media outlet in the country, even the all-knowledgeable Mark May (who picked Clemson to finish 6-6 last season by the way), Clemson's strength rests in its skill players, not in its offensive line which is replacing four of five starters from a year ago.

But still, when you see so many weapons lined up on the offensive side the ball, it's hard not to get excited.

Even Bowden has a different sense about him this time of year when talking about his team and specifically the offense. When asked earlier this week if this was the best collection of skill talent he ever had, he rattled off a series of names, almost forgetting one of the most important players on the field.

"It is [the best collection of skill talent he's had]. Aaron Kelly, Tyler Grisham, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford, tight ends, and some of our freshmen. And I didn't even mention our quarterback. So yes, that shows you how good they are when I didn't even mention the quarterback right off the bat," he said.

It's almost a matter of "pick your poison."

Line up eight in the box and let Harper get the ball quickly to Kelly or to Ford or Grisham in the short passing game. Bring in an extra defensive back and hand it off to Spiller or Davis on a draw.

You get the idea.

The offensive line, while generally speaking is the glue the holds everything together, doesn't have to be great right out of the gates, even against a team like Alabama.

Don't misconstrue the point. The line can't be bad either, but when you have so many skill players with so much ability, it tends to alleviate the nationwide concern with Clemson's offensive line.

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