Embarrassment of Riches: Clemson Running Back Triumvirate, Poised for Greatness

It’s got to seem, for opposing defenses, that C.J. Spiller is running a three-ringed circus.

As the ringmaster of his circus, Spiller knows he’s got the potential to lead the Greatest Show on Earth. Well, at least one of the greatest in all of college football.

Spiller is a living Clemson legend and one of the cornerstones of Dabo Swinney’s program and culture. It’s not be a stretch to say, he just may be one of the reasons Swinney was hired. If so, all of Clemson Nation owes him and former AD, Terry Don Phillips a lot.

When Swinney hired Spiller in 2021, many felt the running back room was going to be in good hands. However, now all believe the room has greatness within its walls. It’s the kind of greatness that can inspire and permeate throughout the entire offense. Yes, it’s that good and after last year, Clemson needs them to be great.

Will Shipley, Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah, collectively, are possibly one of the most talented group of running backs in Clemson history. Yes, I said it and more importantly, I believe it.

Last year, Shipley and Pace particularly, along with the stout 2021 defense, were the difference between a 10-3 season and possibly a 5-7 season or worse. Despite nagging injuries, they just kept on running.

During the offseason, both Shipley and Pace had surgeries to repair those season hindering injuries. Therefore, neither were available for spring practice. Spotlight on Phil Mafah, and he shined.

The accolades for Mafah flowed freely from Jervey Meadow. It was constant. Swinney, Spiller nor himself were surprised. Many knew how high Mafah’s ceiling was, he just needed a chance to show it.

Last season, Swinney referred to Mafah in the same manner he spoke of Pace and Shipley. He was going to be a force to be reckoned with and this spring, he proved it.

Shipley had a good season, rushing for 739 yards on 149 carries , averaging 5 yards per carry. He also hauled in 16 receptions for 116 yards, and scored 11 touchdowns.

If you consider he missed several games and parts of others due to a recurring foot injury, it was great year. After an offseason Surgery, Shipley will be ready.

Pace also had a good season, with 641 yards in 104 Carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, with six touchdowns. He was plagued by a toe injury all season so, these stats, along with Shipley’s, aren’t representative of what they truly can be. Like Shipley, Pace is rehabilitating from an offseason surgery.

Mafah, in limited action, had 292 yards on 68 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, with three touchdowns. However, his true value wasn’t discovered until this spring, where the mother of invention through necessity, stepped in. Before everyone’s eyes, Mafah developed into a beast. Thus completing the Tigers running back Triumvirate.

Life is about if’s and with that as a backdrop for the season, if these three young studs live up to their potential, and fans expectations, it could have some obvious and a few, not so obvious major benefits.

The obvious, all three having stellar, record setting seasons. The not so obvious, affording what was a not so productive offense last year, the much needed time to find itself. If this is the scenario that unfolds, coupled with this defense, few, if not all will be able to contain this 2022 Clemson rushing attack. No one.

Clemson really does possess an embarrassment of riches and depending on how those riches are used, there could be little to no ceiling for the 2022 Clemson Tigers.

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