Heisman Trophy campaigns are not born on the Fourth of July.

Never mind that Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and West Virginia quarterback Pat White already have Heisman Web sites up and running before they are out on the field and throwing. Typical political football stuff.

Clemson's historic, inspiring 2008 campaign is all about change.

Only once in the last half-century has a Tiger finished among the top 10 in Heisman trophy voting, quarterback Steve Fuller at No. 7 in 1978.

Thirty seasons later, Clemson just might place two players in the top 10.

Take your pick.

Cullen Harper, the grad student quarterback who compared favorably to Boston College star Matt Ryan last season.

Junior running back C.J. Spiller, last seen dashing through Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Senior running back James Davis, first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2006 and 2007.

The passer is the front- runner.

A very unlikely Harper was supposed to wind up as the answer to a future Clemson trivia question: Who started at quarterback between Charlie Whitehurst and Willy Korn, but failed to beat out Will Proctor?

Instead, the Alpharetta, Ga., native is the alpha Tiger. A few more wins and a hundred more passing yards per game and Harper gets an invitation to the Heisman dinner in Manhattan.

Alabama opener

Incumbent Tim Tebow? So last year. Look for Florida coach Urban Meyer to do a better job of protecting his bowl ticket by having him run less and rest more.

The door is open.

"I'm kind of big on waiting until the season plays out," veteran Clemson publicist Tim Bourret said Thursday when asked if the school plans on a special Heisman blitz. "We'll probably wait until after the first five games and see what happens.

"This year is kind of unique. What if I start something for Cullen Harper and James Davis gets off to a great start or C.J. Spiller goes crazy?"

Nice problems to have, huh?

Harper's road map to New York City:

--Start with a sharp right turn.

Clemson's nationally televised Aug. 30 opener against Alabama at the Georgia Dome is a must win for any Heisman candidate. Or any team trying to establish January bowl credibility.

--Proceed through the meat of the ACC schedule and South Carolina.

Sure, the Tigers must rebuild their offensive line. But Davis and Spiller should buy time for Harper, who is blessed with potentially one of the best and deepest groups of pass catchers in college football.

Leading receiver Aaron Kelly is back, along with Tyler Grisham and Xavier Dye.

Top deep threat Jacoby Ford returns after missing the final five games last season with a broken ankle suffered at Maryland. Tight end Michael Palmer continues to improve. And so on.

The Matt model

--Beware of potholes and falling rocks.

A loss to Duke, for instance.

A Clemson quarterback hoping to win the Heisman cannot afford to lose more than once before the ACC Championship Game and probably better win on Dec. 6 in Tampa, Fla.

Anything less and Harper takes a huge step back in a pack probably including Tebow, Daniel, White, Beanie Wells of Ohio State and Knowshon Moreno of Georgia.

--Exit via the passing lane.

Harper was a second-team All-ACC selection in 2007. Ryan, the first-team pick, was the first quarterback chosen in the NFL draft.

Harper, not Ryan, led the ACC in pass efficiency last season while throwing 27 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. But Ryan threw for 321.9 yards per game and Harper 230.1.

Most importantly, Ryan threw game-winning touchdown passes late in prime-time ACC victories at Virginia Tech and Clemson.

And that was only good enough for seventh place in the Heisman voting.

If Harper can play a little better, win a little more and take command at the end of a few key games, Heisman hype won't be necessary.

On the Fourth of July, anything is possible.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com.