Clemson ready to put questions aside Print
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Tuesday, 19 August 2008 08:52
NCAAF Headline News

 CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -Clemson coach Tommy Bowden shares his dad's folksy style and his dogged penchant for landing the country's best players. He's also inherited something else Florida State coach Bobby Bowden battled for years - a reputation as a coach who can't win the big one.
The younger Bowden hopes this is the season he can at last share in his father's legacy as a champion - and many are sharing in those expectations.
``There's always that frustration of not winning the championship. You'll have to carry that label,'' Tommy Bowden said. ``My father carried it for a long time, (Texas coach) Mack Brown carried for a long time. I'll have to carry it.''
The ninth-ranked Tigers enter the year as clear favorites for the Atlantic Coast Conference title. They feature the top three vote-getters in preseason balloting for ACC player of the year: quarterback Cullen Harper and runners James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The defense, ranked among the country's best last fall, adds perhaps the best recruit of Bowden's tenure in end Da'Quan Bowers.
But Bowden's teams have often failed to live up to expectations since he arrived nine years ago, sometimes in stunning fashion.
``I think until you win a championship, that's always going to be the analogy and accurately so,'' Bowden says. ``It's deserved until you do it.''
In 2000, the Tigers opened 8-0, rose to No. 5 in the country and were in the mix for the Bowl Championship Series. Instead, they lost three of their final four games.
Two years ago, Clemson was 7-1 and riding high in the ACC after a 31-7 victory over Georgia Tech. Then came a home defeat against heavy underdog Maryland, 13-12, which cost the Tigers a title.
Then came last year, with Clemson again positioned for an ACC crown. The Tigers led Boston College with under two minutes to go and victory would have brought a trip to the championship game. But the Eagles and comeback master Matt Ryan pulled things out, 20-17, and left the some Clemson fans shaking their heads and griping about their coach again.
The school's administration, though, was pleased enough with the team's direction to reward Bowden with a new contract through 2014 and a hefty raise to about $1.83 million a year.
The talent is definitely there for Bowden to win a title and justify the school's confidence.
Harper, the quarterback who led the ACC in pass efficiency and set 22 records in his first season as starter. Davis, at tailback, could become the first in Clemson history with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Speedy Spiller is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
That's not counting game-breaking wide receivers in Aaron Kelly and Jacoby Ford.
``All these guys were great players last year,'' Harper said. ``But it's amazing how much one more year in the weight room can do, one more year on the field.''
Players are focused on finishing what they couldn't last season, Spiller said, and that's winning a title. ``I think this team's not selfish so I think we're going to be fine,'' he said. ``We're happy with where we're at, but we're not satisfied.''
Davis, who declared for the NFL draft before returning to the Tigers, is aiming higher than a conference crown, repeating over and over after a recent practice that Clemson was striving to match the national championship it won in 1981.
``I think that's fine to say,'' Spiller said. ``We're in a great position. But we can't look ahead.''
There are areas to worry about. On offense, it's replacing four starters on the line. Defensive depth got thinner when lineman Rashaad Jackson tore a tendon in his ankle earlier this month. He'll miss at least half the season, Bowden said. Clemson also is seeking replacements for its four top linebackers from a year ago.
``I don't see this as a loaded veteran team,'' Bowden said.
A big test of Clemson's direction comes early, with Bowden facing a rising Alabama club to start the season at the Georgia Dome.
Spiller said the Tigers are focused on the opener, but are being driven by larger goals. ``I think when we hold up that ACC trophy, we'll be fine,'' he said.
 

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