CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -Now, things get interesting for No. 20 Clemson.
The Tigers (3-1) beat South Carolina State 54-0, their third straight victory since a demoralizing, 34-10 loss to Alabama knocked them from the top 10 and off their perch as Atlantic Coast Conference title favorites.
Next up, Maryland and serious ACC competition.
``I think after week one, they've done all you can ask them to do,'' Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said of his team. ``I'd say right now, we're right on track.''
Bowden's theory will be tested next Saturday. Clemson starts a run of five consecutive league games that should prove the team a contender or pretender.
It starts with the surprising Terrapins at Death Valley next week. Then, after a week off, a Thursday night showdown at Wake Forest.
The Tigers return home to face improving Georgia Tech before consecutive road games at Boston College and Florida State.
``I think we've put ourselves in position to get ready for ACC play,'' Clemson tailback James Davis said.
aw improvements out of a young offensive line and in overall offensive balance.
``We set ourselves up pretty good with this game, got a little momentum,'' Davis said.
And the Tigers will need every bit of it.
Clemson was a runaway preseason favorite to capture its first ACC crown in 17 years. The Tigers landed No. 9 in the preseason poll and, filled with experienced stars like Davis, junior runner C.J. Spiller and senior quarterback Cullen Harper, figured to get past a youthful Crimson Tide three weeks ago.
Instead, Alabama pounded the Tigers every way possible. The blow was hard enough to take physically. Mentally, it was even more devastating, the players said, when a premise you've built your offseason on was so quickly proven false.
``Alabama, that was a tough loss,'' defensive back Chris Chancellor said. ``But we just put that behind us, and each week we've progressed.''
Clemson began its ACC season on a solid note, holding North Carolina State without an offensive touchdown in a 27-9 victory on Sept. 13.
Still, Bowden turned up the pressure on his club, demanding a tougher team and increasing practice collisions in the week leading up to South Carolina State.
``All week people have been saying Clemson's soft, the defense's soft,'' Chancellor said. ``We just tried to go out and prove the whole team, we're not soft.''
nslates to next week and beyond.
``You always take these games with a grain of salt because you're going down a division,'' he said. ``But the measuring stick is, 'Did you do what you're supposed to?'''
The Tigers definitely did against the Bulldogs, holding them to minus-10 yards rushing, forcing four turnovers and a safety, and keeping the opponent's offense out of the end zone for a second consecutive week.
Clemson offense showed some flair, too. Davis and Spiller combined for 156 of its 189 yards rushing. Harper completed 15 of 24 passes for 151 yards, although he did throw two interceptions in a game for just the second time in 17 career starts.
``It was just the toughest mismatch that I've experienced since I've been at South Carolina State,'' Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough said.
The victory, Clemson's first shutout since a 51-0 win over Louisiana Tech in 2006, also gave Tigers safety Michael Hamlin the right to brag over his brothers Markee and Marquais, who play at S.C. State.
Clemson's Hamlin says beating the Bulldogs was about more than fun family rivalry.
``The win today boosted our confidence up a lot,'' he said. ``I feel like going into conference play, everybody's going to be a little more hyped, everybody's going to play a little bit harder.''
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