CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -If any Clemson player has earned the right to gloat, it's quarterback Cullen Harper. Instead, the junior flashes a wry smile, glad he got to show everyone else what he knew all along.
Harper was the surprise of No. 15 Clemson's best season in four years. He can become the first Tiger starting QB in 17 years to finish with 10 victories if Clemson (9-3) defeats No. 22 Auburn (8-4) at the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.
``It is good to go out there and prove all those people wrong,'' Harper said last week.
In his first season as a starter, Harper set 22 school records, including 27 TD passes this season. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing efficiency, ahead of Boston College star Matt Ryan.
Twice this fall, Harper threw five touchdown passes in a game, and became the first non-senior quarterback voted offensive captain since 1994.
Still, there were an awful lot of people who doubted Harper's future leading the Tigers - even Harper himself.
``You don't know how you're going to respond until you actually get out there and do it,'' he says.
Harper spent his first two seasons learning behind Clemson record-setter Charlie Whitehurst, then served as Will Proctor's backup in 2006.
Proctor led the Tigers to a 7-1 start. But the team faltered down the stretch as defenses concentrated on stopping Clemson's powerful running attack and dared Proctor to keep things moving through the air. More times than not, Clemson could not.
As the losses continued, some fans wondered if Harper should get a chance. But Harper didn't get a snap as Clemson dropped four of its final five.
It was enough for Harper to wonder about the coaches' confidence in his ability, especially with highly touted recruit Willy Korn enrolling in January.
Instead, Harper entered spring ball with the mind-set that he had the starting job.
While Korn rose to No. 2 on the depth chart, Harper won the starting spot and excelled.
He showed his toughness early on, directing Clemson to a 24-18, nationally televised victory over Florida State on Labor Day night. Five days later, Harper broke the single-game school record shared by several of Clemson's most noteworthy QBs (Whitehurst, Woody Dantzler, Willie Simmons, Nealon Greene and Bobby Gage) with five touchdown passes in a win over Louisiana-Monroe.
What did Harper get for his performance that afternoon? The chance to hear Death Valley stand up and cheer when Korn saw his first college action.
Harper has shrugged it off all season.
``There's always going to be your doubters anywhere you go,'' Harper said.
Harper has gotten rid of many of them, finishing with 2,887 yards, completing 67 percent of his passes with six interceptions.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden wasn't sure how Harper would handle the leadership and has been thrilled with the junior's progress. Harper's so superb, Clemson coaches expect to redshirt Korn.
``There's just not much that he's doing poorly,'' Bowden said of Harper.
Harper had arthroscopic surgery two weeks ago to fix a shoulder injured on his TD run against Boston College. He began throwing last week and should be OK during bowl practice.
Harper has a chance to bring the Tigers a 10-win season his first time in control. And just maybe convince a few more people that he knows how to play. ``To prove those people wrong,'' he said, ``it's a pretty good feeling.''

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