Work in Sports
Eye of the Tigers
Clemson fans eye ACC dominance -- i.e. second
By Tim Peeler, Special to CNNSI.com
Quick -- name the last team to win an outright ACC championship before Florida State entered the league back in 1992.
The answer: Clemson, which was once the ACC’s only legitimate football power back in the days when Danny Ford and his thousands of good-ol’-boy supporters were in control of things in Tigerville. Ford won five ACC titles and the 1981 national championship in his 11 years at Clemson and is still the standard by which every other coach is judged.
Taking the Tigers to the '91 ACC championship didn’t do much for Ken Hatfield’s career. Two years later he was drop-kicked by the school, after an 8-3 regular season, primarily because he wasn’t enough like Danny to suit the IPTAY guys with the Tiger-tails hanging out the back of the Lincoln Towncars.
Hatfield’s successor, Tommy West, a former Ford assistant, was very Danny-like, except that he didn’t win many football games. He was booted after the '98 season.
Enter Tommy Bowden, who isn’t much like Danny, but he reminds an awful lot of people of Daddy. Or, as most people call him, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden.
Tiger fans, still marveling over the concept young Bowden introduced to them last year called the forward pass, haven’t been this eager to begin a season since William “Refrigerator” Perry weighed less than 400 pounds.
The Tigers are picked by most publications to win what passes as the ACC championship for most of the conference’s nine members: Second to Florida State. There are a couple of good reasons for that. The Tigers return 16 starters and have the ACC’s most favorable schedule, including seven home games. The defense is led by All-America candidates Keith Adams and Robert Carswell and the offense is getting used to Bowden’s aerial attack.
The other thing in Clemson’s favor, of course, is that no one else in the league, other than the defending national champion Seminoles, has very much to offer. Joe Hamilton isn’t running the show at Georgia Tech any more, and record-setting tailback Thomas Jones picked up his diploma at Virginia and ran off for the NFL.
Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden desperately wants us to believe that LaMont Jordan can make the Terps a good football team, but there are some burdens even a workhorse like Jordan can’t carry.
North Carolina has quarterback Ronald Curry and linebacker Brandon Spoon back this year, but can Curry lead the offense to any points? Not behind five new offensive linemen.
Former Florida State assistant coach Chuck Amato is back home at his alma mater, N.C. State, but he’s just now starting to realize how difficult a challenge he is faced with, since he’ll have only 74 scholarship players in his first season.
And, as for Duke and Wake Forest: well, no offense to the Aloha Bowl-champion Demon Deacons, they are still Duke and Wake Forest. Either would declare the 2000 season a major success if they don’t finish eighth or ninth. So that leaves the Tigers as the league’s best hope of unseating the Seminoles. Clemson fans, encouraged by last year’s narrow 17-14 loss to FSU in Death Valley, have been talking about the Nov. 4 rematch in Tallahassee, when they expect the Tigers to take an unblemished 9-0 record to Doak Campbell Stadium.
Bowden spent the spring and summer trying to calm down the infinite expectations and the Tiger faithful back to reality.
“I have been telling them [Tiger fans] all spring that this is a team that won two Division I-A games two years ago,” Bowden said. “They won’t listen.”
Tiger fans are notoriously bad listeners, especially when it comes to reason. They watched last year’s 6-6 effort and saw the Tigers come ever so close to beating FSU, Virginia Tech and Marshall, three teams that finished the regular season undefeated. They saw Bowden’s inaugural team go 5-3 in the ACC, which could have been even better if the Tigers hadn’t slipped up against N.C. State.
They see a schedule that has seven home games, against lesser competition, and a defense as good as any in the conference. Bowden has tweaked his aerial offense to suit quarterback Woodrow Dantlzer and is ready to make personnel changes if he sees that any of his receivers or running backs aren’t being as productive as he expects.
Even Bowden admits his team should be better, if only because the offensive line, which had five new starters last year, is beefier and more experienced. There are still some questions about depth at wide receiver, about production along the defensive front and about competence in the kicking game, but Tiger fans don’t want to hear too much po’-mouthing.
They are anxious to win another ACC championship sometime in the near future, and don’t care if they have to put Daddy in his place to do it.
Tim Peeler covers the ACC for the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record and will write a weekly CNNSI.com conference insider this season.