Clemson Tigers (2000: 9-3)
Updated: Tuesday August 07, 2001 1:31 PM
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Coach and programClemson won six games in Tommy Bowden's first year, despite playing against one of the toughest schedules in the nation. In Bowden's sophomore season, the Tigers won their first eight games and rose to No. 3 in the national polls in November, their highest spot in 16 years.
But then came disappointment, when Clemson lost three of its final four games, including a 41-20 whipping by Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
Bowden could erase the memory of last season's letdown by posting another three-win improvement, going 12-0 and winning the school's second national championship exactly 20 years after Danny Ford led the Tigers to the first. After all, Florida State has to come to Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3, and it's about time that Daddy learned a lesson.
"They'd like that,'' Bowden said. "They'd probably like me to win one or two more than that.''
However, with only 12 returning starters (only the deeper Seminoles have fewer), the younger Bowden knows his team isn't quite ready to start thinking about championships just yet, either in the ACC or the BCS.
"Beat Florida State?'' Bowden said. "We can't beat Georgia Tech yet, much less Florida State. We have our work cut out for us.''
OffenseBowden feels good about his offense. Why wouldn't he, with a healthy Woody Dantzler under center? The senior quarterback, used as a second tailback in Clemson's high-flying offense, was on pace to become the first player in Division I-A history to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards until he suffered a severe ankle injury in the eighth game of the season. He continued to play, but not like the Heisman Trophy candidate that he was billed to be.
Dantzler is healthy going into the season, but there are still two big questions on offense for the Tigers. First, who will take over for wide receiver Rod Gardner as the Tigers' primary go-to guy?
There are several candidates for Gardner's old job, beginning with junior wide receiver Kevin Youngblood, who had a good spring, and sophomore Jackie Robinson, who tends to make as many bad plays as he does good ones. Tiger fans are banking on immediate production from four talented recruits -- all from South Carolina high schools -- who constitute one of the best hauls ever for receiving talent.
The other question on offense is how the team adjusts to the loss of Bowden's offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez, who left to become the head coach at his alma mater, West Virginia. The Tigers had one of the most exciting attacks in the country and it will be up to former South Carolina head coach and Florida State assistant Brad Scott, who was elevated from tight ends coach, to keep things going.
For some reason, Bowden has never been a big fan of senior tailback Travis Zachery (6-0, 190), who rushed for 1,027 yards as a junior. The coach wants someone who is speedier and more productive at the position.
"I really thought that position should have been close to 1,300 or 1,400 yards,'' Bowden said. "He is hitting right about 1,000. We are looking for a guy who can get us about 1,500. Speed is a factor. We have adequate speed at running back, but nothing earth shattering.''
DefenseGone is All-America linebacker Keith Adams, who left for the NFL after his junior year. Gone is All-ACC cornerback Alex Ardley, who was kicked off the team after an ugly confrontation on the field with an official and on the sideline with Bowden during the Gator Bowl. Gone is safety Robert Carswell, after four stellar years in the secondary.
"Defense is going to be a question mark simply because we don't have the experienced depth at all,'' Bowden said. "The first 11 we are going to put out there are going to be pretty good, but I am concerned about the inexperience and depth behind the first team.''
The Tigers lose three defensive line starters from last year's team, which was third in the ACC and 18th in the nation against the run, allowing only 101.8 yards a game. Both tackles, Terry Jolly and Jason Holloman, are gone, as is defensive end Terry Bryant.
Fortunately for the Tigers, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring liberally used several other players for depth last year and they will team with returning starter Nick Eason (6-4, 265) to form the Tigers' first line of defense.
There is no doubt that the loss of All-America linebacker Adams, who opted to turn pro after his junior season, is critical for a thin Tiger defense. But as good as Adams was last year, linebacker Chad Carson (6-3, 235) might have been better.
With so many new players on the field for the Tiger defense, he will be asked to carry a huge load, though that might not be necessary if the guys up front have a better year.
If any current Tigers besides the wide receivers should be looking over their shoulders, it is the cornerbacks. Bowden has not been pleased with the performances of junior Brian Mance (5-11, 185) and sophomore Kevin Johnson (6-0, 185), both of whom were reserves last year.
The Tigers led the ACC in punt returns and were ranked 14th in the nation, thanks to the combination of Joe Don Reames and Mance.
Bottom lineBowden's long-term goal is to get the Tigers back to double-digit victories, which hasn't happened since Florida State joined the ACC. The Tigers had at least 10 victories four consecutive years from 1987-90 and have reached 10 victories seven times in school history.
"Getting there, that's the hard part,'' Bowden said.
Despite an easy schedule that features four home games to start the season, the Tigers are probably at least a year away from reaching that double-digit plateau. But Clemson fans can rest assured that goal will be met.