SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Clemson Tigers

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Tommy Bowden (5th year, 29-20)
2002 record: 7-6 (Lost to Texas Tech 55-15 in Tangerine Bowl)
ACC finish: T-5th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 120.7 ypg
(8th in ACC, 89th in nation)
Pass: 242.8 ypg (3rd, 40th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 158.2 ypg (6th, 60th)
Pass: 197.2 ypg (2nd, 35th)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR   17   Kevin Youngblood   Sr.  
WR   1   Airese Currie   Jr.  
WR   21   Derrick Hamilton   Jr.  
WR  82  Michael Collins  So. 
LT   70   William Henry   Sr.  
LG   65   Cedric Johnson   Jr.  
53  Tommy Sharpe  Jr. 
RG  63  Nathan Bennett  Fr. 
RT   78   Gregory Walker   Sr.  
QB   6   Charlie Whitehurst   So.  
TB  Yusef Kelly  Jr. 
Defense (4)
DE   56   Khaleed Vaughn   Sr.  
DT   96   Donnell Washington   Jr.  
DT  97  DeJuan Polk  Sr. 
DE  58  J.J. Howard  Sr. 
OLB   45   John Leake   Sr.  
MLB  46  Brandon Jamison  Sr. 
WLB  48  Kelvin Morris  Sr. 
CB  Tye Hill  So. 
CB   9   Justin Miller   So.  
ROV  24  Jamaal Fudge  So. 
FS  29  Travis Pugh  So. 
Special Teams
K   19   Aaron Hunt   Sr.  
89  Cole Chason  Fr. 
KR  Justin Miller  So. 
PR  21  Derrick Hamilton  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Georgia 
Sept. 6  Furman 
Sept. 13  Middle Tennessee 
Sept. 20  at Georgia Tech 
Oct. 4  at Maryland 
Oct. 11  Virginia 
Oct. 16  at NC State 
Oct. 25  North Carolina 
Nov. 1  at Wake Forest 
Nov. 8  Florida State 
Nov. 15  Duke 
Nov. 22  at South Carolina 
Tommy Bowden has a habit of making jokes about water that symbolize his stature as Clemson's coach.

Prior to Clemson's 8-0 start to the 2000 season, Bowden was sitting poolside with reporters at his home when the sound of gushing water became too loud. He jokingly offered to "walk on water" to turn it off.

These days, with many fans and administrators disappointed about consecutive seven-win seasons, the water level at Bowden's Hartwell Lake home has become the metaphor. Bowden says he will remain the Clemson coach until the water gets too high. "It's starting to rise more and more," he said with a laugh. "We've gotten a lot of rain lately."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Bowden may be wagering his future on sophomore quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who replaced Willie Simmons as the starter for the last five games of 2002. The son of a former NFL quarterback, Whitehurst threw for 694 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two starts. He gives Clemson a taller passer who can better see downfield.

The offense will use more I-formation plays to improve a stagnant running game. Clemson rushed for 120.7 yards per game -- the school's second-lowest average since the statistic began being kept in 1938. The offensive line lacked toughness. Yusef Kelly, the new No. 1 tailback, could be pushed by Duane Coleman and Reggie Merriweather.

Receivers Kevin Youngblood, Airese Currie and Derrick Hamilton have shown flashes of greatness, but they must become more consistent. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Grant and Tennessee transfer Michael Collins could figure in the mix.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The Tigers return just four starters from a defense that improved last season but still is not at an elite level. Stopping the run remains crucial for a unit that allowed too many game-breaking carries in 2002.

Sophomore cornerback Justin Miller, a Freshman All-American last year, returns as the most talented player on the team. He started just seven games but still led the ACC and tied for fifth in the nation with eight interceptions. Bowden is toying with using Miller, who was recruited by Florida as a wide receiver, some on offense.

The defensive line features quantity but perhaps not high quality. John Leake, who averaged 12.46 tackles per game in 2002, is the leader of the linebacking corps.

Second-year defensive coordinator John Lovett is still trying to replace All-ACC cornerback Brian Mance.

Clemson took a major hit when whip linebacker Kelvin Morris injured his knee during spring practice. He was expected to be among the top playmakers on defense but now may miss the season.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

It can't get much worse. The Tigers allowed five touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns in 2002. Redshirt freshman Cole Chason replaces inconsistent punter Wynn Kopp. Kicker Aaron Hunt was a solid 17-of-22 on field goals, and Miller and Hamilton are threats to break long returns.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

There might be enough passing and catching for Clemson to have some success on offense. There might be enough playmakers on defense to create some problems for opponents. But that won't improve the Tigers' 7-6 record from 2002 if they can't run the football and can't stop the run. Toughness has been sorely missing from this program. The toughness to gain one yard in a critical short-yardage situation. The toughness to make that crucial tackle to get off the field. And the toughness to not blink in the big game under bright lights -- the very situation that produced two humiliating losses on national TV in 2002.

Upsetting Georgia at home in the season opener would be a huge start. But until the Tigers pull off such a victory, they will continue to lag behind Florida State, Maryland, Virginia and N.C. State in the ACC.

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