The Big Picture
Expectations always run high at Clemson, but fans probably will have to wait at least one more season for a big winner. This was not the year to open at Georgia, a top-10 team according to most. All signs point to the offense returning to the fast-paced, spot-the-ball approach used in 1999, with Brandon Streeter at the controls. Tommy Bowden insists the offense has not changed, but it has gotten slower every season. Woodrow Dantzler was a fabulous athlete but had limitations in the passing game. Willie Simmons will look to pass first and run second. If most of the questions are answered, the Tigers could finish in the top three in the ACC. If they flounder as they did last fall, they could come in lower than the fifth-place finish predicted by the media.
Fans have grown tired of Bowden's laundry list of excuses. The coach has blamed everything that has gone wrong on everybody/everything except himself. Last season was not one to remember. The Tigers had to beat Duke to get bowl-eligible, then had to buy their way into a bowl game. Fans expect more. Bowden says he's still a year behind because of the injuries, suspensions and law-breaking that cut into his depth last season. He took a lot of time selecting John Lovett, fired at Auburn, to fix his shell-shocked defense. Lovett brings a quiet intensity and more attention to detail to the job, and he's much better at the art of deception than Reggie Herring. Bowden isn't on the hot seat yet, but he probably will be next fall.
Done For Me Lately
|1993||5-3 (3)||9-3||Peach Bowl (W)|
|1995||6-2 (3)||8-4||Gator Bowl (L)|
|1996||6-2 (2)||7-5||Peach Bowl (L)|
|1997||4-4 (5)||7-5||Peach Bowl (L)|
|1999||5-3 (2)||6-6||Peach Bowl (L)|
|2001||4-4 (4)||7-5||Humanitarian Bowl (W)|
|2000||6-2 (2)||9-3||Gator Bowl (L)|
ACC: 44-36 (.550); No. 4 in ACC
All: 66-51 (.564); No. 4 in ACC
Linebacker John Leake, a surprise last season, is a solid tackler who plays with abandon. Nick Eason was a disappointment at tackle in 2001, but better health and a change in defensive philosophy should make him a bigger factor, along with promising Donnell Washington. Tailback Bernard Rambert finally is out from under Travis Zachery's shadow. Left tackle Gary Byrd, who played more than 700 snaps last season, will protect Simmons' blind side. The receiving corps is loaded. Aaron Hunt gives Bowden the best situation he's had at kicker.
Coming On Strong
The secondary should be tougher and more physical, with rover Altroy Bodrick back from injury and the improved Eric Meekins at free safety. Eric Sampson came on late last season at linebacker. Clemson has never been this deep or talented at wideout, where game-breakers Derrick Hamilton, J.J. McKelvey and Airese Currie are joined by Kevin Youngblood (injured in 2001) and rookie Kelvin Grant. Tailback Yusef Kelly may have a break-out season.
Cause For Concern?
On offense, the line is bigger (305-pound average) but less experienced. Simmons and backup Charlie Whitehurst are new to the spotlight. On defense, Lovett has a monumental task with a group that allowed 28 points per game last fall. If the pace of the offense picks up, as expected, that could put even more pressure on the defense. The front seven struggled in 2001, and that contributed to poor play in the secondary. The punting game also needs attention.
The Whole Truth
"Last year, you knew in critical situations that Woody (Dantzler) was going to have the ball in his hands. This year with the tailback situation pretty healthy, those guys will be getting burdened. We'll probably do more dropback throwing and handing the ball to the tailback, as opposed to faking to the tailback and Woody keeping off some sort of misdirection."
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden
CHART BY: THE CLEMSON INSIDER