Clemson's football fortunes have gone from forgettable to improbable in less than one season.
An unprecedented rebound is within reach for the Tigers. A win in Saturday's noon contest at No. 13 Georgia Tech (6-2, 4-2) would lock down second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Tigers, who finished with a 1-7 league mark last year.
No ACC team has ever made a one-year, six-place improvement in the ACC standings. Quarterback Brandon Streeter relishes the opportunity to determine the runner-up to Florida State on the field.
"It's in our own hands," Streeter said. "That's why I love football so much -- for games like this. It's really big for us. We realized that as each game went by, we'd have an opportunity to become second in the conference."
Also at stake is a bowl berth for the Tigers (5-4, 5-2 ACC), who could secure an invitation to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on New Year's Day with a win. A Clemson loss would require a victory over archrival South Carolina next week for a Dec. 30 date in Atlanta's Peach Bowl.
First-year Clemson coach Tommy Bowden has rejuvenated a program one season removed from its worst in a quarter century. Defensive tackle Jason Holloman greeted the media Tuesday wearing his 1997 Peach Bowl ring and attributed the Tigers' turnaround to a complete attitude reversal.
"People said this would be a rebuilding year, but coach Bowden said we don't have time for a rebuilding year," Holloman said. "Last year some people were just ready to get it over with."
Clemson struggled to a 3-8 record in 1998 but missed being a 6-5 team by 10 points. The Tigers lost fourth-quarter leads to Virginia and Georgia Tech.
Bowden couldn't have predicted his team would be battling for second place in the conference when he inherited a young team last December. Six defensive players were drafted into the NFL, and his entire offensive line was lost to graduation.
Preaching cautious optimism, Bowden planned for gradual improvement during his debut season at Clemson. The possibility of finishing second to his father's Seminoles was not a realistic preseason expectation for the 45-year-old coach.
"Not in the first year," Bowden said. "That's something you'd like to do eventually but not this year. I looked at the players lost and the strength of schedule. The schedule was a lot more difficult than I expected."
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.