CLEMSON, S.C. -- Zooming past several national powers during its ascent in the polls, Clemson has rejoined college football's elite.
Vaulting over staples Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee and Miami, among others, the Tigers have reclaimed respect. Clemson is No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, No. 8 in the coaches poll.
Less than 21 months ago, Clemson's reputation reeked from the stench of a 3-8 campaign in 1998. The Tigers were booed at Death Valley.
Tommy Bowden inherited a downtrodden program. He's transformed it into a contender. Clemson's beloved fans have jumped on the Tigers' bandwagon, and life is grand again.
"Absolutely, we're excited," said Clemson fan Rick Boyleston, former Chairman of the Aiken IPTAY club from 1995-97. "The offense is moving the ball well, but right now, I don't think we've played anybody. Virginia was tough, but they're still not a top-notch team.
"I certainly don't think we've been tested, and if things keep going like they're going, we're probably not going to be tested until we get to Florida State. Next week when we play N.C. State, that could be a pretty decent game, but as long as we don't make mistakes and stuff, I think we'll be all right."
The Tigers visit Duke (0-4, 0-1 ACC) at noon today, seeking their first 5-0 record since 1987. The Blue Devils ended Clemson's last 4-0 start in 1989 with a 21-17 victory in Durham.
"Who's going to complain?" the second-year coach inquired. "I'm pleased we're heading in the right direction. Satisfied? No. Pleased? yes."
At 4-0, there is no coronation party planned for the resurgent Tigers. Clemson is 10-6 since Mr. Bowden arrived, but September wins don't always translate into January glory.
Clemson hasn't completed a season ranked in the top 25 since 1993, the same year of its last bowl victory. Junior linebacker Keith Adams has greater aspirations than just a scorching start.
"We're not finished," Mr. Adams said. "We have to keep striving until we're number one. The main goal is to get to Miami for the national championship game (Orange Bowl). Anything is possible."
It seems an eternity ago that Clemson was scrounging for respect. Mr. Bowden's rapid-fire offense, coupled with defensive coordinator Reggie Herring's unit, has catapulted the Tigers back into the ACC hunt.
Mr. Bowden is concentrating on returning the ACC crown to Clemson for the first time since 1991. He must dethrone his dad's Florida State squad to do so.
After finishing tied for second in the conference a year ago, the Tigers are poised for a monumental Nov. 4 showdown at Florida State that could see a pair of 9-0 teams battling for the ACC title. A Bowl Championship Series invitation likely awaits the victor and possibly a trip to the Orange Bowl.
"We're closer than we were last year at this time," Mr. Bowden said. "The potential is here to eventually accomplish those things."
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