Originally created 11/28/01

With or without bowl, Clemson is mediocre



Assume for the sake of argument that Clemson will achieve the coveted title of "bowl eligible," because to assume otherwise requires a concept too shameful to ingest.

To be bowl ineligible, the Tigers would have to lose to Duke - an achievement so ghastly that no team has accomplished it in 22 attempts since Wake Forest on Nov. 13, 1999.

Noting that "concern is universal in this job," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said his staff will require some creative thinking to get the Tigers in the proper mood to play the 0-10 Blue Devils on Saturday. It will require an even more creative advertising campaign to get the disgruntled fans in the proper mood to WATCH this game.

Who can blame them? The disillusionment in Clemson is palpable these days. It's bad enough that the Tigers are 5-5 and losers of three straight games despite boasting the most fascinating quarterback in college football. En route to mediocrity, Clemson slipped firmly into the back seat of Lou Holtz's 2001 Palmetto Cruiser.

This from a team that featured a Heisman Trophy candidate in Woody Dantzler and was predicted to contend for the ACC title and the Bowl Championship Series berth that goes with it.

"It's been disappointing, but I imagine it won't be the first time in my life or our players' lives that something unexpected happens," Bowden said. "You have to deal with it the best you can."

This is not something the Tigers fans expected to deal with so soon. Who really saw this setback coming? In four prior years, Bowden-led clubs always displayed improvement from the previous season. IPTAY folks were salivating at what progression was in store for these Tigers after stepping from 6-6 Peach to 9-3 Gator. It's fairly certain 6-5 Home for the Holidays wasn't on the itinerary.

Suddenly Clemson's - and Bowden's - future standing in a more competitive ACC is in serious question. It doesn't matter how many times Bowden claims that adversity has made him a better coach.

"You knew it was coming at some point in your career," Bowden said of the program's swift regression. "It would be naive to think I'd go through my coaching career without experiencing some difficult times."

Make no mistake that even qualifying for a bowl won't save this season from difficult status. Being bowl eligible is about as prestigious as being an eligible bachelor in a retirement community - if you are a male and breathing, the ladies will be lining up to meet you at the early-bird buffet. A Clemson victory Saturday will make it the seventh bowl eligible team in the ACC, which has guaranteed tie-ins with five bowl games.

All Clemson needed to do to become bowl eligible was beat the likes of Division I-AA Wofford, winless Duke, Central Florida and Wake Forest - teams the Tigers would be ashamed not to beat every year. The only worthy victories the Tigers can hang their hats on are road conquests at Georgia Tech and N.C. State, who proved to be middlin' ACC foes.

Is Clemson even worthy of bowl consideration? Would fans really want to travel to Seattle or Las Vegas or Boise to see the Tigers? Should Clemson even accept an invitation if offered?

"My philosophy is - any bowl is a good bowl for your players," Bowden said.

Maybe so, but it won't be good enough for Clemson fans to stay keen on Bowden.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.