CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is not the panicky type - not yet anyway.
He knows the Tigers have questions at quarterback, offensive line and on defense this season. He realizes few fans will hoot and holler about the Humanitarian Bowl victory over Louisiana Tech from last year. And he's ready to handle the blame if things don't get better this fall.
But worrying is not his style, especially when the Tigers' mediocrity came so close to success a year ago.
"You take away just two turnovers, not a better game, not a better anything else. One against Virginia, one against South Carolina, and you've got nine wins on a team that didn't have anybody drafted," Bowden said.
Still, Bowden's name has come up frequently on lists of college football coaches facing make-or-break years. One report had his nephew telling him he was a hot coach, but Bowden corrected that he was a coach on "the hot seat."
Such is life at Clemson, where three-straight bowl trips in your first three years - Bowden's the only one is school history to accomplish that - only means you've got more time to listen to why you're doing it wrong.
"If I went to my dentist, I don't think I would tell him how to do his job," Bowden said this summer.
Bowden thinks the job he's done with Clemson's program will show itself on the field this season.
Yes, the Tigers lose NCAA record-setter Woody Dantzler at quarterback. But longtime backup, Willie "Shotgun" Simmons, is ready to show off his strong arm.
The offensive line lost its backbone of Kyle Young, T.J. Watkins, Will Merritt and Akil Smith. But Gary Byrd and Derrick Brantley lead a group of three juniors, a senior and a graduate student.
The defense was seventh overall in the Atlantic Coast Conference, allowing nearly 390 yards a game. But new coordinator John Lovett takes over a group of eight returning starters.
"We want to prove a point this year, and we want everyone to be scared of us like they used to be," said linebacker John Leake, Clemson's top returning tackler with 134 stops. "We want people to be scared to play with us in Death Valley."
That certainly wasn't the case last season when they went 3-3. The home defeats got so noticeable that Clemson icon Danny Ford said Bowden's club was "starting to set a bad precedent."
The strength of this year's team, as it's been with Bowden's clubs in Tulane and here, is the offense. Simmons probably knows the attack better than Dantzler, who last year became the first in NCAA history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000.
"Woody would be the first to tell you that," Bowden said.
Simmons will have an abundance of skill players to lead. Bernard Rambert rushed for 101 yards in the Humanitarian Bowl replacing dismissed star Travis Zachery. Yusef Kelly, redshirted last season, also will see time.
Receiver could be Clemson's deepest position, and that's accounting for the season-long loss of injured two-sport star Roscoe Crosby. Derrick Hamilton, who had 53 catches as a freshman, will lead the group and be joined by J.J. McKelvey, Jackie Robinson, Kevin Youngblood and Airese Currie.
"We're still going to be fast-paced with the no-huddle," Simmons says. Although, instead of Dantzler's running, Simmons will hand off or hang in the pocket until one of his fleet receivers breaks free.
"It's going to be the same basic package with a few wrinkles in it," he said.
Lovett, Auburn's defensive coordinator from 1999-2001, has his defense concentrating on getting to the ball and creating turnovers, something the Tigers didn't do very well a year ago. "The more people you get around the football, the more productive you can be," he said.
And the less people wonder about a coaching staff's future.
Bowden takes it in stride. He says he listened to his father, two-time national champion Bobby Bowden, fret about Florida State's "poor" 8-4 season.
"There's not anyone, if they've been in this profession long enough, who doesn't deal with this," said Tommy Bowden, 22-14 at Clemson. "I don't pay attention to" the criticism.
Perhaps after this season, Bowden won't have to.
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