CLEMSON, S.C. - Maybe, just maybe, North Carolina State is as good as its inflated record suggests. Maybe one day it will play somebody strong enough to prove it.
As of Thursday night, the Wolfpack still haven't played any team of consequence. That's right. Truth is, Clemson is of no consequence.
Technically, Clemson counts as a quality Division I-A opponent. It's all rep. Anybody who has seen the Tigers in person the past three weeks knows better.
Clemson was beaten in every way but the final score just five days earlier by Wake Forest. There was no such ambiguity Thursday night in a 38-6 undressing.
In front of 74,000 fans and a national TV audience that could have been fooled by Clemson's two earlier prime-time appearances into believing the Tigers were almost good, the naked truth was exposed.
The Tigers are mediocre - at best. Again. If they can get to 6-6 - and that's a big if - they can buy their way into the Continental Tire Bowl and Bowden can boast becoming the second coach to lead the Tigers to four consecutive postseason games. That's about as proud an accomplishment as Gov. Jim Hodges raising South Carolina's test scores to 49th in the nation.
Tiger alumni have their IPTAY. Bowden is starting IWSAY - I Win Six A Year.
Honestly, Thursday's game might have been just the boost the World Series needed to increase its ratings. Only a masochist would have kept the channel on ESPN beyond the first half of this one.
Even Tiger fans started a steady stream to the exits shortly after halftime. The hard-core loyalists stuck it out to allow the traffic to clear. It's bad enough in Tiger Town that we might start hearing Clemson fans speak wistfully about the good ol' days - under Ken Hatfield.
Remember Hatfield? He was the last decent coach Clemson had, and he and his .707 winning percentage were run out of town after four years because he wasn't as colorful as Danny Ford, he lost to Virginia and some thought he'd drained the pool of talent.
This is Bowden's fourth season, and he's yet to live up to Hatfield. He's got all sorts of reasons why - just ask him. But that 9-3 season in 1999 looks more and more like an aberration. Hatfield had only one season worse that Bowden's best (5-6 in 1992), and that was an aberration.
Bowden inherited the name of coaching greatness from his father. But Bobby Bowden clearly passed on the skills of the trade to former Florida State assistants Chuck Amato and Mark Richt, both unbeaten this season.
Tommy Bowden is quickly running out of excuses. He's also running out of cover in a conference that is starting to flex some coaching muscle. In a league that includes the elder Bowden, Amato, Ralph Friedgen, Al Groh, Chan Gailey, Jim Grobe and John Bunting, the younger Bowden hardly measures up.
Right now, Amato is the hot coach with the hottest team. N.C. State has never been 9-0 before now, but the soft part of the schedule officially ended when the Wolfpack left Death Valley. The Wolfpack still have some proving to do, and even a 12-0 finish might not carry the BCS credentials to play for the national championship.
Bowden has been there before. His 11-0 record at Tulane qualified him to be hired by Clemson. Sad to say, he's been less than perfect ever since.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.