CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson coach Tommy Bowden doesn't read the sports pages or listen sports radio. So he can't know how good Tiger fans and school officials feel after his team's revived play the past month.
The season-turning, 27-20 victory over South Carolina on Saturday night left Clemson (7-5) in stronger bowl position than expected and got fans smiling - for now - about what's ahead.
"I think obviously the win over South Carolina cures a lot of ills at least in the short term" with Clemson fans, said Dan Scott, who's hosted a call-in sports show on WCCP-FM in Clemson the past two years. "They're impressed with how the Tigers have done the past month, their play since putting Charlie Whitehurst in at quarterback and in that last series against South Carolina playing what's considered old-fashioned Clemson football."
After Whitehurst, Clemson's freshman quarterback, led the team to two touchdowns an a seven-point lead in the final quarter, the Tigers ground out the last 6:25 - just like the championship 1980s - behind runners Yusef Kelly and Chad Jasmin.
You would think that the Tigers' 3-1 finish - they defeated Duke and North Carolina, then lost to Maryland before facing the Gamecocks last week - would bring the coach some relief and a temporary end to questions about his long-term future at the school.
Since Bowden never paid attention to critics in the first place, he says the talk was "not an issue."
"I think I've been fairly consistent this year with the answer," Bowden said Tuesday. "Pressure comes with the job description. ... It's not that big a factor."
Is Bowden happy with his team's seven-win season? No. But there are plenty of things to make him smile for down the road.
Nine of the players on offense during Clemson's closing, game-clinching drive return next year, Bowden said. While many of this year's defensive starters won't return, several younger players had key roles. Bowden redshirted nearly an entire class of recruits that will begin paying dividends in 2003.
"I feel very comfortable with what the president (James Barker) and athletic director (Terry Don Phillips) are saying" about the program's direction, Bowden said.
Phillips said he was very positive about Bowden's team and how far it could go in the future. "I really appreciate how they came back after South Carolina scored those two quick touchdowns," Phillips said. "They really showed something."
Clemson's immediate direction is wait and see. The Tigers are in line for the postseason, most likely the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla., or the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. With North Carolina State accepting the Atlantic Coast Conference's spot in the Gator Bowl on Tuesday, the league could still release teams to other tie-in bowls before Thanksgiving.
The bowls might also wait to choose until after this weekend's games.
"I'm leaving that up to the administration" when it comes to which bowl the Tigers appear in, Bowden said. "Wherever we go, I'll be happy."
Bowden has kept busy since Saturday night's victory. He spoke to groups in Atlanta and Macon, Ga. He had a long recruiting meeting with his staff. And on Wednesday, he, wife Linda, 20-year-old son Ryan and 17-year-old daughter Lauren will drive seven hours to Panama City, Fla., for Thanksgiving.
"They might not be looking forward to it, but I am," Tommy Bowden said.
When Bowden returns, he'll likely have a bowl itinerary and opponent. He hopes this postseason is the start of Clemson's rise to Bowl Championship Series and conference championship level.
If it's not, talk-show host Scott said, expect the fans to pile on Bowden and his program again.
"It literally changes that quick for people these days," Scott said.
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