College football fans have a short memory.
Fresh in the minds of Clemson fans is how the Tigers ended their 2002 season - with a 55-15 loss to Texas Tech in the Mazda Tangerine Bowl.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden has a number of items on his spring agenda. As he related to more than 400 people who showed up for the Aiken-Edgefield County Clemson Club meeting Tuesday in Aiken, foremost is giving the fans hope that the 2003 season bears the promise for improvement.
"We'll be better across the board at every position," said Bowden, whose team finished 7-6 this year and 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "I don't think we're that far away."
Bowden called the Texas Tech loss "embarrassing," but pointed out that his team flirted with superiority during much of the season.
"The Georgia game was a three-point loss," he said of Clemson's season-opening loss to the Southeastern Conference champion Bulldogs. "Virginia was a (close) loss, and if we win our bowl game, that's 10 wins."
He added that national champion Ohio State was a mediocre team entering the 2002 season.
The Tigers will return a solid core next year which includes starting quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and leading rusher Yusef Kelly.
Bowden projected that all but two of this year's recruits will be redshirted next year. The exceptions are rising freshman kicker Jad Dean and Aiken High School graduate Brian Staley, a cornerback who is transferring to Clemson from Georgia Military College.
"(Staley) came from a solid junior college program," Bowden said. "He's more mature and experienced than a high school guy."
Running back Reggie Merriweather, a North Augusta alumnus who redshirted this year, has been climbing the depth chart during spring practice.
"He's having an impressive spring," Bowden said of Merriweather. "But there's going to be a learning curve when you first come in."
Bowden listed the short-yardage running game, defense against the run and personnel as the key objectives for spring practice.
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips also was at the meeting Tuesday and addressed the coaching situation for the Tigers' basketball program. After five years at Clemson, during which his teams had only two winning seasons, basketball coach Larry Shyatt resigned Monday.
"Coach Shyatt's got character through and through," Phillips said. "But he felt like it was in his best interest to step back."
Phillips, who came to Clemson from Oklahoma State last summer, said he will look to Cowboys basketball coach Eddie Sutton for guidance in the search for a new coach.
Reach Lane Kramer at (803) 648-1395, Ext. 106.
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