Clemson fans don't need to thank the Peach Bowl's selection committee for picking the Tigers to play in their Jan. 2 game.
Gary Stokan, the president of the Peach Bowl, said the appreciation should be directed to Clemson's players.
"Clemson has played their way into this game," said Stokan, who was in Clemson on Tuesday to extend the official invitation to the Atlanta-based bowl. "We are one of the few bowls in the country that looks at what the players do on the field. ... The players have made the decision - not some committee, but the players."
The committee decided late Monday to select Clemson over North Carolina State as the Atlantic Coast Conference's representative for the game, which will be at 4:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
It will be the Tigers' sixth appearance in the Peach Bowl, which has a payout of $2.2 million per team. Their last trip there was in 1999, when they lost to Mississippi State in coach Tommy Bowden's first season.
The decision was made difficult because both schools have reputations for following their teams in large numbers. Making matters more dicey for Clemson: The Wolfpack beat the Tigers 17-15 earlier this season.
But Stokan said Clemson's recent resilience and dominance made the Tigers impossible to overlook. After a 45-17 loss at Wake Forest dropped its record to 5-4, Clemson won its last three regular-season games by a combined score of 129-34.
Included were routs of then-No. 3 Florida State (26-10) and archrival South Carolina (63-17). Clemson finished the season 8-4 (5-3 ACC) and is guaranteed no worse than a third-place finish in the conference.
The resurgence was even more impressive given scrutiny faced by Bowden, who endured questions about his job security in the wake of the loss at Wake Forest.
N.C. State is 7-5 and 4-4 in the ACC after losing its last two games of the regular season to Maryland and Florida State. The Wolfpack accepted a bid to the Tangerine Bowl on Tuesday morning.
"We want to see how a team is progressing toward the end of the season," Stokan said. "I've never seen a team react to a coaching staff the way this team reacted to Tommy and his coaching staff toward the end of the year. ... It's just great job of coaching and a great compliment to the team. That's why they deserve to be in our bowl game."
Clemson's opponent won't be known until after the Dec. 6 Southeastern Conference championship game. The Peach Bowl has the fourth pick among SEC schools, and Mississippi and Florida seem to be the most likely possibilities.
Stokan said there were only about 4,000 tickets remaining when he left for Clemson on Tuesday morning. Clemson is contractually responsible for 17,500 tickets, but Phillips told Stokan he expected more than 20,000 Tigers fans to purchase tickets.
Bowden said he was "extremely excited" when Stokan called him late Monday night with the news.
Though Clemson's bowl destination was made official Tuesday, a contract extension for Tommy Bowden has yet to be solidified.
Bowden and his administration had been working since Sunday to work out an extension, but Bowden left Tuesday for a Thanksgiving break in Panama City, Fla.
"I wish we would have gotten something done before I left for the beach," said Bowden, who expects to return to Clemson on Sunday.
Bowden has four years remaining on a contract that pays him about $1.2 million per year. Reports have the two sides discussing a raise and an additional three years that would bind him through 2010.
"The issue is we want coach Bowden here for the long term and we're working toward that," athletic director Terry Don Phillips said.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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