CLEMSON, S.C. - Win or lose this weekend, Tommy Bowden is proud of Clemson's season - and where his program is heading.
The 24th-ranked Tigers (8-3) close the regular season with their annual rivalry game against South Carolina (6-5). And while Clemson and Bowden have dominated things in recent years - the Tigers have won eight of the past nine in the series, while Bowden is 6-1 against South Carolina - he's not hinging the success or failure of this year on the outcome.
"I'm surely not going to slit my wrists if we lose the game," Bowden said Tuesday. "I might have to avoid some shots, though."
Bowden says the team has been more competitive on the field, two of its three losses coming by one point each - 34-33 in double overtime to Boston College and 13-12 to Maryland.
Despite losses in two of its past three games, Clemson continues to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in total and rushing offense. James Davis, the Tigers' first tailback in six years with over 1,000 yards, tops the conference with 1,115 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"I look at the running game, I look at recruiting, I try to look at the whole picture to say, 'Are we making progress?' " Bowden said.
Bowden thinks this year's group has been more cohesive in its rushing, pass efficiency and a better caliber of returning players.
"These are things the other eight-win teams (at Clemson) did not do, which to me shows a little more consistency," Bowden said. "If we keep running the ball the way we do and the defense keeps playing the way we do, then we'll get one of those" one-point losses to turn to victory.
Clemson looked like an unstoppable offensive machine - and the best team in the ACC - as it started 7-1 behind its "Thunder" and "Lightning" backfield of Davis and freshman C.J. Spiller.
The duo put up 332 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the Georgia Tech victory. Davis managed only 154 yards total the past three games. Spiller was the star of Clemson's last game, a 20-14 win over North Carolina State on Nov. 11.
Spiller had a career-high 154 yards and a 52-yard touchdown to send the Tigers into their off-week with a taste of success. Davis was held to 34 yards two weeks ago, saying he was ill with a flu bug.
But he plans to return to his earlier form in the Palmetto State's biggest sporting event.
"I feel like I've got to put it on my shoulders because I haven't stepped up the past three or four weeks," Davis said. "I've got to make a statement game, saying 'I'm back. I'm ready.' "
Right guard Nathan Bennett said the week away gave the Tigers time to think about what they had done wrong and what they had done right so far this year.
"We were refreshed and rejuvenated mentally and physically," he said. "Everybody was cutting up" at Monday night's practice.
Bowden knows what's still out there for the Tigers to accomplish. A win Saturday would likely send them to one of the ACC's higher tiered bowls like the Peach or the Gator. It would also keep alive the chance at their first 10-win season since 1990.
Tight end Thomas Hunter said the players were still disappointed at falling from the ACC race, but there's enough motivation in just facing South Carolina to keep the Tigers focused this week.
"Everybody had their mind on football," Hunter said. "We looked sharp and had a good day of practice."
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