Bowden exudes confidence in trip to Aiken

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AIKEN --- The few who wore St. Patrick's Day green were easy to pick out at the Aiken County Fairgrounds.

Orange reigned Monday as hundreds of fans came to see Clemson coach Tommy Bowden during his annual spring visit.

"The biggest thing is to show appreciation," Bowden said of his visit. "Clemson has a very loyal and fanatical fan base."

Expectations have risen for the Tigers after a 9-4 finish last season, including a last-second win over rival South Carolina and a runner-up finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division.

After defeating the Gamecocks, Bowden received a four-year contract extension. Then, despite a Chick-Fil-A Bowl loss to Auburn, the Tigers recorded one of the nation's top recruiting classes, buoyed by the addition of defensive end DaQuan Bowers.

"Clemson's a good place to sell," Bowden said. "It's a lot easier to sell when you're going to be there."

Clemson returns 17 starters, including senior quarterback Cullen Harper, who posted a breakthrough season. Harper led the league in passing efficiency, throwing for almost 3,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Harper finished second in passing yardage and total offense to Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, who is widely considered the top quarterback in April's NFL Draft.

"The fact that Cullen went head-to-head with him in the conference, at least statistically, and had a lot more impressive statistics, is very encouraging," Bowden said.

Along with Harper, Clemson returns senior running backs James "Thunder" Davis and C.J. "Lightning" Spiller. They combined for more than 1,900 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns.

Clemson opens the season against Alabama, Aug. 30, at the Georgia Dome before playing four consecutive home games.

The Tigers will be seeking their first ACC Championship since 1991.

"Expectations are high every year," said Bowden, Clemson's coach since 1999. "We're going to have a little bit better chance this year. We're in a little better position to make the most serious run since I've been here."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or

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