SUNSET, S.C. --- With a new, long-term contract and nearly every offensive impact player back, it sounds like a carefree summer for Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.
"Never," Bowden said Tuesday. "You're never relaxed before the season."
Still, there are many in Tigertown excited about Clemson's prospects for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and beyond in Bowden's 10th season.
The Tigers went 9-4 a year ago and featured a multifaceted attack with record-setters in quarterback Cullen Harper and receiver Aaron Kelly. If that wasn't enough, the team's "Thunder and Lightning" duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller was there to control the clock and strike for long, stunning touchdowns.
Despite missing out on the ACC title game because of a 20-17 November loss to Boston College, Bowden was rewarded with a raise and a deal that ties him to the Tigers through 2014.
Things continued to go Clemson's way after the season ended.
Harper and Kelly quickly turned aside notions of leaving after their junior years. Davis, who initially declared for the NFL Draft, changed his mind a week or so later and returned to the team.
On defense, standouts in safety Michael Hamlin and lineman Dorrell Scott also chose to play one final season. The lone junior star who left was defensive lineman and sack leader Phillip Merling, drafted in the second round last April by Miami.
The returnees and newcomers make Clemson the likely choice to win the ACC, and perhaps challenge for more.
Bowden, in typical coach summer-speak, isn't so sure. He's worried over his offensive line, which has only center Thomas Austin as a returning starter. Bowden's also concerned about his linebackers, all three starters gone from last fall.
"I don't see this as a veteran team," Bowden said.
Bowden's opinion probably won't keep Clemson from a spot in the preseason top 10.
Of rampant talk of coming success, he says, "I would say it was premature."