Commentary: Will 2006 Tigers Live Up To The Hype?


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - Hype.

The online dictionary has a number of different meanings for such a small word, but the one which draws attention today is the first - and most obvious - definition:

"Excessive publicity and the ensuing commotion."

When dealing with a college football team, hype is commonplace. Whether its genesis is with the media or the fans, once the buzz begins the only thing that can stop it is a good, sound thrashing.

Clemson fans got a life lesson in Hype 101 in 2004.

"The Finish" of 2003, which included the unlikeliest of victories over Florida State, a 63-17 humiliation of South Carolina and a Peach Bowl win over Tennessee, had Tiger Nation foaming at the mouth over the start of 2004. In that particular instance, all the hype proved to be just that - hype.

Clemson started the 2004 campaign 1-4, blowing it not only out of its preseason Top 25 ranking but ending any hopes of a major bowl appearance before the season was at its halfway point. Of course, despite another strong finish to 6-5, there would be no bowl because of the now-infamous brawl with USC.

The mood prior to 2005 was significantly more subdued, but still highly anticipated. New coordinators Rob Spence and Vic Koening brought a sense of the unknown to Tiger camp, and fans wanted as much information about the two as they could get.

But there was little, if any, in the way of exaggerated expectations surrounding the football team. That it went 8-4, lost the four games by a total of 16 points, won another bowl game and finished in the Top 25 for the second time in three seasons proved to be a nice surprise for Clemson fans.

It also, as one might expect, revved up the ol' hype machine again this offseason.

With the West End Zone project coming together, recruiting (according to the gurus) at an all-time high in the Bowden era, and a depth of talent not seen around these parts in years, fans once again have high expectations for their Tigers.

The questions remain, however:

Too much hype? Or is this the breakout year fans - and coaches - have been chasing?

We begin to discover those answers in less than two weeks, when Florida Atlantic comes calling at Death Valley. But if what I'm hearing from insiders proves to be true, maybe - just maybe - the hype is justified.

I recall the months and weeks before 2003, when some close to the program told me that particular team could be the best of Bowden's tenure. It sure didn't play like it at first, and after the Wake Forest debacle no one knew if the coach would be back the next week, much less the next year.

But in those final four games - "The Finish" - the team played like the insiders told me they would.

Come 2004, there were no such pronouncements from my spies. But 2005's preseason was one of cautious optimism, and that optimism was rewarded with a solid year.

Now, again, my insiders say that this could be that breakout season.

All the elements are there, they say. The only thing lacking is consistency. The kind of consistency that has eluded this team the past few seasons. Beating Miami one week and losing to Duke the next. Getting crushed at Wake, then stunning the Seminoles.

This program has had more ups and downs than the proverbial elevator convention.

Yet, the hype is there again for 2006. Fans want to believe. The media has cautiously ranked Clemson at No. 18 in both major polls. Inside the conference, really for the first time, Bowden's team is seen as a viable contender for a league title.

What does it all mean? Nothing, until the ball is spotted on Sept. 2.

But until then, it never hurts to dream.

Next year may finally be here.

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