CLEMSON - It's amazing what a bowl win - any bowl win - will do for a team's
confidence. Or a coach, for that matter.
Two days after Clemson's 49-24 victory over Louisiana Tech in the
Humanitarian Bowl, Tommy Bowden said he expects his Tigers to be an improved
football team in 2002.
How improved over this year's 7-5 squad? Perhaps no one knows.
But improved nonetheless.
"I expect us to be a better team," he said in a Wednesday teleconference.
"We've got a lot coming back and they should be better players. How that
relates to wins and losses, I don't know. But I expect them to be better."
There is reason for cautious optimism. With a talented group of skill
position players returning on offense, Clemson has the potential to be
explosive on that side of the ball.
Running back Bernard Rambert, a rising senior, will be the anchor at that
position. Rambert is coming off a 101-yard rushing, 77-yard receiving
performance in the Humanitarian Bowl, his first start of the season. He
replaced senior Travis Zachery, who was dismissed from the team after he was
charged with one count of distributing marijuana.
Rambert's Humanitarian Bowl performance was the best of any Clemson running
back all season, leaving Bowden both impressed and lamenting.
"I could kick myself for not playing him earlier," he said.
Rambert will be backed up by a trio of speedy redshirts in 2002 - sophomore
Keith Kelly and freshmen Kyle Browning and Tye Hill.
"I'm really excited about them," Bowden said.
Meanwhile, the receiving corp which grew up under fire in 2001 will be primed
and ready for a breakout season in 2002. Freshmen wide receivers Airese
Currie, Roscoe Crosby and Derrick Hamilton accounted for over 100 receptions
in 2001, and all three (plus tight end Ben Hall) scored touchdowns in the
Humanitarian Bowl in individually spectacular manners.
Add a healthy Kevin Youngblood back into the mix and Clemson could well have
the deepest, most talented group of wide receivers in the country.
The offensive question marks center on quarterback and the line.
Can Willie Simmons, long anticipated by many as Clemson's next starting
quarterback, deliver on the promise in his strong right arm and, at the same
time, handle being "the man" in the absence of Woody Dantzler?
And how will the line handle the loss of three solid interior seniors in
center Kyle Young and guards Will Merritt and T.J. Watkins?
"I expect Jermyn Chester, Cedric Johnson and Chip Myrick to step up next
year," Bowden said. "Those are the first three who come to mind."
Defensively the questions are more pronounced.
Reggie Herring's side of the ball gave up 390 yards of offense per game this
season, and the secondary seemingly got worse instead of better. There was
noticeable improvement in the front seven in 2001, and the unit as a whole
seemed to make small strides over the last three games of the year.
But will the secondary improve after an awful season? Will redshirted support
help make a difference at the position? How healthy are linebacker Altroy
Bodrick (torn ACL) and safety Marcus Houskin (broken neck)?
Can the defensive line continue to improve?
Will junior college linebackers Brandon Jamison and Kelvin Morris pay
"I expect they will," Bowden said.
In the grand scheme of things, Bowden expects all returning players to be
better than they were in 2001 simply because they're another year older and
acclimated to the system. But will it show up in wins and losses?
Tune in 2002 to find out.
- Clemson will hold its big recruiting weekend on Jan. 12, complete with the
annual banquet for the prospects who attend.
The next day ends the consecutive dead and quiet periods for recruiting, and
Bowden said the coaching staff will be on the road full force beginning that
Sunday (Jan. 13).
- Bowden again reiterated that has no plans to fire coaches and find
replacements for 2002. That doesn't mean that movement won't happen.
"I don't plan on making any changes, but you never know when someone will get
promoted, offered another job or maybe move from one side of the ball to
another," Bowden said.
Asked if any of his coaches had been approached by other teams, Bowden said,
"Not at this time."
- Bowden praised the seniors who played their final game in the Humanitarian
"It's not so much the 100 or so records we've set since they've been here,"
he said. "It that they didn't give up and kept trying. The most difficult
year we've had, this last year, with discipline, injuries and loss of people,
that nucleus of guys is what I'll remember.
"They've laid a pretty good foundation. When they look back and see the
accumulation of things over (my) three years they can feel good about