CLEMSON - Save for a couple of Clemson's senior players tossing a helpless manager into the moat surrounding the Jervey outdoor facility, the final regular-season football practice came and went Thursday with little fanfare.
"Just a normal Thursday," head coach Tommy Bowden said.
A normal practice in what has been anything but a normal season.
From preseason suspensions and arrests, to injuries and failed expectations, to a national tragedy which put the entire country on hold for nearly two weeks, the 2001 regular season has been an exercise in patience for coaches and players alike. The two weeks between Clemson's last game - the 20-15 loss at South Carolina - and Saturday's makeup game with Duke at Death Valley was the Tigers' third off week this season.
And with Saturday's matchup against the Blue Devils in the books as just Clemson's second regular season December game ever, it's understandable if everyone feels like the've spent an extraordinary amount of time on the Jervey practice fields.
"It's been a long year, it really has," Bowden said following Thursday's workout. "With the Sept. 11 thing, an open date in the regular season and now a two-week open date, it really has been a long year."
Perhaps Clemson is fortunate, then, to have something on the line Saturday.
Rather than a meaningless game against a team with a 22-game losing streak - one that might lend itself to complacency - the Tigers know they must beat Duke to become bowl eligible. Where they will land if that comes to pass remains unclear, but knowing a postseason berth awaits should be enough to keep the team focused.
Of course the wildcard in this whole scenario remains the Blue Devils themselves. How they will approach this game continues to worry Bowden and his staff.
"They're a young team, so you don't know if they're going to come out and pull out all the stops and try to snap the streak, or if they'll put in some things to work on for spring practice," Bowden said. "I remember one year, I think it was Colorado, who had a young team and showed up at their bowl game with a completely new offensive system.
"So you never know. They might come out here running reverses, doing throwbacks and pulling out all the stops."
- Wide receiver Matt Bailey, who missed Tuesday and Wednesday with the flu, was back at practice Thursday and should be ready to start against Duke.
- Derrick Hamilton again will be the featured kickoff return man Saturday, with Brian Mance flanking him to one side.
Who will be on the other side is unknown at this time. The usual leading candidate, Joe Don Reames, has missed two practices this week due to a death in his family.
- Both Mance and Hamilton could see duty returning punts, Bowden said.