CLEMSON — The comment was short, but telling.
A fellow writer, noticing the strangely subdued atmosphere hanging over Frank
Howard Field midway through Clemson's 35-14 victory over Maryland, looked
around and shook his head.
"I guess we're in a day and age when a 20-7 Clemson lead at halftime is
disappointing," he said with a wry smile.
In a season in which expectations have skyrocketed with each Tiger victory,
it appears our colleague is correct. A 30-point victory at Duke wasn't good
enough. A scintillating defensive stand to preserve a 34-27 win over a vastly
improved N.C. State game didn't qualify.
And neither was a 13-point halftime lead Saturday. Not when you came into the
game ranked No. 4 in the country in one poll, No. 5 in the other.
Welcome to the hunt for a National Championship.
Fan expectations, which were far too high even before the team assembled for
fall practice, are at a peak of lunacy following a 7-0 start to the 2000
season. And with every victory, as Clemson climbs higher and higher in the
polls, those expectations continue to build to dangerous proportions.
What was the talk prior to Saturday's game? Well, it seems the last time a
Tiger team opened a football season with seven consecutive wins was 1981 —
which happens to be the year of Clemson's only National Championship.
Granted, comparisons are inevitable — if not silly — but it seems some
perspective is in order. Less than two years into Tommy Bowden's system
Clemson has made wonderful strides, by any standards. Yet now, both fans and
even some media seem to be of the mind that anything less than a BCS bowl
would be a disappointment.
This, less than two years removed from a 3-8 finish.
Sure, the Tigers at times appeared sluggish Saturday. The team's first foray
into national television this season was more workmanlike than spectacular,
though there were enough highlights to keep Woody Dantzler's fledgling
Heisman Trophy candidacy alive.
And, by the end, the 85,000 fans who crowded Death Valley appeared to go home
Yet you get the distinct feeling satisfaction is still a trip to Miami away,
at least in the minds of some fans. Anything less could be deemed falling
Fans, not to mention boosters, are a fickle lot. Optimism, in its purest
form, is a necessary quality.