JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Clemson's 41-20 loss to Virginia Tech in Monday's Gator
Bowl delivered one irrefutable message about the program.
Despite the Tigers' rapid rise back to prominence since Tommy Bowden's
arrival two years ago, there remains much ground to be covered before the
program can realistically hope to entertain thoughts of a second national
It was a clear case of a work in progress not quite living up to the standard
set by its model. And make no mistake, Virginia Tech is everything Clemson
aspires to be:
Dynamic on offense. Intimidating on defense. Devastating on special teams.
A national power.
Granted, the Hokies are 14 years into Frank Beamer's tenure, while Bowden's
system remains in something of an infancy stage. Still, it hasn't been that
long ago — after a 2-8-1 year in 1992, in fact — that Tech's administration
almost fired Beamer.
But after rebounding the next season with a 9-3 record and victory in the
Independence Bowl, the Hokies have been regular visitors to the postseason.
That consistency reached an apex a year ago when Tech played Florida State
for the national championship. And even this year the general feeling is the
BCS snubbed the Hokies by putting a much-lower ranked Notre Dame team in the
Fiesta Bowl against Oregon State, leaving a 10-1 Tech team on the outside,
Bowden's bowl appearances in each of his first two seasons are an admirable
start in his efforts to rebuild Clemson, especially considering the 3-8
fiasco of 1998 that spelled the end of Tommy West. However, from the day
Clemson's bid to the Gator Bowl was announced, Bowden has said that while
winning Monday would have been nice, at this stage of his program a bowl win
isn't as important as just getting there.
But the win was important to Virginia Tech because of its national status.
Soon, Bowden will be under the same microscope.
Of course at this point in the game Tech is playing with a fully-loaded gun,
especially when Michael Vick is healthy. And for a capsule glance at exactly
why the Hokies are head and shoulders above Clemson, you need look no further
than Vick and his counterpart, Woody Dantzler.
Vick is equally dangerous as a runner or a passer. Dantzler has yet to prove
he can beat a team throwing the football, which is what he needed to do
And though his numbers (15-of-32, 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception)
appear decent on the surface, Dantzler still hasn't shown the capacity to
consistently make reads and follow the progression of his receivers. Vick,
Bowden said Monday evening, makes better decisions.
Dantzler was pulled from Monday's game with 1:33 left in the third quarter,
and you have to wonder now if there isn't a legitimate quarterback
controversy brewing in Tiger Town.
Bowden intimated that could be the case, saying that while Dantzler and
redshirt freshman Willie Simmons have different styles, he hopes the younger
quarterback pushes the starter in an effort to create competition.
Spring practice will tell. By then the sting of Monday's loss will have been
replaced by the fond remembrances of a 9-3 season. Optimism will be running
high throughout the team and fan base, alike.
Whether that optimism leads to a jump to the next level — Virginia Tech's
level — remains to be seen.