Commentary: Judging the Merits of a Pair of Winning Streaks

by - Correspondent -

Clemson's latest four-game run to glory has brought the end of 2003 back into focus for all the right reasons.

Earlier this season, while stumbling to a 1-4 start, fans wondered where the previous year's magic had gone. Was the Tommy Bowden job-saving run a preview of things to come, or was it a blip on the screen? Was it nothing more than a mirage in a desert of mediocrity?

The jury may not totally be in, but the ground this team has made up in the last four weeks leads one to believe that things are coming together. Although if Bowden feels that way, he's playing it close to the vest.

Asked earlier this week which streak was more impressive, he sidestepped the question.

"I think I'd be more qualified to answer that after the season," he said. "Because if you lose the next one, you know how quickly things turn. You're only as good as your last game and we've got two more games left. We've got to win the next one. The next one's the most important one, and the next one happens to be Duke.

"I think after the season when I talk to (the media) it'll be a little (easier) to look back."

Bowden's reluctance to speak on the issue almost harkens to an old baseball axiom:

Never mess with a streak.

But the issue is worth examining. And after doing so, I've concluded that while last year's streak may be more important, this one might be more impressive.

Let me explain.

The 2003 streak was more important because it ultimately brought security to an insecure job. By hanging around for a sixth season in 2004, Bowden's tenure exceeds that of every Clemson coach in the school's history save for three - Frank Howard (30 years), Danny Ford (11) and Jess Neely (9).

By saving his job and signing a contract extension with a $4 million buyout, Bowden and Clemson sent a message to future recruits that he's going to be around for years to come. And with work finally about to begin on the West End Zone project, the commitment to facilities Bowden has harped on since arriving on campus now appears to be in place.

All of that, brought on by four wins at the end of last season, at a time when the program needed stability above anything else. Thus the importance.

So why is this current streak more impressive?

A number of reasons.

Start with salvaging a season. Add in the maturing of young, unproven players into full time contributors. The Tigers' defense has made a remarkable turnaround. And while the offense has struggled at times, we have seen the emergence of Reggie Merriweather as a bonafide threat running the football, plus Airese Currie blossom into perhaps the best receiver in the ACC.

Granted, as Bowden said there are two games remaining, beginning with Duke this Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium. And goodness knows after watching Clemson barely escape the Blue Devils in Durham two years ago, there's no way I've already chalked this one up in the win column.

But the Tigers are at least favored to win this one, and if they hold serve that would be a five-game winning streak heading into the regular season finale at home vs. South Carolina.

That would also mean a 5-3 final record in the ACC and any number of bowl possibilities.

Any way you slice it, that's one impressive run.

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