CLEMSON,SC - Clemson's football team is walking with a confident swagger unlike
any other 6-5 football team this December.
For that matter, unlike any Clemson football team in nearly a decade.
In this case, they're just following the leader.
"The big key has been confidence," said wide receiver Justin Watts. "The
coaches said we're going to throw it to you and you're going to have to make
plays. They've instilled in the team the confidence to make the plays."
If you're on the other sideline from Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, you call it
arrogance. You say Bowden got whipped one too many times by his dad and now
he's suffers from a "me against the world" complex.
Whatever it is, the players have taken their cue from Bowden and they're
ready to start collecting rings.
"When we win the national championship next year, I'll wear that ring," said
defensive lineman Terry Jolly.
Confidence is talking about winning a national championship when you haven't
won a bowl in six years.
"I'm talking about winning both the ACC championship and the national
championship," said Jolly, to confirm that he was, in fact, talking about
the national championship of college football. "Hands down."
Bowden will put the reigns on the positive thinking only to stop bulletin
board material from appearing. He figures their game against Mississippi
State is a good test at backing it up.
Clemson is favored against Mississippi State, which comes into the game with
a 9-2 record. "The bulls eye on your chest gets bigger when you're a 6-5
team favored against a 9-2 SEC team," said Bowden. "At some point in time
this program has to learn how to play with a bulls eye on our chest.
"Now the game is on. I told them, 'You wanted some respect - now you've got
Jolly, who committed to Florida in high school then signed with Tennessee
and eventually landed at Clemson, wondered if this day would ever come. He
remembers looking at the Auburn crowd at the Peach Bowl three years ago and
wondering if he picked the wrong school.
"I was young and everything and I was thinking I should have gone to
Kentucky or somewhere like that were I could have at least played against
and SEC schedule," he said. "They had our bus surrounded chanting 'SEC,
Jolly doesn't question his decision any more. "This game is going to be the
greatest stepping stone," he said. "We've got a lot of guys coming back. We
played all those teams so good and we're so young. It gets all the guys that
much more excited. The No. 1 defense against our high powered offense. I
don't think we're going to lose. We tried so hard to get here. We're going
to pull it off. Losing ain't on the agenda. I think we'll score too many
That will get a bull's eye on his chest alright. But with a swagger like
that, Jolly might be hard to hit.