Ten of the twelve regular season games are in the books and the Tigers stand 8-2 and in control of their ACC Championship fate. The season rounds the ?3rd quarter? and heads into the final, and most critical, portion of the slate.
For some, it is hard to believe that we are in this position considering the low point that was the Virginia Tech game some four weeks ago. But we have seen, quite clearly, how quick the worm can turn. Clemson now returns home with a chance to win the Atlantic Division and the right to play in Jacksonville by beating the Boston College on Saturday. It won?t be easy. But it is possible.
It seems that as Clemson gets closer and closer to the goal of playing for an ACC Championship, the discussion about Tommy Bowden becomes more and more dominant. It is as if the success or failure of the season hinges almost totally on Coach Bowden and his staff.
All the while, the team seems to be an afterthought.
There are a bunch of good coaches in college football. There are a bunch of average coaches. And I suppose there are a bunch of bad coaches.
But when you shake it all out, the difference between the best and the worst coach on a college football staff is an ever shrinking divide. So winning, or losing, is not necessarily directly related to who coaches a football team. Players have more to do with who wins and loses championships in the modern college football landscape than at any time in the history of the game. And, maybe more importantly, the leadership of those players is more crucial as a rudder for the ship than the head coach himself.
And that is why the whole essence of 2007 rests in different hands than that of any previous season. Many lament that Coach Bowden will eventually lose a game that will eliminate the Tigers from winning the prize just as Clemson has done the past few years.
To also be fair, some are pulling for Clemson to win just so they can validate Tommy Bowden as a good football coach.
Neither scenarios are the way you should be approaching this stretch run.
This is all about the players and the leadership on this team. Clemson lacked true leadership last year and when things turned bad, they quickly got worse. No player was able to take the 2006 team on their shoulders and carry them through the difficult times while keeping the eye on the bigger prize and the bigger picture.
The 2006 team, as a result, floundered home last year and laid waste to what was a promising start to the season.
But this team is not the 2006 team.
James Davis started it all by taking the team on his shoulders through the tumultuous off-week after the Virginia Tech loss. Davis showed maturity and poise beyond his years and clearly stated that this was his team and he will not allow them to give up or give in.
Davis took this leadership role not because he was given everything he wanted. His carries and production are below what many, including Davis himself, would like to have. But Davis clearly understood the big picture. A successful Clemson season would ultimately lead to a successful James Davis season. Instead of pouting about a lack of carries, Davis spent his time talking up his fellow running back CJ Spiller and praising his quarterback, Cullen Harper.
Davis is a difference maker, both on and off the field. His role is greater than any player on the team. His role is greater than the assistant coaches. And his role is greater than Coach Bowden's role.
Davis can do what no coach can do. Davis can will his peers to lay it all on the line while he physically does it himself on the field. He?s the best player in the ACC, regardless of what stats might say. He?s the best player in the ACC because he is gifted and he cares genuinely about his team. And that is a rarity.
The stretch run of this season is so much more about what could happen instead of what has happened in some previous year or with a previous team. If everything always happens the way they have always happened, change would never occur.
I have not lost one wink of sleep wondering if this team would repeat the ?failures? of the previous teams. Why would I? Why should you?
I can remember 2003's finish just as easily as I could remember 2006's finish. And neither have anything to do with how this team will finish.
But James Davis has something, maybe everything, to do with how this team will finish. He has the power, the gift, and the desire.
We may not win another game this season. We may win them all. Or it could be somewhere in between. But whatever happens this year won?t be a result of what happened last year or the year before. Whatever happens this year will not be because of effort, leadership, and desire.
This team will leave it all on the field. Whatever that will earn us will be determined in a matter of weeks.
Regardless of whether we succeed or fail in winning a conference championship, it will not be about Tommy Bowden. It has never been about Tommy Bowden.
It's about this team. It?s about Clemson University. Not the coach. It?s much bigger than one single coach.
This team has every possibility to do something special by winning a conference championship for the first time in forever. It could not happen to a better group of players and a better group of coaches.
And it could not happen to a better leader than James Davis.
So sit back and enjoy the ride. It is going to be a wild Saturday night.
In Davis I trust.