Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger
CLEMSON --- With football practice just three weeks away, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is not wasting anytime in setting the tone for the 2006 season.
During a meeting with his team last week, in which he introduced the freshmen class, Bowden pointed out that one of the 16 freshmen who reported to the second summer session could be the difference maker in a run at an ACC Championship.
"We lost to Georgia Tech by one point (last year)," he said in a gathering with the media Wednesday. "Had we beat them we would have been playing in the ACC Championship game instead of Florida State.
"James Davis didn't play. Was he one point? I don't know. But as we introduced our freshmen I said 'if one of these freshman is one point, then let's get with it. Let's treat them like they are the point.' I think the talent of our freshmen coming in will be well received by our team because hopefully they want to make up that one point. They didn't do it (last year) so let's see if one of these guys can."
Though Bowden did not specify which of the freshman in the 2006 class he expected to make up that point, he does think at least five or six to have a chance to contribute a lot this season. Last year, the Tigers had eight true freshmen play a key role during their 8-4 run, which included wins over No. 16 Florida State, No. 19 South Carolina and a victory in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.
"I was hoping it wouldn't be as much as last year, but it could possibly be," Bowden said. "I can visualize five or six of these guys playing in the first game or early in the season."
With some preseason prognosticators predicting an ACC Championship and a Top 15 season, Bowden knows he cannot expect his freshman or his younger talent to handle the pressure by themselves. He is counting on a senior class which includes 12 of his 24 starters to pull them through.
"I rather have a senior group with those high expectations than a little bit more inexperienced group," he said. "A lot of our more talented players are younger players because of the way we have elevated our recruiting the last three years. But again some of better leadership guys are seniors.
"I rather have senior group experience with the pressures of high expectations and other stuff than our younger guys."
For the first time in his eight seasons at Clemson, Bowden enters fall camp with a team that can legitimately compete for an ACC title. Clemson has been picked by Athlon Magazine as the preseason favorite to win the conference and several other publications say the Tigers are one of the few teams in the ACC who can dethrone Florida State.
"Potentially we can, but that's not worth much," he said. "But again we do have potential to do it based on last year and based on what we have coming back.
"We have had a bunch of 6-5, 7-4, 9-3 and 9-4 (type years) with no championships and none of those were back-to-back. I would like to be sitting here in a post-game press conference and you say 'hey you have had two good years in a row back-to-back.' We would like to get there, but during my tenure we haven't .That's where you like to get the program, where year in we are talked about in those things and in a position to compete for a championship.
"I think we will eventually, but we haven't. This is the best chance we have had since I have been here, but we still haven't done it yet."
Clemson returns 18 starters from a team which won six of its last seven games a year ago, and lost only four games by a total of 14 points.
"The key is to get your team to play at his highest level of efficiency and productivity every Saturday," Bowden said.
Clemson will open the season Sept. 2 at Death Valley against Florida Atlantic. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPNU.
Getting back in play. Starting middle guard Donnel Clark and junior offensive tackle Zach Green will both return to practice after sitting out spring drills while recovering from injures suffered during last season.
Position battles. Bowden said Tremaine Billie and Antonio Clay will have a strong battle at outside (SAM) linebacker when camp opens in early August. With Clark coming back at middle guard along the defensive front, he also expects there to be some good competition there.
"We have six guys fighting for three spots so it should be interesting," Bowden said.
With the exception of Davis at one running back spot and Chansi Stuckey at one wide receiver spot, there should be some good battles at those positions for playing time.
Lot of reading. Bowden said when he went down to Panama City, Fla. last week for the Bowden Family get together, he caught up on all the preseason college football fluff from the five magazines his father, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, had sitting on a coffee table.
"He likes to read those things," Tommy Bowden said. "They were there so I went ahead and read all five of them."