CLEMSON - Given a chance to fold a year ago, Clemson's players rallied to save head coach Tommy Bowden's job. Now, a season later, the Tigers again have resisted the urge to pack it in early.
The result could be a bowl berth many had dismissed after a 1-4 start.
Granted, there remains work to be done. Clemson must win two of its final three games in order to get that all important sixth victory.
But Saturday's thrilling 26-20 win over N.C. State at Death Valley put the Tigers in a position for another strong finish, and Bowden knows where the credit lies.
"I think our players have done a good job," he said during his regular Sunday teleconference. "We talked to them Friday night (before the N.C. State game). We were 1-4 and only up 7-0 at halftime against Utah State. We were down 7-3 at the half against Maryland. There have been a couple of opportunities to pack it in.
"But they haven't at all. They haven't quit, and I think that says a lot about the team."
So how have they done it? A combination of luck, timing and improved play.
Any other year a team such as Utah State would be scheduled early in the season, perhaps even week one. This year, however, situated as the sixth game on Clemson's schedule, the Aggies came along at just the right time. Though Clemson didn't exactly look like world beaters in the 35-6 win, the game served two purposes:
It halted the four-game losing streak, and it gave Bowden and his coaches something positive to build on.
Last week they caught a struggle Maryland offense at just the right time, and had the good fortune to put together two scoring drives which resulted in 10 points - just enough to win.
And finally, while the offense has protected the ball much better, the defense has turned up the heat and created nine turnovers in its last two games - six against N.C. State on Saturday.
"We've elevated our play defensively," Bowden said. "But we're still not nearly as productive offensively as we need to be. We're taking better care of the ball, but there's not enough execution. I'm not going to make excuses, we just have to do a better job on offense."
The Tigers (4-4, 3-3 ACC) now turn their attention this week toward Miami, the victim of a shocking upset by North Carolina Saturday, 31-28.
Throw in Maryland's surprise win over Florida State, and it made for a wacky day inside the conference.
"This just shows what kind of conference we've got," Bowden said. "Maryland's a good team, they've played good before. You knew they'd get it back. And North Carolina, I'm glad to see them not on our schedule. (Quarterback Darian) Durant had killed us.
"I don't know if (Miami) knew about him, but they do now."