This season the Tigers face what many consider the toughest schedule the Tigers have ever faced. There has been questions surrounding to how the Tigers will fare against such a tough schedule. In Tommy Bowden's first season, he faced the toughest schedule in the nation. The argument can be made that the coaching staff had a harder job in 1999 than in 2004.
First, we will analyze the schedule itself. In 1999, the Tigers were the only team in the country that played Marshall, Virginia Tech, and Florida State all of whom went on to have an undefeated regular season. To go along with those three games, the Tigers also played a top 10 Georgia Tech team in Atlanta.
During Bowden's first year, the Tigers were favored in only 5 games. This season on paper it looks like the Tigers will be favorites in all but three games on the schedule.
Right now, it does not look like the Tigers will be double digit underdogs to any team on the slate in 2004. In 1999 at Blacksburg, the Tigers were a 12 point underdog to Michael Vick's Hokies, and in Clemson they were a 16 point dog to eventual National Champion Florida State.
Bowden led the Tigers to a Peach Bowl berth against Mississippi St in his first season, and a second place finish in the ACC. Against the toughest schedule in the nation, the Tigers made the biggest jump from year to year in ACC history going from 8th to 2nd.
The '99 schedule is tougher at the top with Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Georgia Tech, but the middle part of the schedule is what separates the '04 schedule. Maryland, Virginia, NC State, and Texas A&M clearly present a major obstacle for the Tigers path to the next level. In '99, the ACC was still clearly a basketball conference, but in '04 with additions of Miami and Virginia Tech to the conference the ACC is among the elite football conferences.
When facing a brutal schedule often you have to call upon your second string quarterback to win games for you. In '99, Brandon Streeter was the starting quarterback with no prior experience in Bowden's no-huddle offense. Woody Dantzler was the more than solid backup, and Willie Simmons was the true freshman that many fans couldn't wait to see.
This season Charlie Whitehurst knows the offense as well as Coach Bowden himself, but there is no Woody Dantzler at backup. Tribble Reese and Cullen Harper are two freshmen quarterbacks than has fans excited about who will be the next "Charlie".
Brandon Streeter went down twice with injuries, and Woody Dantzler was able to come in, and win several big games. If Whitehurst goes down, the coaching staff will have a lot of work to do with Will Proctor.
Proctor has limited game experience, but the staff felt confident enough in him to move CJ Gaddis and Chansi Stuckey elsewhere on the field.
The advantage the coaching staff has is they are better at every position now than in '99.
This coaching staff is not unfamiliar to a tough schedule. They can refer back to lessons learned from their first season at Clemson, and they will be able to use that as an advantage. This is a program that is not coming off a 3-8 season struggling for an identity, rather this team wants to prove that Clemson is ready to make that step to the next level.