Clemson is on win track, but still not happy

October 25, 1991|By Leonard Laye | Leonard Laye,Charlotte Observer

The red you see on Clemson faces this week is not in honor of Saturday's opponent, N.C. State.

The Tigers, it seems, are blushing.

On the eve of their Death Valley meeting with the red-clad Wolfpack, the Tigers find themselves a little short of expectations, both their own and those of their notoriously vocal fans. And they find themselves in a college football role reversal they hope to right against N.C. State.

"When you set your sights as high as we do, sure, it's embarrassing," middle guard Rob Bodine said.

Most college football programs would welcome Clemson's "plight." The Tigers are 3-1-1 overall, 1-0-1 in the ACC. They still have a good shot at the conference championship, a favorable schedule and a likely spot in a bowl game.

But clearly, this is not the way it was supposed to be this fall.

After opening with three straight victories despite inconsistent performances, the Tigers moved to No. 6 in the weekly rankings. They appeared to be solidly in line for what many anticipated -- the favoredshot at the ACC championship and a reasonable chance at the national title as well.

Then they began to stumble, losing big at Georgia, then scrambling from behind for a tie with Virginia.

Suddenly they find themselves in the chase instead of leading it, looking up at the unbeaten Wolfpack (6-0, 3-0) in the ACC and trying to put themselves back on track.

Clemson coach Ken Hatfield, more concerned with righting the ship than how the programs are perceived, says little about any role reversal.

"It's a tribute that N.C. State is playing as well as probably they had hoped before the season started," he said. "They certainly have earned and are justified in their ranking [No. 12] and that should maybe be a little higher. And we have not played as well as we think we should have."

His players, however, are well aware of the circumstances and are apparently looking at tomorrow's 3:30 p.m. game (ABC) as the pivotal one of the season.

"Every year you know you're going to face some adversity," split end Terry Smith said. "This is the thing that will tell if Clemson is a championship-type team. ...

"This game stands for first-place rights in the ACC. It's big for us knowing our main goal right now is to win the ACC title."

Bodine and his teammates on the defensive unit, who have spent most of last season and this atop the NCAA Division I-A defensive statistics, have been stung by early strikes from opponents.

The pride factor will be big. The Tigers have become accustomed to providing the ACC's best football, especially in the past decade.

Beginning with the 1981 national championship season, the Tigers have been the ACC's top team in final polls seven times.

In the eight seasons they have been eligible for the ACC title in that span -- they were ineligible in 1983 and 1984 -- they have won it five times. Now they have been two seasons without a No. 1 conference finish, adding more fuel to the fire likely to come tomorrow.

"We don't feel real good, but we don't feel real bad," Hatfield said. "We know we have to play better than we've played before to beat N.C. State."

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