A grudging "one more time" will have to suffice as the 1984 theme at Clemson. On probation for the third season in a row for recruiting violations, the Tigers enter this year knowing they won't have a shot at a bowl game or, in all likelihood, the national championship. Clemson had hoped to have a chance at a bowl because its two-year NCAA probation ends Nov. 21. But a separate ACC sanction continues through postseason play, and in June the conference turned down the school's appeal to reduce the sentence.
Coach Danny Ford admits it might take more salesmanship than even he can muster to get the Tigers to improve upon last year's 9-1-1 record. But Ford is the main reason Clemson has excelled despite the probation. A lean, 36-year-old tobacco-chewing Alabaman, he was a 210-pound tight end and offensive tackle and later a coach under Bear Bryant. Like his late mentor, Ford has an understated way of getting the most from his players and a calm demeanor that be-speaks longevity. "I try to be the same fella at the end as I started out," he says. Adds senior offensive tackle Jeff Cruce, "Coach is country, but he knows how to get us inspired." To wit: Since 1981, the year the Tigers won the national championship, Clemson has put together the best record—30-2-2—in college football and hasn't lost in the ACC.
That same "winner" tag can be applied to senior quarterback Mike Eppley, the third most efficient passer in the nation in '83. At 6'2" and 185 pounds, Eppley started at point guard on the Clemson basketball team last season. Although the Tigers have lined up in the I formation 75% of the time the last three years, Eppley may be given more freedom to throw to a skilled group of young receivers. "I can't think of anything Mike has ever done wrong, to tell you the truth," says Ford.
The offensive line is experienced and rarely fooled by shifting defenses. Flying through the holes will be tailbacks Stacey Driver, a junior who averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year, and sophomore Terrence Flagler, who had gained 202 yards before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the second game. Sophomore Kenny Flowers, who runs a 4.45 40, has been switched from tailback to fullback.
Leading the defense is senior consensus All-America William (the Refrigerator) Perry, the 6'3", 320-pound middle guard who's also known, for obvious reasons, as G.E. Perry. He can run a 5.05 40 and—get this—dunk a basketball. Perry beats opposing linemen with quickness as often as strength. In '83 he split time with William Devane, but with Devane and four other defensive linemen having moved on, Perry will now play nearly every down. He hopes to slim down to 295. "I'm best at 320," he says, "but the pro scouts will be impressed if I'm lighter."
Joining Perry on the line will be his brother, Michael, an '83 redshirt who's a mere babe at 265 pounds. "Michael is just like me," says William. "Totally awesome." The Tigers themselves might be, too, but unfortunately this probably won't be the best year to prove it.