A question for all football stylists: Is Clemson the Regis
Philbin look of this season, or is it as passe as pashmina?
Coach Tommy Bowden took over a team that had struggled to win
three games in 1998 and guided it to the Peach Bowl in his first
season. Surely the Tigers would have won even more games last
year if they hadn't played Florida State, Virginia Tech and
Marshall, the only teams in Division I-A that finished the
regular season unbeaten. Clemson has since traded the Hokies and
the Thundering Herd on its schedule for Missouri and The Citadel
in 2000. If George Steinbrenner hears about that swap, someone
at Clemson is the New York Yankees' next general manager.

But now Bowden is begging the bandwagon to slow down. "Our 16
returning starters won six games," he says. "That's what I tell
my alums, and I'm sticking to it."

That may be the only time this season you'll hear Bowden suggest
that things are moving too fast. We've all heard about the
importance of speed in modern football--and Bowden can sing from
that hymnal as well as the next coach--but what he craves is speed
of another sort. Yes, he wants the Tigers to run fast, but he
also wants them to play fast. In the playbook taught by
coordinator Rich Rodriguez, the Clemson spread offense is
designed to operate with the efficiency and precision of an
assembly line. The 25-second clock should never tick beyond,
gulp, 19.

The Clemson offense waits for no man, not even the guys who were
working the chains at Maryland last year. They held up the Tigers
so often in Clemson's 42-30 victory that Bowden wrote a letter to
the ACC office asking for help.

At every practice, Bowden sets aside one 10-minute period to work
on getting plays off quickly, during which the coaches use
walkie-talkies to simulate the communication from the press box
to the sideline during a game. Even the Clemson defenders benefit
from the offensive pace. After practicing against it all week,
they look forward to Saturdays, when the pace slows down. "We're
in better shape," says junior linebacker Keith Adams, the ACC
Defensive Player of the Year in 1999. "We're ready to play when
other teams are gasping for air."

Still, only a collapse by Florida State will give Clemson a
chance to win the ACC title. Bowden knows better than to believe
he can match the Seminoles athlete for athlete, but the scare
that Clemson put into Florida State last year at Death Valley got
the attention of every coach in the conference, including one
Bowden has known all his life. "I'm glad we've got them in
Tallahassee this year," Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden says of
Clemson. "My crowd instead of his."


COLOR PHOTO: TAKAAKI IWABU/COLUMBIA STATE In a speeded-up offense, Rod Gardner was Clemson's first 1,000-yard receiver.

Fast Facts

1999 record: 6-6 (5-3, T2 in ACC)
Final ranking: not ranked

Telling Number

Tackles for loss in '99 by Keith Adams, eight more than any other
player in ACC history.

The Book

An opposing team's coach sizes up The Tigers

"Their defense is built around stopping the run. Their
coordinator, Reggie Herring, does a good job of getting his guys
mean. Up front they do a lot of shifting and twisting and trying
to confuse you....Adams is a heck of a linebacker, always near
the ball....Travis Zachery is a solid back with breakaway speed."

Strength: 69th of 115

23 at Virginia
30 at Duke

21 at North Carolina

Nov. 4 at Florida State