College football countdown: No. 25 Clemson

Thursday, July 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Tigers still step behind despite returning starters

Editors Note: Today begins Dallas Morning News' look at their preseason Top 25 college football teams. will reprint each profile over the next four weeks.

Tommy Bowden led Clemson on a steep ascension last year. After winning only three times in 1998 - twice against Division I-A teams - the Tigers won six games, finished tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and earned a bid to the Peach Bowl.

And Clemson achieved that without much returning experience.

This season, the Tigers have 16 starters back. They'll have a year's experience running Bowden's wide-open offense. Confidence is running high.

Just don't expect another big leap up the ladder.

"We have 16 starters back, but we need to close the gap between the first and second team," Bowden said. "We have too much distance there, and we won't be able to challenge Florida State and the other good teams on our schedule until we have more competition for those positions."

What the Tigers do have is an entire returning offensive line. If it can remain healthy (experience is extremely thin behind the five starters) it will help the transition of some new faces in new roles.

Clemson didn't lose many players from last year, but the Tigers will be without three key components: quarterback Brandon Streeter and receivers Brian Wofford and Mal Lawyer, who combined for 239 receptions in their careers.

There's some talent in this year's receiving corps, but Bowden's offense employs five-receiver sets. One or two players will have to step into roles of major production immediately.

At least Woodrow Dantzler, who replaces Streeter, has experience. Dantzler actually took more snaps last season, due to Streeter's injuries, and he passed for more than 1,500 yards, so experience isn't the problem.

"Brandon was a fighter," Bowden said. "Time and time again he came back from injury, and he earned the respect of everyone on that team. We had a small senior class, but with guys like [Streeter], we weren't lacking in terms of senior leadership."

Clemson certainly will have that on defense this year. Eight starters are back, including first-team All-American Keith Adams, who carries on the tradition of great Tigers linebackers. Safety Robert Carswell also returns for his fourth season as a starter.

The pieces are in place for Clemson to enjoy a very strong season. That doesn't mean beating Florida State in Tallahassee, though. The Tigers remain a step or two from reaching that level.

Clemson 2000 Schedule- Sept 2 The Citadel; Sept 9 Missouri; Sept 16 Wake Forest; Sept 23 at Virginia; Sept 30 at Duke; Oct 7 North Carolina State; Oct 14 Maryland; Oct 21 at North Carolina; Oct 28 Georgia Tech; Nov 4 at Florida State; Nov 18 South Carolina

Clemson Tigers Capsule

Coach: Tommy Bowden (6-6 in one year at Clemson; 24-10 in three years overall).

Last Year: 6-6, unranked

Out: QB Brandon Streeter was one of the few seniors last year. He departs with nine seperat school records.

In: There aren't a lot of open seats with 16 returning starters.

Big Plus: Those starters, plus Woodrow Dantzler, who replaces Streeter after substantial playing time last season.

Big Minus: Depth isn't there. The Tigers face potential disaster if injuries occur, particularly n the offensive line.

National Title If: Dantzler and a relatively new receiving corps can be magical. That and finding a way to win dificult road games at Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State.

Bottom Line: The Tiger are only two years removed from winning three games. First, they have to climb back into serious contention for the ACC crown. Only then can they think on a national level.