I don't really know what is the best way to approach a new season with regards to expectations. Inevitably, some will expect too much, and some will expect to little.

Our good friends down in Columbia have long since mastered the art of over-expectations. A football program that has lost more games than it has won during its 100 plus year history continuously approaches every new season with unrealistic expectations and hopes. Gotta respect the enthusiasm, though.

On the flip side, I bet that you could not get any odds from the nerds at Duke who would bet on the Devils winning more games than they will lose this year in football. They expect to lose, and most probably will. The only real question in Durham is, "Will they win a game at all"?

Somewhere in between lie the Clemson Tigers and their loyal fan base. There is no question that year in and year out, Clemson fans expect to win 8+ games. But, some years produce slightly higher expectations, while some garner slightly lower ones. Back in 1999, most Tiger fans thought 6 wins and a bowl game would be a pretty good accomplishment under first year coach Tommy Bowden. Last year, the schedule had most thinking 9 wins would be about right, and the Tigers hit it dead on the nail.

So, by that rationale, many may think that a double-digit win season is the next logical progression for this revitalized program. But, the hard reality of losses on defense (which we all will hear much more about as September nears) have some a little more reserved with regards to the 2001 Tigers.

So, what should we realistically expect in 2001?

Offensively, there is little concern after the spring. Kevin Youngblood looks to be the next great Tiger receiver, and he has a host of able counterparts on campus. And that is not counting what will be arriving in August and what may arrive in August at the receiver position. Tight end may be as good as it ever has been at Clemson, and the offensive line is experienced and deep. The backfield is also experienced and deep, and it will be fun to watch the Simmons/Dantzler battle in August drills.

The kicking game is 100% better than two years ago, and if Aaron Hunt never kicks another field goal for Clemson, his worth has already been realized with the kick versus USC.

But the defense, what about the defense? The once proud bastion of Clemson Athletics has as many more question marks than answers heading into August. Let me ease one worry. Do not worry about linebacker. Keith Adams was a good one, but Clemson is just fine in this area, take my word for it. The starters at defensive line and secondary are of high quality, but depth is a major concern. My hunch about the defense, though, is that it will not be as bad as many on the outside would like to think. In the long run, very comparable to last years defense…not great…but not terrible.

The schedule again sets up pretty nicely. Tough home games versus Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida State give the Tigers a better chance because of Death Valley than if it were on the road. The tough road games include NC State, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina. Not as cushy of a schedule as last year, but hard to complain about it as compared to the big picture. The reality of the Atlantic Coast Conference in modern day football is that you are never going to be brutalized by the schedule one way or another.

So, what should we expect? April predictions are about as useful as a wool suit in 100-degree heat. In fact, August predictions are not much more useful. But it is fun to predict and it is fun to lay the foundation of expectations on the table to give a reference point.

Wins against Central Florida, Wofford, Wake Forest, Maryland and Duke. A loss versus Florida State seems imminent (don't be fooled by the massive losses in Tallahassee, FSU will be incredible). That gives the Tigers five sure wins, one sure loss, and five others on the table. Virginia and North Carolina at home are probable wins, moving the win total to seven with three BIG question marks. NC State, Georgia Tech, and South Carolina seem to be the pivotal games on the schedule that could turn an average season into a very good one. Since my gut says error on the side of pessimism at this time, I think the Tigers will only win one of these three.

That means, as of April 28, I would say that the expectations for the Clemson football team in 2001 lie at 8 wins and 3 losses. Certainly possible to slide one game either way, but you have to pick a number, and so I pick eight.

Now we must make the agonizing wait until September. How many days is it, anyway?

You can reach Scott Rhymer at weekendedition@cs.com.

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