The knock on the last two years has been that Clemson has not beaten anybody worth a toot. Rivals will throw that at you in an argument, and even Tiger fans admit that a "special" win under Coach Bowden has yet to materialize.
By definition, a "special" win is a win over a team that is nationally respected and who had a good season (despite the loss to you). On the other hand, a "bad" loss is a loss to a team that had an otherwise forgettable year except for the defeat of your team.
Clemson's Bad Losses
It is easy to pick out Clemson's "bad" losses the past two years. Many will point to the season opener in 1999 vs. Marshall as a "bad" loss. That one is hard for me to agree with, mainly because Marshall was a pretty darn good team with an excellent quarterback in Chad Pennington. In addition, it was the first game for the Tigers under the new offense and the new coaches, and it was obvious the bugs had not been worked out.
NC State in Raleigh had to be a low point of the 1999 season. The Tigers were more talented than the Wolfpack, and blowing a 14-point lead is never easy to swallow. There is no question that NC State qualifies as a "bad" loss and one that Bowden would love to play again.
The other losses of 1999 (Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Mississippi State) were all losses to better teams…whether you want to admit it or not.
The 2000 year offered no "bad" losses, by definition, as the Tigers' three losses came to nationally ranked teams (Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Virginia Tech). In addition, all those teams were more talented than Clemson. But, getting thumped 54-7 by Florida State may have hurt some egos and it would have to fall under the category of an "embarrassing" loss. Losing by 20 to FSU is expected; losing by 47 is just down right embarrassing.
Clemson's Special Wins
Ok, this is a little hard to find. Virginia in 1999 was a win over a ranked team (although Virginia would not finish the season ranked). Thumping North Carolina in Death Valley was satisfying, but I don't think it qualifies as a "special" win. So, 1999 can be remembered as the year where Clemson lost to the teams that were better than them, and beat the teams it was supposed to (minus State).
2000 also had some satisfying, if not "special", wins. Beating bowl-bound Virginia in Charlottesville brought a nice smile to my face. The win over archrival South Carolina (who finished the year ranked in the top 25) was also a very satisfying win. Anytime you beat your archrival, you are more than ecstatic. But beating South Carolina, no matter how good or bad they are in a given year, is expected in Tigertown. Clemson's overall dominance over the Gamecocks in their 100-year history almost creates complacency within the program. Beating them is fun…but almost expected most years. I guess that is not the way it ought to be, but that is the reality of the situation.
Therefore, I think it is safe to say that Clemson does not have any "special" wins during the two-year tenure of Tommy Bowden.
What About 2001?
Scanning the schedule, there are not many games you can peg as an opportunity to get that first "special" win of the Tommy Bowden era. Certainly Georgia Tech qualifies. The Yellow Jackets not only are consensus top 15 pick nationally in the preseason, some are pegging the Jackets as contenders for the ACC crown this year. That does not even mention the fact that Georgia Tech has defeated Clemson four straight times and the Tigers must travel to Atlanta for the September game.
Florida State is also another obvious opportunity for the Tigers. Son beating Pappa would be a great media story, and a great win for the Clemson program. I find it funny that some think the Seminoles will be down this year. In the great words of Lee Courso, "Forget about it!". The ‘Noles are loaded, and their quarterback worries will be all gone by the time the November game in Death Valley kicks off.
NC State and South Carolina are potential qualifiers for "special" wins. State is a risky road trip for the Tigers, especially since the Wolfpack upset Clemson in 1999 and gave the Tigers all they wanted in 2000. But the Wolfpack are going to have a hard time posting an 8 or 9 win season (prerequisites for being considered a very good team), so even if the Tigers win in Raleigh, it may not go down as a "special" win. The Gamecocks are stocked with as much talent in Columbia since 1987. And with all due respect to the late Joe Morrison, the Gamecocks are much better coached in 2001 with Holtz than back in 1987. But, unlike 1987, the Gamecocks are playing a schedule that guarantees only 4 wins. The other seven games are against teams that could easily beat the Gamecocks, prompting me to think they will have a hard time winning more than seven games. Beating a Gamecock team that goes 7-4 for the year does not qualify as a "special" win, by definition.
Now, don't get me wrong. Any win is good and any loss is bad. And, minus Wofford, Wake Forest, and Duke, any team on Clemson's schedule could beat the Tigers on a given day. But, if the Tigers go 9-2 with losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State (which, I would take right now and run like the wind!), the Tigers are still going to be without that "special" win unless they can get it in a bowl game.
That is the tough predicament the program has gotten to under Bowden. Go 9-2 and everybody says you should have because you are better than all the teams you beat. Go 7-4 and you lost to teams you should not have. That leaves only 10-1 or 11-0 as records that most would view as extraordinary.
Man, we are a long way from 1998. A long, long way.
You can reach Scott Rhymer at firstname.lastname@example.org.