It was just four weeks ago that most of us sat in utter disbelief when the Clemson Tigers fell 45-17 to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem.
Not only did it seem like that reaching any sort of respectable bowl was well out of reach, most Clemson fans were under the impression that the Tigers best case postseason scenario would be a return trip to Boise, Idaho.
Needless to say, neither one of those notions ever played out.
The Tigers won all three of their remaining games, including two dominating victories over Florida State and South Carolina, and went on to accept an invitation to play in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on January 2nd.
With the 2003 regular season now behind us, it's now time to talk about what the postseason might possibly have in store for the Clemson Tigers.
And the question on everyone's mind at this point in the game, is who will the Tigers play?
The SEC pecking order is anything but concrete, but at this point in the game you can at least count on several things.
One, the winner of the SEC Championship game next Saturday night will play in the Bowl Championship series. Two, the loser of the SEC Championship game will probably end up in the Capital One Bowl (formerly known as the Citrus Bowl), which has the second selection from the league.
Three, Ole Miss looks like it's going to be heading to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. The Cotton Bowl likes to take a team from the SEC West, and Ole Miss fits the bill with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Eli Manning and a nice 9-3 record.
Four, Tennessee won't be playing in the Peach Bowl after playing there last year, and Florida won't be playing in the Outback Bowl after also playing there last year.
So, what does all that mean?
Well, if you put two and two together, it means that the Florida Gators will likely be the Tigers' postseason opponent.
And that's good news, because Florida represents the final piece of the 2003 puzzle.
A win would solidify the Tigers as a preseason top 20 team next year and also give Clemson wins over two teams from the talent rich Sunshine state in the same year.
That alone could help pay dividends on the recruiting scene in January.
A win also gives the Tigers a 9 win season, something that has only occurred one other time in the last 10 years. And finally, a win also raises expectations for 2004 and gives the Tigers an extra shot of confidence before heading into tough road contests at Miami, Texas A&M, and Florida State next season.
Of course, the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and the Mobile Cotton Bowl could throw a wrench in all of this by pulling the old "switcharoo."
That would likely leave the Tigers playing Ole Miss, a vastly underrated offensive juggernaut that has exceeded expectations this year, even with Eli Manning running the show. The Rebels sport an 9-3 record (7-1 in the SEC) and rank first in the SEC in passing offense, and second in the league in scoring and total offense.
While most fans (myself included) would like to see the Tigers play the Gators because of the national reputation of their football program, the players themselves aren't exactly concerned with their January 2nd opponent.
"I look a guy like Eli Manning, and I'd like to see him in person," admitted Tommy Sharpe. "It would be great to play a school like Florida or Ole Miss, but we are playing an SEC school, so I'm happy."
Charlie Whitehurst agrees.
"I don't care who we play," said Whitehurst. "I'm just happy we are playing in a bowl game and I'm happy we are playing in Atlanta because I'm from there."
If anything, most of the players on the team want to rid themselves of the nasty taste left by last year's Tangerine Bowl disaster.
The Tigers ventured down to Orlando to face one of the most prolific offenses in the country in Texas Tech, and left with an embarrassing 40-point loss.
"This is a different team," said Tony Elliot. "We know that the bowl game is a reward, but we also know that we need to win this game if we want to continue to show the nation that we are an improved football team."
While the complete SEC Bowl picture won't play itself out until this weekend's championship game is settled in the Georgia Dome, there are only a few things that can be said with absolute certainty.
One- the Tigers are going to the postseason and two, regardless of the opponent, next year's team will be better because of it.
Florida Looking Likely
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