Improvement Across the Board

The Tigers are making a habit of finishing strong. If only they could start seasons the same way.

While they await bowl options, it's another year of looking back and second-guessing with possibilities. Could Clemson have beaten Miami if a wide-open pass hadn't failed in regulation? Or played better at Wake Forest? Or not lost in overtime to Boston College? Or found a way to avoid a one-point loss at Georgia Tech?

Win two more games and suddenly Clemson is eyeing its first 10-win season since 1990. Instead, the Tigers had to settle for winning five of their last six games for the third consecutive season.

Clemson (7-4) was in position to win all 11 games this season, which underscores the improvements made in the Tigers' program.

"You had a will," said coach Tommy Bowden, shouting to his team in a videotaped post-game speech following the Tigers' win over South Carolina. "Men, a triple-overtime loss to Miami, you could have wavered. An overtime loss to Boston College, you could have wavered.

"You had a will inside you that would not quit. I can't create it. You did. There's a will, a never-give-up. You wouldn't give up. You wouldn't quit. You wouldn't quit. You turned around, and look what you did. You finished.

"Hey, 11 games you finished. You showed up every week. That hasn't been done here in 25 years. Great job."

The combination of a strong finish and enthused fan base has made Clemson an attraction. It appears the Tigers will play in either the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, or the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: For the first time under head coach Tommy Bowden, Clemson showed a balanced offense and an efficient offense. The Tigers finished the regular season fourth in the ACC in four categories -- total offense, rushing offense, passing offense and scoring offense. Much that success can be directly attributed to the hiring of Rob Spence as offensive coordinator. Spence eliminiated the high-risk vertical passing attack of 2004 in favor of a ball control offense that put the Tigers in position to win every game on the 2005 schedule.

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: The Tigers are ranked 16th nationally in scoring defense. It's the team's best ranking in that category since 1995, when it finished 10th. One of the goals for new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning was for his defense to finish in the top 25 of most statistical categories this season. So far, so good. The Tigers closed the regular season with a bang by holding Florida State's Bobby Bowden and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier without an offensive touchdown.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB James Davis -- The Tigers' second-leading rusher is one of the leading candidates for the ACC rookie of the year award.

WR Chansi Stuckey -- Despite a quiet game in the season finale against South Carolina, Stuckey still leads the ACC with 6.25 receptions per game.

QB Charlie Whitehurst -- The senior quarterback finished fifth on ACC all-time list for career passing yards and total offense (9,561). He'll also leave Clemson with over 40 individual and team passing records.

LB Anthony Waters -- One of the biggest questions coming into the season was who would step up for Leroy Hill, who was taken in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Halfway through the season, it was obvious who that player would be - Anthony Waters. Waters finished third in the ACC in total tackles and in tackles for loss yardage. Top Stories