2006: 10 Wins Well Within Reach

CLEMSON – The 2005 season for the Clemson football team will be remembered by many fans as the year that almost was.

Some will look at it from a negative aspect, but those same folks should remember that not very many people believed the Tigers would win more than six games.

It was a year of learning new schemes and plays offensively and defensively under new coordinators and a season of plays an extraordinary amount of young players, who cut their teeth and gained valuable experience that should provide dividends in the years to come.
And for that, 2005 may be looked back as the stepping-stone to something special in 2006.

"We won eight games with a number of freshmen, so we're getting closer," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "Whether we've turned (the corner) or not, we'll have to wait until next year."

This past season truly set up perfectly for Clemson, even though there was some heartbreak involved.

The schedule, which was initially believed to be one of the hardest in school history, actually wasn't so bad after all. Texas A&M, N.C. State and Florida State were shells of what folks expected them to be.

As a result, tons of younger players were able to play more than they might normally would. And because of that, those same players won't have to spend 2006 cutting their teeth.

In all, an amazing total of 22 freshmen saw playing time, many of them a significant amount. They'll be a major force to be reckoned with next season.

Offensively, the young stars were easy to spot in tailback James Davis and receiver Aaron Kelly. Defensively, Phillip Merling, Jock McKissic and Rashaad Jackson all proved to be standouts.

"I wasn't quite sure going into the year how much they were going to have to play," Bowden said. "What you were hoping for as the season moved on, those guys get better, you'd continue to show improvement as the season went, because you might have to pay your dues early.

"They played well enough early, got some good experience and we saw some dividends at the end."

Another aspect playing in Clemson's favor next season is the fact that there is a starter returning at 19 of the 22 combined positions offensively and defensively (that's including Will Proctor, who started one game at quarterback).

Looking at it as of right now, there seems to be very little reason the Tigers shouldn't provide at least as many wins as they did in 2005.

With a favorable home schedule, which includes seven games against teams Clemson will most likely be favored against, and five road games, two of which the Tigers will definitely be favored, 10 wins is definitely possible.

Eight wins and another Top 25 ranking should be the minimum Clemson tallies in 2006. Anything less and talk of coaching changes will once again heat up.

"We pretty much go into the season every year with high expectations," Bowden said. "The fact that we've got a good bit of youth coming back, plus some red-shirting guys, plus recruiting is going well, I think the expectations are maybe elevated a notch or two.

"We might have seven or eight starters back on offense and defense and our kicker's back. I like the team with the momentum we established at the end of the year."

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