10 Keys to 10 Wins: #8

For the first time since 2003, the Clemson football team will play a 12-game regular season schedule. And for the first time in a long time, Tiger fans are realistically talking about what it will take to get back to the 10-win plateau for the first time since 1990.

"This is again a very challenging schedule," said head coach Tommy Bowden. "We will face seven teams that won at least seven games last year, including two of the top teams in the ACC within our first three games, both on the road. Plus, we have to go to Virginia Tech, who won more games than any other ACC team last year."

While it's true the Tigers won't have to face Miami and Texas A&M this year, the team will face its fair share of challenges, including road games at Florida State and Boston College in two of the first three games of the year and playing 11 consecutive weeks to open the season.

"That is a positive if you get on a roll, like we did in 2000 (when Clemson played the first 10 weeks of the season), but it can be a negative if you run into injury problems," said Bowden.

So what will it take to win the ACC's Atlantic Division, challenge for a BCS berth and win 10 games for the first time in 15 years?

Today CUTigers continues our 10-part series, taking a look at what must happen in 2006 to get the football program to the proverbial "next level."

#10: No Slip-ups
#9: More Mr. Clutch

#8: Punt Team Improvement
After watching punter Cole Chason go through a very difficult year in 2005, the 2006 season should offer nothing but improvement for the fourth-year senior.

Last season the Tigers averaged just 29.4 yards (net) per punt, ranking dead last in the ACC and 114 out of 117 Division I-A schools.

Interestingly enough, those statistics only tell part of the story. The Tigers also had five punts blocked on the season as Chason seemed to be under constant pressure each and every game. There were also long snapping issues early in the year, including a bad snap against Maryland that directly led to a second quarter touchdown.

Fortunately the long snapping problems were eventually solved and the old punt formation was scrapped in favor of a more traditional approach this spring.

And so far, Chason has responded well, at least during spring practice.

"He's shown improvement," said Bowden. "Now I just have to see if that improvement comes when it matters this fall. I've got to find out if he's teasing me or not."

A member of the Clemson soccer team, Mark Buchholz, will also challenge Chason this fall, not to mention incoming freshman Richard Jackson.

Cole Chason will be challenged by Mark Buchholz and incoming freshman Richard Jackson this fall.
At one point during the spring, Buchholz was actually listed on the first team, along with Chason on the depth chart. This marks the third different time Buchholz has practiced with the football team. He did it during August in each of the previous two seasons.

However, since he will have been enrolled at Clemson for at least two years when football season rolls around, he won't be required to be counted as a scholarship player.

In one of those unusual NCAA rules, if a player is on scholarship in one sport and plays even only one play in another, he's required to count against the scholarship limit in both sports. But that rule expires after a player has been enrolled at the same school for at least two years and now he can be treated as a walk-on.

"He's a good kicker," Bowden said of Buchholz during spring practice, "I forgot that by the time the season rolls around, his two years will be up. So, we're giving him some heavy work now."

Bowden has also given a strong public endorsement of Jackson, who will bring one of the strongest legs in the country to campus later this summer.

"We signed one of the top kickers in the country in Richard Jackson," he said. "Right now he's bracketed with Cole Chason on the first team, but we think he can come in and contribute right away as a punter and a kickoff guy. ... Punting would be the priority right now."

Regardless of who wins the battle between Chason, Buchholz and Jackson, if the Tigers want to improve on last year's 8-4 record, the punt team has to improve in all phases of the game.

It starts with better execution at the line of scrimmage and ends with the punter simply doing a better job of getting the ball downfield.

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