10 Keys to 10 Wins: #7

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

#7: Freshmen Must be Ready
Usually, counting on a true freshman to come in and contribute immediately for any team would raise a red flag. However this year, the two freshmen Clemson will likely count on the most will be playing positions already stockpiled with talent.

Simply put, wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford, who enrolled in school this past January, is already on track to see the field throughout the 2006 season.

Need proof? The first time he touched the ball in a scrimmage this spring he caught a bubble screen and rumbled 53 yards untouched for a touchdown. In all, he finished his first official scrimmage as a Clemson Tiger with four catches for over 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Health could be a concern at his size, but give him an inch and it's six points on the board. In fact, four college coaches timed Ford under 4.2 seconds earlier this year in the 40-yard dash.

"I have never been caught from behind," he said when asked about his speed. "I hope I can play both [kick returner and wide receiver] this year. That's one of my goals."

The addition of RB C.J. Spiller gives the Tigers more speed and better hands at the running back position this year.
Joining Ford later this fall will be freshman C.J. Spiller, one of the top high school running backs in the country.

While Spiller currently has James Davis and Reggie Merriweather ahead of him on the depth chart, his talent cannot be ignored. He's the best receiver of the three backs and his speed even gives the Tigers a different dimension than last year's ACC Freshman of the Year in Davis.

"I can't wait," Spiller said. "I am just ready to get up there and try to earn the respect of my teammates. I know there will be a lot of pressure coming in so highly recruited. I just want to show people why I chose Clemson. I want to get to know my teammates."

True - both Spiller and Ford are true freshmen and both players have experienced talent ahead of them on the depth chart. But still, the addition of both of these speedsters provides upgrades at three different positions- running back, wide receiver and kick returner.

Also, consider the Tigers' offense must produce more big plays this season to get to 10 wins, and that may not be easy considering opposing teams now have a year of film to scout Rob Spence's offense.

The explosiveness of both Ford and Spiller, and their ability to come in and showcase their skills early in the season could provide the offensive spark this team needs to put more points on the board in 2006.

Defensively, don't forget about incoming freshmen ends Ricky Sapp and Jamie Cumbie. Yes, the Tigers have one of the best ends in the country in Gaines Adams, and another solid performer in rising sophomore Phillip Merling, but there is little depth behind either player.

Sapp comes to Clemson as one of the most highly touted defensive ends in school history. Cumbie, a former tight end who could play on either side of the ball, also figures to see time early in his career.

If Merling or Adams were to go down to an injury, the emergence of one of these true freshmen defensive linemen would become critical.

And again, if the Tigers want to get to 10 wins this year, they'll not only need help from Spiller and Ford, they could also use another freshman or two on defense to be ready to come in and play immediately- like a Ricky Sapp or Cumbie.

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