10 Keys to 10 Wins: #5

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
#6: Offensively, Open It Up

#5: Adams, Davis Must Remain Healthy
While no team can afford injuries to any of its key players, losing senior bandit end Gaines Adams or sophomore running back James Davis would be especially painful for the Tigers this upcoming season.

Davis gives the coaching staff the best option at running back because he has better vision, more explosiveness hitting the hole and more speed than any back currently on the roster.

Even last year, as a true freshman, the Tigers' offense was different with Davis out of the line-up. Simply put, he gives the Tigers' running game a boost because he has better vision, a more explosive burst through the hole and a better nose for the goal line. He also puts more pressure on opposing defenses because he's a big play threat every time he's in the game.

While last year he suffered a broken hand, the rising sophomore is hoping to make it through the 2006 injury-free. No surprisingly, become a stronger, more complete running back has been a focus for Davis this off-season. In fact,, the former 4-star running back out of Atlanta's Douglass High has added nearly 10 pounds of bulk, now weighing in at impressive 208 pounds.

"That was something big for me this off-season was to get stronger," said Davis. "Right now I'm 208, but I've been up to 210. When we had the mat drills before spring practice- that really helped me get stronger."

Yes, the Tigers have a quality back in senior Reggie Merriweather and yes there will be even more competition this season with the arrival of freshman C.J. Spiller, but Davis has proven he can carry the load. He's proven he can put the team on his back and deliver under pressure like he did against Texas A&M, N.C. State and South Carolina a year ago.

"I think we've got a chance to win the ACC Championship," Adams said. "We've got the whole starting offensive line coming back and the majority of the defensive line coming back and that's where you win championships."
Losing him for any length of time could be costly.

Losing senior bandit Gaines Adams would hurt equally as much, if not more.

Entering the 2006 season, Adams starts at the bandit end position while sophomore Phillip Merling mans the other side of the line. That's the good news.

The bad news is that there is little provent talent behind them.

Backing up Adams is red-shirt junior Kwam Williams followed by Duquesne transfer Jermaine Martin. Backing up Merling is red-shirt senior Brandon Cannon followed by red-shirt freshman Antwon Murchison (who could move inside later on). Murchison and Martin have yet to play a down of college football while Cannon played just 49 snaps a year ago and Williams saw action in just 69.

Making Adams' health even more important is the fact that he is widely viewed as one of the top defensive players expected to be taken in the 2007 draft.

Losing him means the Tigers arguably lose their most talented player.

Of course the Tigers almost lost Adams to the NFL draft after his junior season. Fortunately, after weighing all his options during a three-day stretch in early January, he decided to come back.

"I think we're going to be unbelievable next year," he said after announcing he would return to Clemson for his senior year. "I think we've got a chance to win the ACC Championship. We've got the whole starting offensive line coming back and the majority of the defensive line coming back and that's where you win championships."

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