10 Keys to 10 Wins: #4

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

4. One Loss Doesn't Kill the Season
For the last two years, the Tigers have struggled mightily after their first loss of the season.

In 2004, an upset home loss to Georgia Tech kick-started a four-game slide, including road losses to Texas A&M, Florida State and Virginia. In 2005, a triple overtime loss to Miami sent the Tigers packing for two more games, including an overtime loss to Boston College and another heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Wake Forest.

While the argument can be made that the schedule was a factor in both seasons, in each of the last two years it has been evident the Clemson football team has lacked punch immediately after suffering its first setback.

Last year's home loss to Miami continued to have an affect on the team into the Boston College game the following week. The Tigers quickly fell behind 10-0 before waking up halfway through the second quarter, but it still wouldn't be enough to pull the win as Clemson lost 16-13 in overtime.

That loss trickled into the following week against Wake Forest, where the Tigers now haven't won a game since 2001.

The year before the Tigers entered a road game against Texas A&M as four point favorites just days after a gut-wrenching home loss to Georgia Tech. Again, the team got off to a lackluster start, falling behind quickly (17-6 in the second quarter) before losing by 21 points.

Clemson would go on to add losses to Florida State and Virginia in the following weeks.

Simply put, in each of the last two years, the first loss of the season has played a role in more losses.

With ACC expansion, it's possible to reach the conference championship game with as many as three losses.
Looking to ahead to this year's schedule, with road games at Boston College and Florida State directly out of the gate, the Tigers can ill-afford a series of letdowns after suffering their first setback of the season, especially with three of the first four games of the year being conference affairs.

Sure, the first loss of any season is especially painful the program, but with ACC expansion now complete, you only have to look back to last season to realize that one loss doesn't destroy a season. In fact, last year Florida State claimed the ACC title with a 5-3 conference record, narrowly holding on to the Atlantic Division crown before beating heavily-favored Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game.

Clemson, which started the year 1-3 in the conference, incredibly still had the opportunity to win the Atlantic Division in late October, but a 10-9 loss at Georgia Tech ultimately ended those dreams.

In fact Clemson would have won the Atlantic Division of the ACC a year ago had it beaten any one of those four ACC teams it lost to: Miami in triple overtime, Boston College in overtime, Wake Forest on the last drive of the game and Georgia Tech by one in which a touchdown was called back due to a fluke penalty.

In other words the Tigers were close. Very close.

Chances are, the defensive-oriented ACC will be decided by a number of close games once again- which means there could be a close loss or two in store for the Tigers this year.

The important thing is to be able to rebound after one of those losses with a win, instead of coming out flat and ending up with a loss.

Being able to do just that could easily be the difference between an 8-4 year ending with what most would consider a "decent bowl," and a 10-2 type of year with the chance to play in the BCS.

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