10 Keys to 10 Wins: #2

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
#3: Strong Cornerback Play

#2: Continue the Turnover Trend
While head coaches always seem to harp on the subject, they couldn't be more right. Simply put, winning the turnover battle dramatically increases your chances of winning the game.

Need proof? In the 32 Super Bowls where one team wins the turnover battle, that team is 29-3. In the 2005 regular season in the NFL, the team that won the turnover battle was 140-61.

Those numbers also translate down to the college game. During Tommy Bowden's last undefeated season as a college coach, 1998 at Tulane, it should come as no surprise that the Green Wave finished fifth in the country in turnover margin.

One of the top football programs in the country in recent memory, Southern California, finished the second in the nation in turnover margin in 2005, first in 2004 and second in 2003. Not surprisingly, the Trojans also won or shared National Championships in two of those three years.

The good news for Tiger fans is that one of the biggest stats from the 2005 season working in Clemson's favor was turnover margin. For the year, the Tigers finished 16th in the nation in turnover differential, averaging +.75 per game.

That stat improved tremendously from the year before when Clemson ended the season ranked 100th in the nation in turnover margin at -.72 per game.

Why the change?

It starts with defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and offensive coordinator Rob Spence.

Koenning's defensive scheme is built on the element of surprise. No, Koenning generally doesn't call use as many blitz packages as his ACC counterparts, but his zone coverage schemes tend to confuse quarterbacks and his "always get to the ball" mentality keeps his defense hungry for creating the big play.

"We are always going to be around the ball," said bandit end Gaines Adams. "That's the one thing Coach Vic has instilled in us since he came here. The coaches enforce that even the defensive line must be around the ball at all times."

Meanwhile Spence simply does not call high-risk plays or put his unit in a position to fail. Instead of the high-risk, downfield attack used just two seasons ago, the Tigers rely on the running game, a strong offensive line and play-action to move the ball with more consistency and ball control.

The Tigers' complicated system also seems to keep opposing defenses guessing, which can be helpful in preventing turnovers.

Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey said last year, "The thing with Clemson is you don't know who they're trying to get the ball to and you don't know where they're going to line up. It's almost a double-whammy.

"Normally, when somebody gets in this formation, they're going to throw it to this guy or this guy and when they get in this formation or grouping, they're going to throw it to this guy or this guy. You cannot get any of those tendencies against Clemson.

"It's really tough to narrow things down for your defense. When they're playing all those people and throwing to all those different guys, it puts a strain mentally on your players."

While turnovers are impossible to predict year in and year out, the Tigers have two coordinators who have made it a priority to emphasize the importance of protecting the football on offense and creating turnovers on defense in every single practice of the past year and a half.

And that emphasis is just one reason why Clemson should continue to do well in turnover margin in 2006.

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