Clemson was predicted to finish second in the Atlantic Division behind Florida State, but the separation between the two is closer than it's been since 2000. The Tigers received 13 of the 55 first-place votes, while also getting five votes to win the conference championship.
Moreover, Clemson hasn't received as many as five votes to win the conference since 1992, Florida State's first year in the ACC.
"Since Florida State joined the ACC, the championship has gone through Tallahassee," Bowden said. "Now, the championship goes through the state of Florida, with Miami and Florida State being divisional preseason favorites."
But even thought the Tigers appear to be within striking distance of Miami and Florida State, Bowden isn't about to start celebrating just yet.
"We've been here before," he said. "We've been picked high before in the preseason, but we haven't followed it up in the postseason with a good performance. We have never been a top 25, back-to-back team since I've been here. That would be the next step. …
"Clemson's been there in the past. It just hasn't been under my tenure."
There's no question the Tigers have increased their talent level immensely over the last three years, but they're still viewed, along with Virginia Tech, as the third-best team in the conference.
It just goes to show how far the gap in talent between Clemson the top schools were.
"The gap's closing. We've won two out of three," Bowden said. "The next phase would be to win (at Florida State). … You look at the draft and it's still nine schools chasing Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State. We had one guy drafted in the first round and Florida State had four. There's still a talent gap. That's obvious by the draft.
"At least we're getting some drafted now and I think it's going to be more this year. I think we're closing the gap, but there's a gap still."
While Clemson still may be behind the Hurricanes and Seminoles, it has undoubtedly caught and surpassed Maryland, Virginia and N.C. State, three programs that were viewed to be much better than the Tigers a few years ago.
"We're definitely making some strides in other areas that's going to be important to brew the kind of success that we want," Bowden said. "I like where we are right now. But again, there's another level we have to get to that we haven't gotten to. But you can be worse than picked second in your (division)."
Bowden: Still Room to Improve
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