Hype, Expectations Aside, Football is Here

CLEMSON - With an offseason full of unprecedented hype and high expectations now officially over, the Clemson football team finally gets down to work Friday evening.

For the past eight months, the hype has been building.

Given that nearly every single key skill position player is back on one of the most explosive offenses in the ACC, not to mention most of the key players on last year's top 10 defense are returning, the 2008 season is one of the most anticipated in recent memory.

And why wouldn't it be? On paper the Tigers have the most talented team in the ACC. The schedule also sets up nicely with no true road games until October and the rest of the league, namely former powers Florida State and Miami, are still down.

All that's left now is to go out there and prove it. Starting at 5:45 Friday afternoon, the Clemson football team will hit the practice fields for the first time in preparation for the 2008 season.

And it couldn't come soon enough.

"We're just ready to get out there and compete," preseason ACC Player of the Year QB Cullen Harper said. "It's time for us to show what we can do and we're excited about it. We've had great offseason workouts and guys have been dedicated. Now it's just time to get out there and do it."

For head coach Tommy Bowden, Friday officially begins year No. 10 of his career with the Tigers.

And while he's yet to win an ACC Championship, he has improved a number of aspects needed to get the Tigers back among the nation's elite programs.

Clemson was the overwelming favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference at the league's annual football kickoff last week. (James Davis/CUTigers.com)
From facility enhancements to improved recruiting, Clemson is once again in position to begin a run similar to what it did in the late 1980s. Picked as the favorite to win the league for the first time since Florida State entered the ACC more than 14 years ago, Bowden knows the spotlight is clearly on his team.

In addition, when you consider the season opener is against Alabama, in what is expected to be one of the most anticipated matchups of the year, there's even more pressure than what you'd normally expect this time of year."

"The bull's eye becomes a little bit bigger now and certainly it's going to help motivate Alabama in our season opener," he said. "But we've needed to get to that stage to see how our team responds.

"The quality of your leadership changes every year. Your team chemistry changes every year. Injuries become a factor. An early loss can become a factor. So that's the million dollar question: how is your team going to respond to the preseason hype? Especially in that first game, that's always going to be important."

Clemson has played well in its past four season openers under Tommy Bowden, beating two nationally ranked teams in Florida State and Texas A&M in the process.

But both of those games were at home. This year the Tigers open with Alabama in the Georgia Dome.

"A lot changes when those lights come on in the Georgia Dome on Aug. 30," Bowden said. "So we'll find out a lot about our team early on. You never want to put too much on the first game but when you consider the opponent and the location, and the fact we are opening up on national television again, you know it's a pretty big game.

"But at the end of the year, they are all big."

Keep in mind there are also plenty of questions as well. While there are more weapons on both sides of the ball than at any point in recent memory, the offensive line and linebackers are two positions that will be heavily scrutinized throughout preseason camp.

But at least it's to that point - where players can battle for positions and questions can begin to be answered.

And it all begins Friday evening.


NOTES: All practices are closed to the public. ... The first day the team will wear full pads is Wednesday, Aug. 6. ... There are four two-a-day practice sessions planned, with the first one scheduled on Aug. 7.

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