DAN SCOTT: If Not Now, When?

CLEMSON - Tommy Bowden and I arrived on the Clemson scene the same year.

Back in 1999 I was just getting acclimated to the area and going to work for the Daily Journal/Messenger in Seneca. Bowden was warming up to new surroundings, too, having replaced Tommy West as Clemson's football coach.

I was hired to help the DJ/M transition from a three-times-per-week publication to a daily newspaper. Bowden was hired to get the Tigers back to ACC supremacy.

Somewhere along the way I got sidetracked into my first love - radio. Bowden's path to a league title and, by extension, becoming a national power has been sidetracked by an inability to win the big game.

This is year 10 for both of us. Some would say neither of us has accomplished much.

Such is the nature of both professions.

Ultimately, what I do or don't accomplish won't mean much to Clemson fans. But for Tommy Bowden the expectations have never been higher.

Less than two weeks into fall practice Tiger fans are frothing at the mouth. The season opener vs. Alabama is roughly three weeks away, and it's questionable as to whether some of the more radical members of the populace are going to make it to Aug. 30.

Orange-clad football fanatics survived another disappointing finish in 2007, an off-season which saw a complete and total upheaval of the seating process at Death Valley, and the dreaded "Dark Time" between the end of spring practice and beginning of fall workouts.

Along the way they set yet another record for both season ticket sales and IPTAY contributions. Yes, some of the rise in contributions is tied to mandatory spending limits to acquire, keep or upgrade season tickets and the corresponding parking passes.

But let's not forget that totals surpassed in both categories were set the previous off-season, prior to implementation of the Seat Equity Plan.

In other words not only are Clemson fans peaking in both expectations and impatience, but they have remained - grumbling aside - remarkably loyal to the cause.

Perspective is very much like minor surgery. It's only minor when someone else is having it.

For some Clemson fans, Bowden's accomplishments - and there are many - will never be enough until he wins the school's first ACC title since 1991.

Forget the strong academics. Forget player behavior, which has been very good for the most part. Forget the season ticket and donation records. Forget facility upgrades. Forget recruiting.

Forget milestones in all those areas, which has made Clemson a model for other schools around the country.

Just win, baby. It was good enough for Al Davis (once upon a time, anyway). It's good enough for Clemson.

But is it realistic?

"But I'm surely not satisfied right now, because you have to win a championship, and then another championship, and then play for another championship and win another one." - Tommy Bowden
In a word, yes. According to no less an authority than Tommy Bowden himself.

Speaking on my talk show a couple of weeks back, I asked the coach if criticism aimed at him for the recent shortcomings is fair.

He didn't blink.

"Oh no doubt. That's why you get into coaching", he said. "I'm sure for your time slot you want the highest ratings for your talk show. You're not gonna be satisfied with second or third... I don't know what your competition is like but it's the same way in coaching. You know the objective is to win all your games and win a championship, a BCS bowl game, and play for a national championship and win a national championship.

"And we have accomplished some nice things, as you mentioned, but that's not at the top of the pecking order. The integrity of your team, the discipline of your players, playing competitive football on Saturdays, and having winning seasons...Those are all good things and I don't want to make light of those things.

"But I'm surely not satisfied right now, because you have to win a championship, and then another championship, and then play for another championship and win another one.

"There are so many things left undone, as far as I'm concerned, but yes it's legitimate question."

So if the coach believes it's time to quit making excuses and win the big one, why shouldn't the fan base? Given the current status of the ACC, coupled with Clemson's returning talent, the Tigers are - and should be - a runaway favorite to win the league.

Are there questions marks? Yes. Every team has them.

But this is the best team Bowden has had in 10 years. The league is ripe for picking. And some are already asking the next logical question:

If not now, when?

Personally, I believe the other accomplishments in the Bowden era do stand for something. I believe this program has become a model for others to follow. If I had a son, I'd want him to play football for Tommy Bowden.

But I know - as does the coach - that in this crazy world of 2008 he's not being paid all that money for a program that gives fans a warm and fuzzy feeling. He's paid to win, and expected to play for and win championships.

And do so now.

Whether it's right or wrong, whether that view is realistic or skewed, is irrelevant. It simply is fact.

New contract. Hefty buyout. None of that matters. The pressure to win now is there, and is more palpable than ever.

And Bowden knows it.

All of which is going to make for one heck of a story to follow beginning Aug. 30 in Atlanta.

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