Defining success in 2009

CLEMSON - In a season that featured a six-game winning streak to go along with losses to Maryland and South Carolina, the question has to be asked ... was it a success?

Of course, success is not something that is always easily defined, especially in a season that features tremendous wins, close defeats and a loss to your archrival.

Still, Webster's defines success is one of at least two things:

1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.

2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

2009 was certainly successful for senior RB C.J. Spiller, who established career highs in just about every category imaginable while becoming a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. (He had many favorable and prosperous terminations of runs ending in the end zone - didn't he?)

It was successful for redshirt freshman QB Kyle Parker, who set school records for wins, passing yards, completions and touchdowns for a first-year starter.

But for the Clemson football program, success this season was defined in this space as one simple thing: winning the Atlantic Division.

Remember, winning the division was something that had never been previously done at Clemson. It was something that actually forced a coaching change a year ago.

It was something the fan base had been begging for since the Atlantic Coast Conference switched to divisional play after expansion in 2005.

And in 2009, it finally happened.

Some fans will point to the slow start, including the upset loss at Maryland and say this season could have been so much more.


Clemson won the division with a first-year head coach, first-year offensive coordinator and a first-year quarterback. Find another program in the country that did that this year- or any year for that matter. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)
Perhaps they are correct. If Richard Jackson's first 47-yard game-tying field goal attempt counts, perhaps the Tigers end the season 9-4 instead of 8-5.

That sounds better, doesn't it?

Others will suggest the loss at South Carolina tarnishes what happened within the conference this year. After all, nobody likes losing to the Gamecocks.

But at the end of the day, something was accomplished this year that had never been accomplished before ... winning the division. Beating South Carolina? That happened seven times this decade.

"These guys have experienced beating South Carolina and they will experience it again," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "It's not like it's something we haven't done around here. We'll have another opportunity next year.

"There are 12 teams in this conference and there are only two that had the right to play for a championship."

He's right, of course.

And furthermore Clemson won the division with a first-year head coach, first-year offensive coordinator and a first-year quarterback. Find another program in the country that did that this year- or any year for that matter.

That doesn't mean things couldn't have been better because they certainly could have considering how close losses were to Georgia Tech (twice), TCU and the Terps. Nor does it mean Clemson has now emerged a threat to win a National Championship in 2010.

But it means the 2009 season was a success - at least in how we described it in this space before the start of the season.

And now comes the really intriguing part - next season. With an Atlantic Division championship now in the bank, what does that mean for next year's expectations?

There's no more wondering what it feels like to be a part of college football's "championship Saturday."

Been there, done that.

Looking ahead, the ACC's Atlantic Division likely won't be a strength of the league again which means it very well could be there for the taking once again.

Dabo Swinney, Billy Napier and Kyle Parker will all be in their second seasons running the show, which should do nothing but help the Tigers' overall chances.

Most of the offensive line and a good part of Clemson's front seven on defense all return too.

But the schedule looks to be exponentially more difficult - with road trips at Auburn, Florida State, North Carolina, Boston College and Wake Forest, not to mention home tilts with Miami and Georgia Tech.

So who knows at this early juncture?

Every fan wants to go undefeated, win a National Championship and proclaim their favorite team as the best to ever play the game. But as far as realistic expectations go - in my mind, 2009 was a success.

And the good news is it's not quite over yet, either.

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