Plenty at stake for Tigers in bowl

Snapping three-game losing skid is among team's top priorities

pstrelow@thestate.comDecember 26, 2009 

  • TIGERS VS. WILDCATS

    WHO: Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

    WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

    WHERE: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn. TV: ESPN

    TV: ESPN

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM

    LINE: Clemson by 7

CLEMSON - While an ACC championship eluded this Clemson senior class, a more attainable goal could go missing from its legacy:

A bowl victory.

The Tigers (8-5) enter Sunday's Music City Bowl against Kentucky riding a three-game bowl losing streak, matching the second-longest stretch in program history. The school lost five straight in a six-year span from 1995 to 2000.

Only H-back Rendrick Taylor, who redshirted last season instead of his freshman year while getting his academics in order, was part of Clemson's last bowl triumph - a 19-10 victory against Colorado in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl.

"It wouldn't seem right if they didn't win one," coach Dabo Swinney said. "It's a shame they haven't won one. But they have the opportunity to win this one. Everybody wants to win their last game."

There is a wide range of sentiment for how much Clemson should and will care about Sunday's game after its ACC title-game loss. A look at what the Tigers stand to gain or lose:

----------------

GAIN

Long-range recruiting

Beating Kentucky isn't going to sway any blue-chippers late. And besides, Clemson has 20 commitments and figures to accept only two or three more.

As a result, coaches will spend January targeting junior prospects, and Swinney believes the Tigers will sign a much more acclaimed class in 2011. A bowl victory facilitates the sales pitch that a program is headed in the right direction.

Staff credibility

Coaches have maintained that their two-game skid is not an indication the team has been exposed or reverted to its old ways.

Overcoming the anticipated malaise for this game would go great lengths to prove it. Not to mention take some of the offseason heat off the assistants who are frequent message-board targets of what Swinney calls "the loud minority."

Offseason momentum

There is a theory that a bowl win puts pep in players' steps during offseason workouts. It's been so long since the Tigers have had one, though, that Swinney referenced the triumph he experienced during his playing career.

"Our guys don't even know what that feels like," Swinney said.

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LOSE

Season on the brink

No doubt, Clemson can say it made progress the season by virtue of claiming the ACC's Atlantic Division crown and coming within a defensive stop of reaching the Orange Bowl.

But make no mistake, there is a difference in how this season would be viewed with a 9-5 record as opposed to an 8-6 record tainted by a season-ending, three-game slide.

Conference call

The ACC went 2-3 against the SEC during the regular season, but losses by the ACC title-game participants to middle-of-the-pack SEC squads dusted off the debate about the perceived gap between the leagues.

Clemson wouldn't be doing itself or its conference any favors with another bad showing, no matter how much the circumstances and environment favor Kentucky.

Short-term recruiting

In the past two months, the Tigers largely have staved off attempts to raid their recruiting class of their highest-ranked commitments. Four prep players from Georgia have reaffirmed their pledges after flirtations with the likes of Georgia, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

The vultures invariably will make another pass if Clemson ends the season on a sour note. And who is to say how bowl outcomes might influence the decisions of the top remaining targets, namely Beaufort linebacker Justin Parker.

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