Clemson season review

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Overview: The Tigers went from preseason No. 9 to desperate to qualify for a bowl to the Gator Bowl. And they lost their head coach and both coordinators along the way. It was a wild ride for Clemson, which replaced former coach Tommy Bowden with receivers coach Dabo Swinney on Oct. 13. Swinney guided the Tigers to four wins in their final five games and his interim tag was officially dropped on Dec. 1, when he was named Clemson's next head coach.

One of the things that contributed to the 3-4 start was injuries to key players on both the offensive and defensive lines. Clemson started seven different offensive line combinations in the first nine games. The Tigers have had 42 different players start a game this season, and only eight started all 12 games. One of the main reasons for the preseason hype was the plethora of playmakers on offense, but Clemson didn't start to make use of them until the final few weeks of the season. The difference was a healthy offensive line, and a new offensive coordinator combo in Swinney, who fired Rob Spence, and Billy Napier.

Offensive MVP: Tailback/returner C.J. Spiller. Since he returned from a pulled hamstring he suffered Oct. 9 at Wake Forest, Spiller has had 845 all-purpose running yards. Over the past five games, he has contributed an average of 169 yards. He leads the ACC in all-purpose running yards per game. He leads all ACC running backs in receiving yards, and finished with 430, a single-season school record.

Defensive MVP: Safety Michael Hamlin. He ranks sixth in the nation with six interceptions, and his 111 interception return yards ranks second in the ACC. Hamlin is second on the team with 102 tackles and has had at least six tackles in every game and a combined 41 tackles in the past four games.

Turning point: Clemson 27, Boston College 21, Nov. 1. This was Dabo Swinney's first win as head coach, and it was the first time the Tigers beat BC since the Eagles joined the ACC. Both receiver Aaron Kelly and Spiller set school records, a sign that the Tigers' offense hadn't disappeared. The road win snapped a three-game losing streak.

What's next: Clemson will face Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, a matchup reminiscent of the 1982 Orange Bowl. It was the only other time these programs have faced each other, and Clemson's only national championship. This year, the Tigers are in the midst of staff changes and will face a tough Nebraska offense without former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who resigned earlier this month.

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