Questions loom as Clemson staff looks to build on Year 1 success

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney can rattle off last year’s accomplishments and statistics seemingly without taking a breath, as effortlessly as an auctioneer.

Among those at the top of his list are the facts that Clemson finished the season ranked, won the Atlantic Division for the first time with the school’s best ACC record since 1991 (6-2), and won a bowl game for the first time since 2005.

It was an impressive season considering the doubt that engulfed the program and the staff at this time a year ago. A young head coach, an even younger offensive coordinator, a new staff and new quarterback had many questioning the direction the program was heading. Now, with the graduation of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, who completed their college careers with more all-purpose yardage than any other duo in college football history, the question is whether or not the staff can maintain the standard it set in Year 1.

“If anything, we’ve just wetted our appetite here,” offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. “We’ve smelled the roses to some degree. There’s no complacency here. There’s no loss of an edge – maybe a little less anxious – but at the same time what we did is we’ve positioned ourselves to where we saw what it was about. If anything we’re more driven and more excited and more waking up each day looking for those opportunities to compete and get better.

“We’re the same people we were last year, we just have a year under our belts now and we can go to work and do our jobs,” he said. “Now the question marks are more about our personnel than about us.”

With their first full recruiting class behind them and the task of replacing 10 starters ahead of them – including their leading rusher, receiver and tackler - the 2010 season is a chance for Swinney and his staff to put their stamp on the program. The Tigers are looking for new playmakers, the go-to receiver and a tight end to replace Michael Palmer, who set school records for receptions and reception yards by a tight end.

“There are questions, but I think we have more answers than we did last year,” Swinney said. “… I’d say that we accomplished a lot of our goals, but people don’t want to look at where you came from. We all get greedy. Unless you win the championship, nobody’s happy. You don’t finish the way you want. But at the end of the day, as I evaluate where we are and where we’re going, we did a good job. Hopefully we can take what we’ve built and that foundation and get better this year.”

Is there anything left for this staff to prove? After all, they did take the Tigers to a place their predecessor, Tommy Bowden, was unable to – the ACC title game.

“Until we play in the last game of the season,” said running backs coach Andre Powell, “there’s always something to prove. And then after you do that, you have to prove you can do it again.”