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Friday, August 1, 2008
Three questions for Clemson

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I've been posing three questions for each team as they start practicing, and today it's go-time for Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

Let's take it in predicted order of finish, starting with Clemson:

1. Can the Tigers handle unprecedented expectations?

If you measure expectations by the preseason AP poll, they've never been this high for Clemson under Tommy Bowden. (The Tigers were ranked No. 17 in 2000.) Nor have the Tigers ever been picked to win the ACC during Bowden's tenure by the sports writers at the ACC football kickoff. The last time that happened was in 1991 -- when Clemson won its last ACC title.

Just what does the media know? The writers got it right in 21 of the past 32 seasons. (Well, 19 times they picked the winner and twice there was a tie. Eleven times they were just wrong.)

So yes, the expectations are the highest the Tigers have ever faced, but this is also the most veteran team Tommy Bowden has ever coached. Quarterback Cullen Harper appears to be a pretty laid-back, poised-in-the-pocket kind of guy. As long as he keeps that cool, odds are the rest of the team does, too.

2. Can talented playmakers compensate for youth and inexperience on the offensive line?

As Tommy Bowden pointed out this spring, it's not like Clemson is "recruiting zeros." Plus, there are three linemen returning with starting experience. With a lineup that includes James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Aaron Kelly and Jacoby Ford, there should be a little margin for error.

3. Does Clemson have any linebackers?

Yes, but they're the least experienced group on defense. According to the depth chart, Kavell Conner is starting at weakside, Scotty Cooper at strongside and Brandon Maye in the middle. They've got a combined four starts. If you're looking for an area of concern, this one trumps the o-line.