TOP 25 COLLEGE FOOTBALL COUNTDOWN
18 Clemson Tigers
By WENDELL BARNHOUSE
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
SPOTLIGHT ON ...
Having saved his coach, QB has even bigger goals
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden probably owes his job to Charlie Whitehurst.
Last season, after a 45-17 loss to Wake Forest, reports surfaced that Bowden's termination was imminent. But starting with a precedent-setting victory over Florida State, Clemson closed the season with four consecutive victories. Bowden received a contract extension in the off-season.
Whitehurst, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior, was instrumental in the season-ending spurt. He completed 84 of 133 passes for 1,151 yards and eight touchdowns.
"After the way we finished, I think the whole team has confidence going into this season," said Whitehurst, a long-shot Heisman Trophy candidate. "We had our backs against the wall, our coach about to get fired. We fought, we didn't lay down."
With only 18 starts, Whitehurst already owns or shares 33 Clemson passing records. He and former North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, the league's career passing leader, are the only players in Atlantic Coast Conference history to throw for 5,000 or more career yards after two seasons.
"He's only started for a year and four games," Bowden said of Whitehurst. "That's not a whole bunch of at-bats. I'll have a better feel about Charlie after this year. I'm anxious to see how far he can go. He's done a pretty good job, and I think he'll continue to make progress."
Whitehurst, whose father, David, played quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, might have to decide at the end of the season if he wants to pass on his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. Whitehurst said if he has that decision to make, it will be because "I've had the kind of season I want to."
Clemson and Whitehurst face a challenging schedule that features road games against Texas A&M, Florida State, Miami and Virginia.
"You wonder who made out the schedule," said Whitehurst, whose sister Carrie is a sophomore on Clemson's women's basketball team. "I look at it like this, though: If we win every game, then we will be where we want to be."
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Coach: Tommy Bowden (38-24 in five seasons, 56-30 overall in seven seasons)
2003: 9-4, 5-3 in ACC, 3rd
Bowl: Defeated Tennessee 27-14 in Peach Bowl
Why Clemson is No. 18: Junior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst is poised to become a national star, and the Tigers should build off their four impressive victories to finish last season.
Best-case scenario: The offensive line and a running game develops. If both of those happen, the Tigers' offense could spread out defenses and then let Whitehurst shred 'em with passes.
Worst-case scenario: Whitehurst gets hurt. The defensive line fails to replace last year's starting tackles, which allows opposing teams to control the ball with the running game.
Starters returning: 7 on offense, 7 on defense.
Key players: Junior QB Charlie Whitehurst, junior RB Duane Coleman, senior RB Yusef Kelly, senior WR Airese Currie, sophomore WR Kelvin Grant, junior CB Justin Miller, senior LB LeRoy Hill, senior DE Vontrell Jamison.
Cheers: Whitehurst is a big-time quarterback who is about to become nationally known. Miller, who backs up his brash and bold talk with his play, leads a veteran defense that was dominant at the end of last season.
Jeers: Pass protection is uncertain, with untested sophomores Roman Fry and Marlon Dukes slated to start at tackle. The lack of a reliable and productive running back is a concern.
It all means: Clemson has the talent to hang in the top half of the improved ACC, but the schedule is probably too demanding to expect a conference title.
Datebook: Oct. 7 at Virginia. This will be the third of three consecutive road games (after trips to Texas A&M and Florida State). The Cavaliers should be one of the top teams in the ACC. If Clemson is serious about challenging for first place, it must win this game.
Figuring: In its first nine games, Clemson's 2003 defense allowed an average of 22.4 points and 154.8 yards rushing per game. In winning their final four games, the Tigers allowed an average of 12 points and 79.8 yards rushing per game.
Extra points: Clemson's schedule is considered the toughest in school history. The Tigers have road games at Texas A&M, Florida State, Miami and Virginia. ACC opponents Florida State, Miami and Virginia were a combined 18-3 at home last season. ... Clemson opens the season against Wake Forest, a team that defeated the Tigers 45-17 last season. That loss heightened rumors that Bowden's job was in jeopardy, but it preceded victories over Florida State, Duke, South Carolina and Tennessee (in the Peach Bowl). Bowden's contract was extended in the off-season. ... Sophomore Jad Dean, who is projected to be the team's kicker, used his strong leg to record 27 touchbacks on kickoffs last season.
2003 STATISTICAL RANKINGS
* In NCAA Division I-A team statistics.