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Clemson Set To Challenge Florida State

Clemson Set To Challenge Florida State

Aug. 15, 2000

By David Droschak Associated Press

The porch swing rocks a little slower these days when the subject of football is broached during the Bowden family’s summer vacation in Panama City, Fla.

Never used to be that way. But the enthusiasm of swapping X’s and O’s and trick plays has died down considerably now that Florida State coach Bobby Bowden competes against son Tommy in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We used to sit there and draw up plays in the sand. We don’t do that anymore,” said Tommy, whose Clemson team appears to be the closest ACC challenger this season to the powerful Seminoles, who have compiled a 62-2 league record since 1992 en route to eight straight ACC titles.

“He’s dumb like a fox. He’s tricky. He plays like he’s over there sleeping, but he’s really listening,” Tommy said of his dad’s summer naps on the swing.

Not that the 70-year-old Bowden really has much to worry about in the twilight of his career. His defending national champion Seminoles have won 10 or more games 13 straight seasons and finished ranked no lower than No. 4 since 1986.

Florida State’s offense is expected to be as good or better than last year’s 12-0 team that scored 30 or more points 11 times, including 46 against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

Heading that unit is 28-year-old quarterback Chris Weinke, a rare three-year starter at that position under Bowden. The former minor league baseball player is like a coach on the field. He threw for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns in 1999.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Weinke joined an impressive list that included Andre Wadsworth, Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks and Deion Sanders, choosing to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft.

“We’ve got so much riding on him I’m nearly afraid to tell him,” Bowden said of Weinke. “When he decided to come back it was like throwing your hat back in the ring, like saying, `I’m going to run for president.”‘

Weinke has one goal – winning another national title. He said sitting out the 1998 championship game loss to Tennessee with a neck injury made him realize that pro football can wait.

“I told myself if I got healthy I was going to play college football as long as I can,” Weinke said. “I said, `You’re going to have to kick me out of here.’ You do gain a bigger appreciation for the game when you’re sitting on the sidelines.”

Weinke threw for 229 or more yards in all 12 wins – a remarkable show of consistency.

“He just seems like he’s on another planet,” Wake Forest defensive end Bryan Ray said of Weinke’s abilities on and off the field. “He’s so on top of things mentally. He knows what he wants.”

Weinke won’t have spectacular wide receiver Peter Warrick to throw to, but the Seminoles remain deep there. “We play seven, eight or nine receivers,” Bowden said. “Don’t be surprised if they don’t match last year’s group.”

Ditto for the running back spot where Travis Minor returns to run behind a veteran offensive line.

Florida State returns six seniors to a defense that led the ACC in yards allowed 1999. And once again, speed will be its forte.

Georgia Tech coach George O’Leary was asked if anything could slow the Seminoles down.

“A machine gun,” he responded. “And I’m not sure you’ll get them all then. They’ve got some guys quicker than the bullet.”

Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia Tech were each ranked in the top 10 at one point during Florida State’s dominance in the ’90s, but none have been able to challenge for the top spot.

Clemson, which played the Seminoles to a three-point game last season, will try this season, relying on Tommy Bowden’s wide-open offense and 16 returning starters.

Still, the Tigers were 6-6 and haven’t finished in the final poll since 1993.

“I would think finishing in the top 25 at the end of the year would be a realistic goal,” said Bowden, who produced an undefeated season at Tulane in 1998.

“A lot of people down our way are saying BCS (bowl) and win nine or 10. But to me, if you haven’t finished in the top 25 in seven years, doing that would be realistic. That’s the next step, not playing Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.”

The Tigers will look to linebacker Keith Adams for leadership. He led the nation with 168 tackles a season ago – 33 for losses.

“You like to say you’ve got a switch and your motor runs 1 through 10,” Bowden said of the 5-10 Adams. “He plays at 10 every snap, at practice and in the games. We walks up and down the sidelines at a 7. He can’t even cut it down to a 3 or a 4. He brings the intangibles like how you play the game with heart.”

Georgia Tech has been to three straight bowl games, but that was with Joe Hamilton, the ACC’s all-time total offense leader with 10,640 yards. His replacement is unproven George Godsey, whose first test under center will be Aug. 27 at No. 11 Virginia Tech. Two weeks later, he gets Florida State.

“George knows everything inside and out,” O’Leary said of his junior quarterback from Tampa, Fla. “Now, a lot of second quarterbacks don’t make good first quarterbacks because that lump in your throat gets there. I told George he was the starting quarterback because he made less mistakes and was going to put us in less perilous position.”

Elsewhere in the ACC, Virginia has won seven or more games 13 straight seasons under George Welsh, but is coming off a 63-21 loss to Illinois in the Micron PC Bowl. The Cavaliers also lost All-American running back Thomas Jones, who set a single-season ACC record with 1,798 yards.

North Carolina is coming off its first losing season in a decade, but a healthy return of quarterback Ronald Curry (torn Achilles’ tendon) could place the Tar Heels in the upper part of the league.

N.C. State hired former Florida State assistant Chuck Amato after seven seasons of .500 football under Mike O’Cain. However, the Wolfpack will be young and plan on starting freshman quarterback Philip Rivers.

The success of Maryland hinges on running back LaMont Jordan, who ran for a school-record 306 yards in last year’s finale against Virginia. Still, the Terrapins have had only two winning seasons since Bobby Ross went 9-3 in 1985.

Wake Forest was the only other ACC team to win a bowl game last season, but return only four starters, while Duke was a near unanimous selection for last. The Blue Devils were 33-77-1 over the last decade.