Clemson University

Appalachian State win has Clemson wary of Paladins

Coach Tommy Bowden's squad knows not to overlook Furman.
Coach Tommy Bowden's squad knows not to overlook Furman.

CLEMSON -- Tight ends coach Billy Napier, a former Furman quarterback, received a text message last week from his former coach, Bobby Lamb, with whom he remains close.

Nice win against Florida State, Lamb said. And take it easy on the Paladins.

Furman can try to play possum before it crosses through Death Valley on Saturday.

But the bright lights shone on rival Appalachian State's monumental upset at Michigan two weeks ago might have increased the odds the Paladins eventually wind up road kill.

"That game made people look and say those guys can really play," said Clemson junior fullback Alex Pearson, a Greenville native who has friends on the Furman roster and coaching staff. "Seeing Appalachian State do it hits home because Furman is a team like that. They've got some good players.

"It put us on alert."

And waiting for coach Tommy Bowden to officially sound the alarm, which he did during Monday night's practice when he pulled out a copy of the Sports Illustrated featuring the upset on the cover.

Like Appalachian State, Furman is an upper-echelon Southern Conference program with a track record for deep runs into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Plus, the Paladins have given the big boys scares in the recent past.

In their last two games against teams from BCS conferences, they fell 45-42 at North Carolina last season and 41-38 in overtime at Pittsburgh in 2004.

Comparable to Michigan, No. 20 Clemson likewise is the heavy favorite at home -- and, some would argue, employing a coach whose job could be on the line this season if his team continues its trend of losing at least one game annually to a lesser opponent.

The similarities look foolish when juxtaposed with the record book.

Clemson is 19-0 against Division I-AA opponents since the classification was created in 1978. It has not lost to a SoCon school since leaving the conference to join the ACC in 1953 and has beaten current SoCon teams 47 straight times.

Yet the ramifications of what a loss could do to the team's psyche and direction still resonates in the wake of Michigan's apparent fiasco.

It is the reason coaches fear these games when analysts and fans deem there little reason for doing so.

"There's no doubt it's hard to be win-win here," Bowden said. "You win, you should have won by more. You win big, you shouldn't be playing (a) I-AA. It's about a no-win situation."

Unless the bottom line financially is taken into account.

Nonetheless, Bowden said he does not mind facing lower-tier instate schools because of the local interest and revenue it generates for those programs.

Because of the demand for easier, nonconference home games, smaller Football Bowl Subdivision programs are now negotiating payouts for as much as $800,000 -- part of the reason Clemson has scheduled Furman ($240,000) as well as The Citadel in 2009 and Coastal Carolina in 2014, all championship subdivision teams that would have lower price tags as well as travel costs.

Bowden contended Furman's threat did not lose any bite despite its 32-17 defeat at Hofstra last weekend, which dropped the Paladins from No. 9 to 16 in the FCS poll.

"It's going to be a very excitable group of guys from about 45 minutes away that are talented enough to do what Appalachian State did," Bowden said.

"Most of their guys would like to be here, there's no way getting around saying that. So they're going to show us we made a mistake."

Or at least try to show Clemson that, considering they have failed to make that point for quite a while.

Furman has lost 28 straight in the series and last defeated the Tigers in 1936. Those facts figure to get overlooked in both sides' posturing to paint the Paladins as the next Mountaineers.

"I doubt we'll take anyone lightly," junior middle linebacker Cortney Vincent said. "Appalachian State put us in a mindset not to come in and play around."

FURMAN (1-1, 0-0 SOUTHERN) AT NO. 20 CLEMSON (2-0, 1-0 ACC)

• When: 1 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

• TV: None

• Tickets: Available at 1-800-CLEMSON