COLUMBIA -- Clemson coach Tommy Bowden saw some things the past two weeks that give him hope -- and the Tigers haven't even played a game.
Clemson's players worked with a fervor and purpose during their bye week that gives Bowden hope for a strong second half of the season, which starts today against Central Michigan (4-3) at Memorial Stadium.
It was only a few weeks ago that the Tigers (4-2) were riding high with their best start in seven years at 4-0. But special teams breakdowns and generally sloppy play cost them their past two games in losses to Georgia Tech (13-3) and Virginia Tech (41-23). The defeats left Bowden and his staff wondering if this were a slide the team wouldn't pull out of.
Bowden's not saying for sure, but has shown a coy confidence in his players leading up to this weekend and beyond.
"I'm anxious to see how we bounce back and how we play for the second half of the season," Bowden says.
Bowden definitely hopes they play like they did at the end of 2004 and 2005. Three years ago, Clemson won five of its final six games after starting 1-4 and only an ugly brawl in its finale with South Carolina cost the team a bowl appearance. A season later, the Tigers closed with six wins in their last seven games.
The Chippewas won't make it easy in their first visit to Death Valley.
The Mid-American Conference club hasn't beaten a team from a BCS conference since 1992 (24-20 over Michigan State), but they've won their past three games this season, averaged more than 46 points a game doing it and haven't lost in the month of October since 2004.
Central Michigan has forced 14 turnovers in wins against North Illinois, Ball State and Army after having just five its first four games.
Chippewas coach Butch Jones says his players have developed a tougher mind-set that lets them go after an opponent's mistakes and take advantage of them with points.
"Guys are straining on every single snap and playing to the whistle," Jones said. "We take great pride in our physical and mental conditioning, and our kids are playing with passion and just having fun right now."
Things have not been fun around Clemson the past few games.
Last month at Georgia Tech, the Tigers missed four field goals and had a punt blocked that led to their opponent's only touchdown. A week later, Virginia Tech got an interception return, a punt return and a kickoff return -- all for touchdowns.
The Tigers lost their national ranking and, in some people's view, their shot at the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
They had injuries that stretched across the offensive line and reached into the offensive and defensive backfield.
If ever a team needed a break, it was Clemson.
The best thing about the time off, Bowden says, might have been letting his hurt linemen heal. That could open things up for the Tigers' "Thunder and Lightning" backfield of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, who rushed for a combined 74 yards in the two losses.
While the running game has sputtered, the Tigers have picked up their passing attack. Clemson is right behind undefeated Boston College in the league's passing offense and first-year starter Cullen Harper stands second in average passing yards and pass efficiency.
He threw for 372 yards two weeks ago against Virginia Tech.
Bowden reminded his players that Central Michigan has skills, too. The Chippewas won 10 games, including the Motor City Bowl, a season ago.
"There's no way we can overlook them, especially losing the games before this," said Clemson's Aaron Kelly, who caught 11 passes for 174 yards his last game.
"You don't want a three-game losing streak," Kelly said. "We don't want to go down the road we went down last year."