CLEMSON -- Cullen Harper wears a half grin as he patiently answers questions he has heard dozens of times before.
Yes, he always believed he could play quarterback for No. 25 Clemson.
No, he doesn't know why he didn't see action earlier than this.
And sure, maybe he'd like some attention, too, that's typically gone to other Atlantic Coast Conference quarterbacks like Matt Ryan of Boston College and Riley Skinner of Wake Forest.
But "if we keep doing what we're doing," Harper says calmly, "that will take care of itself."
Perhaps quicker than Harper thinks.
Harper's already tied the school's record for touchdown passes, his 21 through eight games matching the output of past Tiger greats Woody Dantzler (2001) and Charlie Whitehurst (2003).
It's Harper, and not Heisman Trophy hopeful Ryan, who leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in pass efficiency.
"There's a guy that might win the Heisman Trophy," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden says, "and our guy is ahead of him in almost every offensive statistic."
So about the biggest question left for most Tiger fans: "Can you keep this up?"
That's an easy one for Harper, a steady junior from Alpharetta, Ga. "I think so, yeah," he said, smiling.
Things haven't always gone smoothly for Harper since coming to Clemson before the 2004 season.
The Tigers had an established starter in Whitehurst, who left with scores of school records and is now with the San Diego Chargers.
When Whitehurst's eligibility ended after 2005, Harper thought he might get a chance to earn the starting job. Instead, the Tigers went with Whitehurst's backup and fifth-year senior Will Proctor.
With Proctor in control, Clemson went 7-1 and rose to No. 10 in the country. However, opponents concentrated on taking away the Tigers powerful run game and dared Proctor to complete passes. He could not do that often enough and the Tigers lost four of their final five down the stretch.
Harper thought he might get a chance to spark Clemson's attack, but didn't play a down in the final five games.
During the offseason, Harper wondered if coaches had the confidence in him to lead Clemson.
Add to the mix the apparent fascination of Clemson fans with freshman quarterback Willy Korn, who helped nearby James F. Byrnes High to two of its four consecutive state championships. Korn graduated high school in December to go through spring practice with Clemson -- and some supporters figured the newcomer would open the year under center.
Instead, Harper showed his fight and leadership, his teammates said.
"He's got a lot of mental toughness in him," said receiver Aaron Kelly, who's second in the ACC with 51 catches. "He's gone through a lot of low points and he's had to fend them off."
Things didn't stop early on this season, either. Harper had set a school record with five touchdown passes in a victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, yet one of the game's biggest ovations came when Korn entered the game with the Tigers ahead 42-14.
Harper didn't worry about it then and doesn't now.
"I think they like what they see," Harper said.
Harper matched his five-TD performance two weeks ago in a 70-14 victory over Central Michigan. He has gone 40 for 48 for 452 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception the past two games, both victories that helped the Tigers re-enter the rankings last Sunday.
"There's just not much that he's doing poorly," Bowden said.
Next up for Harper is erasing the memory of Clemson's 2004 loss at Duke, a 16-13 win that was the Blue Devils last ACC victory, when the Tigers return there Saturday.
Harper was a redshirt freshman then and remembers the awful feeling on the sidelines as Duke's win unfolded. Despite the Blue Devils' current 1-7 mark and 0-5 conference record, "we're not going to overlook anybody," Harper vowed.
Maybe people won't overlook Harper's play anymore, either. "Sure, I'd like to be getting the publicity," Harper said. "But I can't worry what people on the outside think."
NO. 25 CLEMSON (6-2, 3-2 ACC) AT DUKE (1-7, 0-5)
• When: Noon Saturday
• Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.
• TV: None
• Tickets: Available at 1-800-CLEMSON