Clemson University

ACC title just 3 'easy' steps away for Tigers

CLEMSON -- Either senior linebacker Nick Watkins has spent too many late nights watching infomercials, or Clemson's free gift can seem to good to be true.

Thanks to the fine folks at Florida State, the Tigers can neatly slice and dice their way to the program's first ACC title since 1991 if they follow the simple instructions.

Step One: Beat Wake Forest at noon Saturday.

Step Two: Defeat division-leading Boston College next week.

Step Three: Top their Coastal Division opponent in the Dec. 1 championship game in Jacksonville, Fla.

At least that's the simplistic sales pitch Watkins is delivering to friends.

"You know how you see those ads on TV, three easy payments?" Watkins said. "We've got to go to work every week so we can make our payments and get our ring, that's how I'm looking at it."

Watkins, though, is quick to qualify his loose use of the word "easy," figuring the havoc such a printed statement would wreak on coach Tommy Bowden's heart.

Despite the widely recognized fact that Wake Forest won the league title a year ago, Bowden has already gone to great lengths to stress the necessity of not overlooking the Demon Deacons -- a point players contend is hardly necessary anymore.

"They've got the trophy everybody wants," Bowden said Monday.

"The champions are coming to town Saturday. The ones that didn't fold at the end of the year are playing the ones who did fold at the end of the year."

To keep the Tigers aware their goals were still on the table despite a pair of ACC losses, Bowden had told the team in recent weeks that it remained in the same car with Boston College in the conference title race.

But now that Clemson shares the driver's seat, Bowden said he feared players prematurely putting all their eggs in next week's Boston College basket.

Junior defensive end Phillip Merling believes Bowden is merely searching for psychological ways to steer Clemson away from the dreadful performances strung together in its most recent games of significance -- from this year's losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to last year's Virginia Tech meltdown and Music City Bowl fiasco.

"Coach Bowden is just trying to keep us focused this week because in past history, this is the kind of game we've come up short in," Merling said. "He's just making sure that doesn't happen again."

Members of Clemson's secondary gathered at junior safety Michael Hamlin's house Saturday night to watch Florida State upset then-No. 2 Boston College, the result that put the Tigers back in control of their destiny.

A mild celebration ensued when the Eagles went down, freshman safety DeAndre McDaniel said, but a couple of veteran players in attendance quickly pointed out the troubles Wake Forest has caused in recent years.

The Tigers have pulled out squeakers in their last two home meetings, trumping the Demon Deacons 31-23 in 2002 and 37-30 in double overtime in 2004.

They were on the verge of losing their third straight road game in the series last year before Gaines Adams' touchdown return of a botched field goal spurred a 24-point fourth quarter for a 27-17 victory.

"I think a lot of fans, people on the outside are going to look at this game ... thinking OK, now we have a chance," junior tailback James Davis said. "Boston College will be like a championship game when we play them. But we've got to beat Wake Forest first."

"It's still not set up for us to go. We've still got to win games."

• When: Noon Saturday

• Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

• TV: ESPN2 (cable channel 28 in Rock Hill)

• Tickets: Available at 1-800-CLEMSON