Clemson University

Tigers peaking at the right time

CLEMSON -- When Clemson rifled through its early season schedule again this year, coach Tommy Bowden told a cautious tale.

All had appeared swell with the Tigers last season, too, but the team had focused on its record instead of improvement on a weekly basis -- what Bowden believed one of their fatal flaws.

Those words came days before No. 15 Clemson (3-2, 5-2 ACC), which jumped five spots in this week's AP poll, dubiously began putting Bowden's theory to the test.

Consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech spurred public and media scrutiny of various team facets. And each of those areas had a commendable hand in Clemson's 44-10 clubbing of Wake Forest on Saturday, providing the strongest evidence yet that Bowden might have stumbled onto something.

Suddenly, a repeat performance of what Bowden labeled the team's most complete performance yet seems a plausible expectation for next Saturday's winner-takes-all showdown with No. 18 Boston College (7:45 p.m., ESPN2).

With a berth in the ACC title game on the line, the Tigers could be proverbially peaking at the most opportune time.

"We've been a little more consistent with all three phases than we were earlier in the year," Bowden said Sunday. "Earlier in the year, we had some complete meltdowns in specific areas. It seems like we're playing consistently a little longer."

One week longer is all the Tigers need to trump the Eagles (8-2, 4-2) for the Atlantic Division crown and reach the Dec. 1 title game in Jacksonville, Fla., for a shot at their first league crown since 1991.

Clemson has rattled off four straight victories since its mini-slide, two looking slightly more impressive than at first glance.

Central Michigan is unbeaten in the MAC and has sewn up a spot in the league championship game, and Maryland rebounded from a lifeless showing against Clemson to trip up division leader Boston College on Saturday night. Even early victims Florida State and N.C. State have come to life.

Bowden suggested the turning point in the Tigers' season might well have been their second-half showing against Virginia Tech, probably otherwise perceived as meaningless success when the outcome had already been decided.

Trailing 31-8 at halftime, Clemson made things interesting by nearly pulling within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter of an eventual 41-23 loss.

"As it turned out, looking back in hindsight, might have been a critical part of this little four-game winning streak," Bowden said. "As you look back on it, that might have said a little bit. That might have spoken a little more about this team's character than at the time I realized."

"Our statistics indicate we're playing pretty consistently from week to week. Then possibly we might be playing better on a week-to-week basis."

On the other end of the spectrum, Boston College has dropped consecutive decisions to FSU and Maryland after peaking at No. 2 in the polls. The week before that, they were on the ropes at Virginia Tech before heralded quarterback Matt Ryan led a memorable late rally.

Bowden said he took little from their Maryland loss because the Eagles had nothing at stake. They also sat out three defensive starters, including standout linebacker Jolonn Dunbar, to rest nagging injuries.

"I think you'll see a little more focused team this week," Bowden said.

• EXTRA POINTS: Further evaluation determined that senior left guard Chris McDuffie sustained a hyper-extended left elbow during the Wake Forest game. He is listed as questionable. ... ESPN will take its "GameDay" set to Michigan this week. Clemson had been under consideration.

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