College Sports

Tigers' bowl destination up in the air

Clemson players mob place kicker Mark Buchholz (top) to celebrate his game-winning kick against South Carolina.
Clemson players mob place kicker Mark Buchholz (top) to celebrate his game-winning kick against South Carolina.

CLEMSON -- While exiting his post-game news conference Saturday night, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden was asked whether he had spoken with Baylor regarding its coaching vacancy.

In self-deprecating fashion, Bowden referenced an online poll in the Waco Tribune-Herald inviting readers to rank their five speculative candidates for the job.

As of Sunday, Bowden -- whose only tie to the position is Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw hired him at Tulane -- rated second behind alumnus Mike Singletary. Singletary has already declined the job.

"I was first in that poll," Bowden joked. "But the (votes) were from the 864 and 803 area codes, that was the problem."

The 803 code might still be his strongest constituency, but for a different reason than Bowden's implication.

Saturday's dramatic 23-21 victory at USC improved Bowden's record to 7-2 in the rivalry and handed Clemson its ninth series win in Columbia in the last 10 tries.

The Tigers (9-3) vaulted six spots to No. 16 in this week's poll and ended the regular season on a feel-good note as they await the answer to two remaining questions:

Where do they go for the bowl game? And arguably more importantly, what comes out of invariable discussions about Bowden's contract between Clemson's ninth-year coach and athletics director Terry Don Phillips?

The team's bowl destination will likely not be concrete until after Saturday's 1 p.m. ACC championship game between Boston College and Virginia Tech.

The Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl gets first dibs on the non-BCS leftovers and will be left to choose between the title game loser, Clemson and Virginia.

The Tigers stand a favorable chance of being selected regardless of the championship outcome. Virginia Tech would be coming off a loss and went to Atlanta last year, while the bowl has traditionally selected teams with strong fan followings -- a major strike against Boston College.

If Tennessee loses the SEC title game, the Vols are believed in danger of tumbling to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where they could be paired against Clemson in a rematch of the 2004 Peach Bowl.

Should the Tigers be bypassed by the Chick-fil-A Bowl, they would appear attractive for the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett reiterated Sunday his bowl would not be taking the ACC title game loser, leaving Clemson and Virginia as its options. Bowl officials coveted a Clemson-Texas game last year and could get their wish a year later, depending on whether the BCS takes two Big 12 teams.

"What the Chick-fil-A Bowl does will predicate what we do," Catlett said.

If Kansas is chosen as an at-large BCS team, the Gator Bowl would be fourth in line for remaining conference schools and would figure to have Texas and Texas Tech at its disposal. If just one Big 12 school reaches the BCS, the Gator Bowl would own the next pick.

By the time Clemson reaches its holiday destination, Phillips hopes Bowden's future is off the table as an immediate issue.

There have been no indications either side is looking to part ways, especially considering one would owe the other $2.5 million if Bowden was fired or left on his own accord before December 2008.

Bowden has three years remaining on his contract, a short period by industry standards. Opposing recruiters typically point to any term under four years as a sign of that coach's tenuous job security.

Yet, whether Bowden nets a contract extension is almost irrelevant if the terms of Bowden's buyout are not renegotiated.

His buyout clause dips from $2.5 million to $500,000 after next season, so his future would be no more stable if only years and a raise were tacked on to his current deal.

Bowden makes $1.202 million in annual compensation and is the ACC's sixth highest-paid coach behind Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, UNC's Butch Davis, Virginia's Al Groh, Maryland's Ralph Friedgen and Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

Phillips declined to tip his hand after Saturday night's triumph, merely complimenting Clemson's coaching staff while maintaining he and Bowden would have their annual evaluation of the program before the bowl game.

"We are going to stick to our protocol," Phillips said.