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Posted Tuesday, October 17 at 7:10 PM

James Davis Tigers bringing big game atmosphere back to Death Valley
by The Associated Press

CLEMSON, S.C. - It took nearly eight seasons, but Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is finally glad he's brought excitement along with ESPN's College GameDay to Death Valley.

When the 12th-ranked Tigers (6-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) take on No. 13 Georgia Tech (5-1, 3-0) this Saturday night, it will be the first time two top 15 teams have matched up at Memorial Stadium since 1992 when No. 5 Florida State defeated No. 15 Clemson, 24-20.

``That's obviously why you take this job,'' Bowden said Tuesday. ``Hopefully, this won't be a once in every eight years occurrence.''

There were some who wondered if Bowden's Tigers would ever be in this position. Clemson ran out to an 8-0 start in 2000 with dual threat quarterback Woodrow Dantzler. The program hasn't come close to that mark until this season.

The attraction of the ACC's two highest ranked teams was enough to entice ESPN to bring its signature college football show to campus. Bowden thinks that shows the Tigers are a team on the rise.

``This is not a heavily populated area,'' he said. ``For them to make this kind of commitment reflects well on the program.''

The stakes are as high as could be. Should Clemson win its sixth straight game this season, it would remain on track to win the ACC's Atlantic Division and reach the league's title game in Jacksonville, Fla., come December.

A loss would send the Tigers back to the middle of the pack and again brand them a group that fails to live up to expectations.

``We know this is important,'' Clemson tailback James Davis said.

Right tackle Marion Dukes has heard from friends and classmates pumped up for the weekend. If the Tigers feel the same, though, it could lead to problems come Saturday, Dukes said.

``If we go out with our heads too blown up, they could get popped real easy,'' Dukes said.

That has happened to the team's championship goals before.

In 2004, the Tigers came in off a 9-4 season that included landmark victories over top-10 teams Florida State and Tennessee. The hype among fans was intense throughout the offseason, but Clemson began 1-4 and needed a late rally simply to finish with a winning record.

Expectations were again high last fall with senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and an experienced offense. And again, the Tigers stumbled early, opening 2-3 before ending 8-4.

This time, the team has methodically built its mark behind a balanced attack the Tigers join Louisville, Nebraska, Oregon and Texas A as the only Division I-A teams with at least 200 yards rushing and passing a game.

Clemson leads the country in scoring average at nearly 44 points a game. Much of that, though, has come against struggling teams like Florida Atlantic (54-6), North Carolina (52-7), Louisiana Tech (51-0) and, in the Tigers last victory, Temple (63-9).

Georgia Tech's defense is 17th in the country and its toughest against the run Clemson's specialty this season at fewer than 72 yards a game.

The excitement over this week's game is already strong around campus, Clemson center Dustin Fry said. The players appreciate it because ``you kind of feel you're on the national level, the national scale,'' he said.

But quarterback Will Proctor said the team can't allow the hoopla to overshadow its goals because one defeat sends that all by the wayside.

``A lot of the guys have put their blinders on a few weeks ago,'' Proctor said. ``Our goals from day one have been one day at a time and beyond that, one play at a time. ... We understand that if we keep winning, things keep happening for you.''

©Copyright 2006 AccessNorthGa.com / WDUN News/Talk 550.
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

Lee Hawkins-Republican for State Senate
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