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Like father, like son: Bowden will take Tigers to glory

The gap between omnipotent Florida State and the rest of the ACC appears to be larger than ever.

After all, Florida State resides atop all 18,347 college football polls, and the 'Noles have finished each of the last 12 years ranked in the top four. FSU has given no indications it wants to step off that cloud either - last week the Seminoles outgunned the best Georgia Tech team in recent memory, 41-35. The evidence is there: Florida State is the immovable object, and there's no ACC force capable of moving it, right?

Au contraire.

The gap is indeed closing, and it has nothing to do with Joe Hamilton and Georgia Tech and everything to do with Tommy Bowden.

After what Tiger fans would not-so-affectionately term "the lost years," more specifically the Tommy West years, wholesale changes were needed. So West "bowed out" under pressure and Bowden rolled in, fresh with a five-year contract, a playbook straight out of the Library of Congress and a mandate from the entire state of South Carolina to "turn the thing around."

It's not going to take that long.

Take one look at the Tiger roster and most everyone would agree that it won't take five years to return the proud Clemson program back to prominence - it would take 25.

But what Bowden does better than any other coach today is maximize the talent he has, which right now isn't much. Upon examining the leftovers stowed away in the back of the refrigerator, here's what he found: A young, diminutive offensive line, a much-maligned signal caller whose lack of athleticism makes Dan Ellis look like Jesse Owens and a trio of absolute burners at wide receiver.

So Bowden took 102 years of unbending smashmouth tradition and promptly torched it. He then implemented a no-huddle, multiple-formation offense that would blend the scattered talents of his rag-tag bunch into something that vaguely resembled a football team.

Miraculously, it worked. Unfortunately, Virginia stumbled upon the genius of Tommy Bowden firsthand last Saturday.

With the freedom to make decisions in the new scheme, Brandon Streeter looked like a new man. The Tiger offensive line, with two starters at a miniscule 260 pounds, utilized their mobility to ensure that Streeter would survive the game.

And when that horn sounded, Bowden had won over an entire state and conquered a battered Virginia squad by wearing the defense thin, 33-14.

With a week to reflect on possibly the biggest win of his 24-game head coaching career, Bowden has heard the naysayers: It was a flash in the pan, just one of 12 games and never again will Streeter even remotely approach the 343 passing yards he amassed last weekend.

If it was a fluke, then Bowden must have patented the word, for he is now making a habit out of winning games he has no right competing in.

Before arriving in Clemson, he stood at the controls of a hideous Tulane football program that was 4-18 in the previous two years. In two years at the helm, he posted 18 fluke wins against just four defeats, including an unblemished 12-0 1998 campaign.

Bowden is the reason for such success. He picked up everybody's dirty laundry and a pretty good quarterback named Shawn King and fashioned it all into an Armani suit. Now he's ready to do the same at Clemson.

Remember this: These are not even Bowden's players, they are West's - recruited by West and coached by West. Give Bowden a chance to bring in his own personnel, and when that happens, look out.

Those same two ominous words apply to the rest of the ACC and the entire nation as well: Look out!

In a few years a Bowden still will tower above the Conference. Now the question is, which one will it be?