GREENSBORO, GA. — To 78-year-old Bobby Bowden, it seems like just yesterday that he offered his son some choice advice at midfield after their second meeting.
Florida State had just hung a 54-7 shellacking on Tommy Bowden's Tigers in 2000, and Bobby Bowden told his son to go do some recruiting.
Tommy Bowden gradually followed through on those words of wisdom, and now perhaps the father is wondering just how wise he was to utter them.
"Now he ought to come out and tell me the same thing," Bobby Bowden said Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff media function. "He's beaten me, what, three years in a row?"
Correct, sir. Four years out of five, too.
The ACC pecking order is a lot different than it used to be, and nowhere was that evidenced better Monday than in the release of the conference's preseason media poll.
For the first time since 1991 — the year before the Seminoles began pillaging the ACC — Clemson was picked to win the whole thing. And FSU, which had been forecast to win either the conference or its division from 1992 to 2007, was picked third in the Atlantic Division.
The Tigers, coming off a 9-4 season in 2007, received 59 of 65 first-place votes in their division and were named on 51 ballots to claim the conference title and earn the ACC's automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
Bobby Bowden, whose team has finished 7-6 in back-to-back years, said his son simply has more talent nowadays. The Tigers boast a wealth of skill players, including quarterback Cullen Harper, tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller, and receiver Aaron Kelly.
The Seminoles have continued to bring in highly regarded recruiting classes but haven't seen that acclaim translate to the field.
Before the son's first win over his father in 2003, FSU won 11 straight in the series. But on Nov. 8 in Tallahassee, Fla., the Tigers will go for something that seemed inconceivable just five years ago — four straight wins over once-mighty FSU.
"(Recruiting) is the name of the game," Bobby Bowden said. "Back then, I had better players than him. Now, he's got better players."
Everyone else seems to agree. Second-place Wake Forest received just five first-place votes in the Atlantic and was picked second. FSU had just one vote to finish first.
The Tigers were three spots ahead of fourth-place Boston College, a team that has beaten them the past three years. And Clemson was picked to defeat Virginia Tech in the conference championship game despite the Hokies' convincing wins over the Tigers the past two years.
"Clemson's got more talent than anybody in the conference by far, top to bottom," said second-year Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, whose team will meet the Tigers on Nov. 1 in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "They're going to be the team you have to beat. They're going to win a bunch this year."
Maryland was picked fifth in the Atlantic, followed by North Carolina State. North Carolina was behind Virginia Tech in the Coastal, followed by Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke.
Tommy Bowden, who in his 10th season will try to guide Clemson to its first conference title since 1991, maintains that the lofty expectations might be a little overblown because of the Tigers' youth and inexperience on the offensive line.
Another unknown is how his players handle the unprecedented distinction of being the team to beat. The Tigers haven't posted a 10-win season since 1990, and yet they're supposed to do at least that this season. They've finished in the Top 25 just five times in the past 16 years and twice in the last seven years.
And yet they're considered a good bet to start in the Top 10, a place they haven't finished in 18 years.
"A lot of it is going to be how the players respond to it," Tommy Bowden said. "It's a position Clemson is not used to being in. Everybody likes to take a shot at the top guy."
Harper, considered the top quarterback in the ACC after breaking numerous school records last season, said his team needs to seize a moment that doesn't come around often.
"If we don't make it to the ACC championship, we'll let some people down and we'll let ourselves down," he said. "Expectations are high, as they should be."
Having gone through his own series of failures before winning his first national title in 1993, Bobby Bowden can understand how his son his felt the past three years. The Tigers have beaten the Seminoles but fallen just short of winning the division title, including last year's bitter disappointment of losing by three points to Boston College at home in the final conference game of the season.
"It'd be great if he could get over the hump this year," Bobby Bowden said. "But it might not happen. Next year could be the year.
"But at least he's got a chance."
2008 ACC Football preseason media poll (first-place votes in parentheses)
1. Clemson (59)
2. Wake Forest (5)
3. Florida State (1)
4. Boston College
6. N.C. State
1. Virginia Tech (58)
2. North Carolina (4)
3. Miami (1)
4. Georgia Tech (1)
5. Virginia (1)
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