GREENSBORO, Ga. — Gary Stokan, president of the Atlanta Sports Council, put it as bluntly as he could saying, "This will be the toughest ticket in Georgia Dome history."

The event, of course, is Clemson vs. Alabama, a made-for-TV season-opener in Atlanta on Aug. 30.

According to Stokan, who has seen everything from college bowl games to Super Bowls at the downtown dome, nothing in the 16-year history of that facility rivals the ticket demand for this game.

That kind of madness alone makes this a much-anticipated season for Tigers fans. But add to it the exhilaration and expectations riding on this year's Clemson club and you've got a recipe for excitement.

For the first time in Tommy Bowden's 10-year tenure, his Tigers are picked by media members here at the ACC Football Kickoff meetings at Reynolds Plantation as the preseason favorite to win their division and maybe more.

The general consensus is that Clemson is loaded with talent, which makes Bowden very proud of how far his team has come under his guidance. But undercurrent conversations imply he should also be nervous, because he's run out of excuses about why his Tigers teams often underachieve.

Now, the pressure on Bowden to win, and win big, is officially on.

Preseason pick

"I'm not accustomed to handling these questions," Bowden said with a laugh here Monday as the ACC coaches made their rounds on the golf course and the interview rooms. "My father (Bobby Bowden) is better at this (preseason accolades) kind of thing

"But I think a lot of it is going to be how the players respond to it. And I also think it will definitely elevate the competition's level of play. Everybody likes to take a shot at the top guy."

And while Clemson has a bevy of top running backs, an experienced quarterback and talented wide receivers, Bowden immediately started talking about his problem areas.

Mainly, the offensive line.

"Of the four people we lost up front, two were All-Americans," he said. "They will be replaced with younger players, maybe even freshmen. So there is some concern about that.

"I think Cullen Harper could be a better quarterback but not be as productive statistically because of the offensive line."

Worry wart

That, in case you're new to the planet, is exactly how coaches see the world. Their glass is always half full, and leaking.

So, we repeat, the Tigers are loaded.

"Sure," Bowden said. "The media and the fans love the skill guys. We've got Aaron Kelly, Jacobi Ford, Tyler Grisham, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, our tight ends, some return guys and Cullen Harper at quarterback. They're good.

"But I'd rather have a dominant defense. Because if the offensive line isn't working you can't stay on the field, and that affects your defense."

What a worry wart.

And perhaps for good reason.

Even though Bowden is in his 10th season and has a nice long contract with a big buyout, he's well aware of the obvious.

"Which is more amazing," he asked. "That I've been here 10 years without a conference championship or that I'm still here?"

Good question, coach. Something to ponder from now until the season begins.

Let's play two

Which brings us back to the Georgia Dome and that season opener with Alabama.

If you're a fan of college football, you want to see the Tigers play the Crimson Tide. It should be a classic. But you better know somebody — or have a fat wallet — if you want a ticket.

Both schools received more than 30,000 tickets, which were snapped up immediately. Guys like Gary Stokan say the secondary market, also known as scalping, will be extremely strong for this game.

"The demand was so high we could have sold out a doubleheader if these two teams would play again the next day," Stokan said.

So this inter-conference opener should be a thriller for those playing and those watching.

"I think for every 15- or 16- or 17-year-old high school kid home on a Saturday night, that's what they want to play in," Bowden said. "They want to go to school and play in that kind of game."

It helps, of course, if you win that kind of game. Something Tommy Bowden would like to do more of in his next 10 years at Clemson.

Reach Ken Burger at or (843) 937-5598.