CLEMSON — Mark Buchholz recently sported some sleek new cleats that were drawing raves from his Clemson teammates as he sat on an aluminum bench outside Clemson's locker room.

The brand was Nike. Nothing odd about that.

But the style — "Mercurial" — was stamped on the tops of both shoes. Told that mercurial means fickle, flighty, erratic and other terms kickers don't typically want their names associated with, Buchholz said he might have to try some new ones.

"I guess I've got to get rid of these," he said with a smile.

Mercurial might not be the fairest way to describe Buchholz's 2007 season, a season in which he played soccer while doing the college football thing for the first time. Yet there's no denying that Clemson's season could've been much better had he been a little better, and he seems assured that 2008 won't offer a repeat performance.

"I'm really not worried about this year," he said. "I feel really confident. I'm excited to see what this year has to offer, how good this team is going to be and how well I'll do."

Clemson has its heart set on achieving great things this season, and whether the Tigers close the deal and win their first ACC title since 1991 could end up resting on Buchholz's right foot.

"It's come down to one game with us the last two years," said Andre Powell, who oversees special teams. "Three more points in any game. Three more points could be a field goal."

The closing image of last year's painful loss to Boston College — a defeat that cost Clemson a trip to the ACC title game — was Buchholz attempting a 53-yard field goal that came up well short. It probably summed up a season in which he was asked to come on for an inordinate number of long kicks.

Buchholz's 61.1-perent clip on field goals was a bit misleading because almost half his kicks — 17 of 36 — were from beyond 40 yards. He was mostly fine on kicks from 40 yards in, making 16 of 19, but he missed 11 of the other 17.

He missed eight in losses to Georgia Tech, Boston College and Auburn. But seven of those misses came from at least 45 yards out, and three were 50 yards or longer.

"When you start kicking field goals from 40-plus yards, then the percentage goes way down," Powell said.

Buchholz has been working hard on kicks from the hash marks, perhaps his biggest weakness last season. He's addressed it by moving to the sideline and kicking from "crazy angles."

"I'll go up and down the sideline just to see how deep I can go," he said. "That's just something I mess around with, working on accuracy. I'm comfortable from the hashes. It doesn't bother me at all. … My leg feels great. I can't complain right now."

Buchholz was often stretched perilously thin last year, doubling as a standout on the soccer team. Having used up his soccer eligibility, he's now focused solely on football. And he says that could make a huge difference in keeping his leg rested and ready.

"The average soccer player runs six, seven miles a game, so I won't have that the night before a game," he said. "Or two games in the same week as a football game. So hopefully my leg will be fresher and I can just kick."

The unquestioned highlight last season for Buchholz - and perhaps the entire team - was his 35-yard field goal as time expired at South Carolina for a 23-21 victory, Clemson's ninth over the Gamecocks in the past 11 meetings.

Two weeks earlier against Wake Forest, he became the first Clemson player to make three field goals of at least 45 yards in a game.

His solid mechanics, unruffled demeanor and the 2007 experience make coach Tommy Bowden confident his kicker will be everything but mercurial this season.

"We're in pretty good shape at kicker," Bowden said.

Line update

Offensive line coach Brad Scott said redshirt freshman guard David Smith is "stinking it up right now" after returning from an extended absence with a dislocated big toe. Smith has moved from left to right guard, and Scott said he's "not anywhere close to being in the picture."

Scott said he's happy with Jamarcus Grant at left guard. Grant and Barry Humphries have created separation at the two guard positions, he said.

Bowden said freshman defensive tackle Brandon Thompson suffered a broken hand during a fight yesterday with freshman offensive lineman Matt Sanders, who apparently suffered a concussion as a result of a punch from Thompson.

"I've adjusted the fight policy," Bowden joked. "If the helmet comes off, instead of hitting them in the head, we've asked them to just choke them. That way we figured we could get him

This and that

Defensive tackle Jamie Cumbie suffered a broken hand but said it won't be a problem … Running back Rendrick Taylor returned after missing several practices while home addressing family issues … Bowden said freshman tight end Dwayne Allen will likely play this season … Defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson had successful surgery to repair a torn quad tendon, according to a Clemson release.