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Clemson daring to dream where 8-0 might go

October Saturdays in Clemson don't get much better than this one.

There was Danny Ford back on the Memorial Stadium sideline, waiting to be escorted onto the field to dot the I in the marching band's Tigers script to celebrate Clemson's 1981 national championship team.

There was North Carolina on the other side, contributing six turnovers to fuel the Tigers' 59-38 victory on a perfect-for-football afternoon.

And there was the thrill of an 8-0 start adding spice to the tailgate parties and conversations around this college town where imaginations are now entering Spielberg territory.

It's been 11 years since Clemson started 8-0 and, although that season ended with a 9-3 record, there's reason to wonder if this one is just getting started. The Tigers aren't perfect -- their record is, but they have plenty of questions on defense -- but football isn't a game of perfect.

It's about winning, and that's what the Tigers are doing.

They came back from 18 down last week to win at Maryland, and the Tigers allowed 38 points to a North Carolina team that gave the ball away six times. There is more than enough to keep the video sessions lively next week, but the fact remains that Clemson is two-thirds of the way to an unbeaten regular season and who knows what else.

"We're always in pursuit of that perfect thing," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "We're not going to change that, but if you're not careful you get so attached to that right after a game, you forget the joy of victory. It steals it away."

Steele was talking about the got-away-with one perception after the Maryland game and questions that will continue this week about the Tigers' defense, especially with the challenge of slowing Georgia Tech's yardage-chewing offense next Saturday in Atlanta.

However, there aren't many teams in any league that wouldn't trade places with the Tigers right now.

That's not to say the Tigers are going to go undefeated and win the national title.

Even if they were to get through the ACC championship unbeaten, there's a good chance it wouldn't be enough because of all that would have to happen to the unbeaten teams ranked ahead of them. But it's getting to the point where the possibilities are impossible to ignore.

Besides, what's the fun of being 8-0 if you can't think about being 9-0, 10-0 and beyond? Guys don't buy Ferraris because they dream of driving them to the grocery store. They buy them for the thrill.

In gashing the mistake-prone Tar Heels on Saturday, Clemson raised the thrill level. The Tigers are playing offense with the expectation of scoring rather than with the hope of it. The leap into the modern age of offensive football with the hiring of coordinator Chad Morris, the development of quarterback Tajh Boyd and the arrival of the sensational Sammy Watkins has made the Tigers as entertaining as they are explosive.

If the Tigers keep putting 50 points on the board, they can dare any opponent to outscore them and take their chances.

The Georgia Tech game is an enormous challenge given the Yellow Jackets' different offensive style. Beyond that, dangerous games at home against resurgent Wake Forest and at N.C. State remain before the annual grudge match with South Carolina. It's not getting easier.

"We don't think we're unbeatable," Watkins said. "Anybody can beat us."

Prior to the second half kickoff, the Tigers walked through a line of players who were on the 1981 national championship team. On Friday night, Jeff Davis and Perry Tuttle, among others, talked about their experience and related it to this Clemson team.

Thirty years ago, the Tigers barely beat Wofford in the opener, kept winning, picked up an enormous win against North Carolina and rolled from there into an unexpected national championship. This team struggled to beat Wofford in the opener and now finds itself in the top 10 and unbeaten.

"We can't forget what got us here," senior offensive tackle Landon Walker said.

And now it's hard not to think of where the Tigers could go.

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