CLEMSON — Sure, a Tommy Bowden move to Arkansas for a Hogs ransom would have been interesting. Maybe a sudden departure would have triggered a juicy, long successor search and allowed interim head coach Brad Scott to become the first human to lead both Clemson and South Carolina to bowl victories.

But probably just as well this way, even if Bowden on Thursday had to pose for photos alongside someone dressed up as a cow.

Bowden's Tigers — and a new contract agreement reached after his flirtation with Arkansas certainly strengthens the ownership stake — seem poised to take full advantage of their Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl clash with Auburn at Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Among the reasons there were smiles throughout the Tigers' official Chick-fil-A Bowl invitation acceptance ceremony:

--Next year: At 9-3, No. 15 Clemson will have all of its skill-position players and 10 of 12 starters on defense back for 2008, barring NFL draft or other unexpected defections.

"Knowing what kind of team we have coming back, I was shocked at the news (of Bowden's talks with Arkansas)," junior wide receiver Aaron Kelly said.

So were tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller.

"I was talking to C.J. on Monday night," Davis said. "We both thought, 'Is he really going to go to a place like Arkansas with the talent we've got?'"

Big 10

--Recruiting impact: "That's a big factor," Bowden said. "When I go in a guy's home, he isn't interested in how much money I make. He's interested in whether I'm going to be there."

The 10-win goal. Clemson is aiming for its first 10-win season since 1990. The 12-game regular season schedule did not begin until 2006 and surely with one more riff-raff opponent the 1993, 2000 and 2003 teams would have won 10 games.

But 10 wins this time will mean a run at the final Top 10.

--Exposure: Holiday media coverage in the recruiting-rich Atlanta area comes in handy, probably more for future recruiting classes than the current group; Clemson's commitment list is more than halfway complete.

Tigers from Atlanta or its suburbs include Davis, Kelly and quarterback Cullen Harper.

2008 plans

--More practices: Though Bowden stressed a focus on Auburn, Clemson will start tinkering with its 2008 offensive line in the next few weeks. Sophomore center Thomas Austin, the lone starter due back, likely will be joined next season by a group including sophomores Barry Humphries and Cory Lambert, freshman Chris Hairston, junior Bobby Hutchinson, incoming bluechip recruit A.J. Harmon and perhaps a converted defensive lineman.

They better be ready. Clemson might open the 2008 season with a showcase Atlantic Coast Conference game and finish against the best front seven South Carolina has had in many years.

--Chick-fil-A sponsorship: On the whole, Clemson would rather be the ACC champion playing in Miami. As players walk into the McFadden Building for meetings and video study, they cross an Orange Bowl carpet that says, "The road to glory is paved with oranges."

But the Chick-fil-A Bowl is a first-class operation lobbying hard for BCS status.

A streak of 11 straight sellouts, an unopposed primetime TV slot on ESPN and a $3.3 million payout for Clemson means the Peach Bowl by another name is even sweeter.

"Our brand," Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said Thursday in Clemson, "is much more than a five-letter word that's a fruit."

Fruitful, nonetheless, for the Tigers.

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