This is it. The ACC opener. Syracuse has been part of the ACC since July 1, but this game against Clemson makes it a real, tangible thing. Obviously the Orange are a longshot against the nation's third-ranked team, but is a miracle even remotely possible?
As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below...
What part of being in the ACC has surprised you the most so far?
The Invisible Swordsman: That the comments sections for SU basketball stories have yet to outnumber those from football... let's keep this up!!!
Andrew Pregler: I think the most surprising aspect has been just how much things have stayed the same. What I mean is that Syracuse has looked awful and brilliant. The rest of the ACC has as well however unlike Syracuse, no team has embodied both so well. It's going to be a fun conference slate and I'm nearly 100% sure the Orange will defeat someone they shouldn't while losing to someone they shouldn't...much like our seasons in the Big East.
Matt McClusky: Not a whole lot, really. As I've written before, I think the "ACC" feeling will really sink in once the conference slate starts. Fittingly enough, that all begins Saturday afternoon. But other than the lack of nooners, the only surprise so far may be seeing how teams like Clemson, Florida State, and maybe even Miami, are playing themselves into the national conversation. Something that is much easier to do in the ACC than in the Big East/AAC. But check back in with me come December.
Dan Lyons: It's hard to really say without having played any games in the league yet or having gone to a road football or basketball game -- I think that will be the true test of how much different the league culture is than what we're accustomed to -- so right now most of the difference that I've experienced has been online. It's probably an obvious point to make, but ACC fans are so much more into their sports than our old Big East friends, and it has shown in the comments on our posts here and the boards elsewhere on the web, and for the most part, people have been pretty cool. Clemson fans have been the most active, and seeing them come around to ask about the area and what things they should see/do in CNY is pretty cool, and it's great that the days of seeing the 12 USF fans in the corner of the Dome is over. I don't want to see people take over are stadium,and I'm sure that won't be a huge problem going forward, but being around other passionate, intense, but ultimately friendly and welcoming fanbases is a great feeling, especially for those of us who try to see as many games on the road as possible.
Jared Smith: How excited it makes me to watch better football. Oddly, I find myself on Saturday's actively searching out conference games wanting to watch them because I know they're noting going to be completely awful. I really like that aspect of joining the ACC.
Sean Keeley: Realizing that I have a vested interest in things like Duke football.
John Cassillo: How quickly our fan base has been able to get into the swing of things. The opposition finds us to be aggravating and cocky, but on the bright side, they actually interact with us. As Dan said, this is great to see the TNIAAM faithful actively engaged with other fans, and I'm looking forward to more of it as the season wears on.
Is Clemson the best opponent to visit the Carrier Dome in over a decade?
TIS: Absolutely. Clemson isn't just a great opponent, but brings to the Dome a big-school atmosphere that we haven't seen since Miami was in the Big East Conference way back when. In the games I have seen, they possess great talent on either side of the ball. Tajh Boyd is the real deal at quarterback... kind of like Geno Smith, but actually good. It will possess a tremendous challenge for Syracuse. One that I think we'll rise up to meet on Saturday.
AP: Yes. I can't speak about the Nebraska game (although my dad does since he's been a Huskers fan since birth) but this Clemson team features two NFL playmakers in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Those two alone will give Syracuse fits. Vic Beasley is a good force along the defensive line for the Tigers. I don't think Clemson wins the National Title, but this is a Tigers team that is not overrated.
MM: Good question, John! Love this one because it gets you thinking about the "glory" days of the Big East, the Gino Torrettas, the Warren Sapps, the Michael Vicks...what's that? I'm thinking of memories of mostly the 90's? Yeah, you're right. So looking at just the last 10 years, there's been some decent West Virginia teams, remember that Penn State blow out in '08? Um. Well, at least in terms of potential, I think the Tigers could easily play their way to the BCS title game, and play makers, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins (when healthy) are just flat-out fun to watch. Clemson may eventually fold, as it usually does come October and November, but as of right now, I guess this team represents the best opponent to step inside the Teflon of Doom for some time.
DL: In my six years of Syracuse fandom, I'd say definitely, and I can't imagine any of the teams that G-Rob faced before I came to SU were any tougher. The highest ranked team that I've seen in the Dome was a fourth or fifth ranked Cincinnati squad in 2009, and while that was a very good team, it wasn't nearly the caliber of team that Clemson is, who has a legitimate chance to make the BCS championship if they avoid Cle...err...any hiccups this season.
JS: This team has a legit shot at winning a National Championship -- of course, unless they lose Saturday at the Carrier Dome! -- so I will say yes. You could argue the 2003 showdown between Syracuse and No. 4 Virginia Tech was as big, but that Hokie team ended up being a disappointment finishing the season 8-5. This Clemson team could be playing for a national crown by season's end, and in the last 10 years, I don't remember a team like that visiting the Carrier Dome.
SK: Time will tell, as GERG would say, but I think they might. I think Cincy was ranked higher a few years back but I think it's fair to say this Clemson team looks better than that. These guys might just be on par with the old Miami squads and Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech teams that did so much damage back in the day. The good news is, the best team to ever visit the Dome left in defeat. Hi Nebraska!
JC: That they are. So show up, Syracuse fans! Win or lose, this is the start of a new era for this program. We'll be hosting top 10 programs almost annually. If we want things to go better in said games, time to recruit better players, draw more fans and be a more consistent all-around team.
What new wrinkles might we expect in the offense for week 2 (or 3-ish) of the Terrel Hunt experience?
TIS: Unlike Wagner and Tulane, where SU had a physical advantage, Clemson possesses the combination of good size and excellent speed. Hunt will have to deal with a lot more pressure from the front seven, so I would imagine the wrinkles introduced will attempt to limit Clemson's strengths. I would look for SU to mix up the tempo of the offense as well as implement more plays designed to keep Clemson off balance.
AP: I think we're going to see a lot more plays that allow Hunt to sit back in the pocket and run if nothing opens up. Lots of deep routes or wideout routes to one side of the field that allow Hunt to rear back and gun it if Clemson plays a zone or for Hunt to run the ball if the Tigers sit back. I think Hunt is more of a McNabb comp in that both are mobile and run well to keep the defense honest, not necessarily in a read option situation. Basically, Clemson will put up points. SU will have to match.
MM: Here's hoping the kitchen sink. George McDonald and Scott Shafer had to have held back against Wagner, and even though Tulane, on paper, looked like a possibly tough opponent, I'm betting the two of them vanilla'd it up two weeks ago. So, with an extra week of prep, and a couple of get-your-feet-wet games for Hunt, I'm betting we'll see more read-options, or five-wide, or even a couple of flea-flicker style plays on Saturday. I mean, why the hell not? Clemson is going to score, a lot, and the fans are going to get antsy quick. If Hunt is the man, and he looks it, why not get creative to exploit him?
DL: I think we may see a bit more from the running game, whether it's designed runs for Terrel or more multiple back sets, stuff like that. I think Jerome will really become a focus this week. We've said it a ton this season, and while he hasn't had a huge breakout game yet, he's still running well. I think this may be the game where he gets the lion's share of the carries because he is the guy best equipped to grind out yards and "shorten the game", which is something we know Scott Shafer believes in.
JS: Hopefully, a few more big plays because that's what going to be needed to have a chance to beat Clemson. I have a feeling Hunt is going to need to use his legs more because the pass rush is going to be better than the past few weeks.
SK: I have this sneaking suspicion we're going to see a bit more trickery out of the Orange. Hunt stretches the field in all directions so there more chances to use that athleticism. Plus, having Ashton Broyld around makes things interesting. How bout a Broyld halfback-pass to Hunt for a TD? That's something I'm kinda expecting to see at some point.
JC: Tempted to opt for "trickeration," but i have more humble goals for this offense. Ashton Broyld's only teased out his abilities as a main cog of this offense, so watch for that. He'll also get involved in setting up the running game, which will be critical to SU's success this Saturday.
Other than Hunt, who needs to step up for Syracuse to have a shot against Clemson?
TIS: The fans. Look, I have been watching Syracuse play in the Dome since it opened in 1980, and witnessed iconic wins against Nebraska, Penn State, Florida, Virginia Tech, Miami, Louisville, etc. When The Dome starts getting loud, it is an extremely difficult place to play, even for college football's elite. You can make an argument that we don't match up on paper and I wouldn't fight with you on the point. But you can offset the gap on paper with the unique kind of energy that The Dome can provide the team. We need that energy fans, so make it happen!
AP: Jeremiah Kobena. SU will need someone to consistently stretch the defense vertically and ensure that Clemson doesn't play man all day while stacking the box. We've seen Kobena have some nice flashes and a one-two punch of Kobena and Clark spreading things out for Hunt will allow the Orange's offense to be much more aggressive.
MM: The secondary! Really, you could pick any unit on either side of the ball, along with special teams, but the Orange secondary is going to be TESTED against Boyd. They'll have to allow for some cover sacks, maybe even get in on some blitz packages, and, without a doubt, create at least one or two turnovers, just to give Syracuse a shot. Clemson receivers can't be running free through the middle of the field, and should someone break through the front seven, the secondary better be prepared to make some solo tackles.
DL: The secondary is going to need to have a day, especially if there's a chance Brandon Reddish doesn't play. I think the Syracuse defense is going to be very aggressive in applying pressure on Boyd, but that can backfire if the corners aren't ready to stick on the uber-talented Clemson receivers.
JS: Ri'Shard Anderson, Keon Lyn or Brandon Reddish, if he plays. Look, Syracuse stands NO CHANCE if the secondary continues to struggle. This Clemson team will tear them a part. The only shot the Orange have is if the secondary plays well and makes a few big plays. That, or, the Syracuse offense scores 60 points on the Clemson defense. Sadly, I don't see either thing happening.
SK: Everyone. More specific than that, I think both the offensive and defensive lines might just have to play the games of their lives. They're both going up against superior athletes and if they can win some of those battles, it could change the entire outlook of the game.
JC: The secondary. Clemson's passing offense is among the best in the country, so our defensive backs will certainly have their hands full. Whether Brandon Reddish is injured or not, expect Julian Whigham to find his way into this game pretty regularly, too. He's a ballhawk, and his skillset will come in handy as SU tries to turn the tide of this game with turnovers.
What does Clemson have to worry about when it comes to the Orange?
TIS: I mentioned the crowd earlier, so I'll offer up the obvious one... Terrel Hunt. I've been so impressed by his ability to find the open receiver, and if Clemson fails to get pressure on him early, I can see him putting enough points on the board to keep Syracuse in range for a surprise victory.
AP: Syracuse with Scott Shafer has had a nice history of really rattling star quarterbacks (cough GENO SMITH cough) thanks to an aggressive package of zone blitzes. The Orange can't just sit back and force Tajh Boyd to make plays: Boyd will carve up the secondary. Shafer has had a bye week (much like WVU in 2011) to come up with a game's worth of blitz packages and I really like that matchup.
MM: The Hunt Experience. The kid hasn't had much go wrong the last couple of games. How much of that is because of the level of opponent and how much of that is God given talent? Clemson will find out quickly on Saturday. I think we all assume that Hunt will regress a little here and there as he grows as a quarterback. And I think we all know Wagner and Tulane are horrible. But what if Hunt is a next level quarterback who is coming into his own? Donovan McNabb had a lot of growing pains, but he introduced himself to the national scene in game one at North Carolina many years ago. Maybe this game is destined to be the time we all KNEW Terrel Hunt was something special.
DL: As I said above, I think the run game is going to be key, and if they can't stop Jerome Smith from piling on yards, they might not get the ball as much as they would like. Terrel Hunt is also still a concern for both teams, as he is very much an unproven commodity. He's looked great against the mediocre teams that he's played in the last two games, if that's the real Terrel Hunt, we're in for a shootout. If not... well...
JS: If the Syracuse running game begins to roll then everything else on offense can fall into place. The Orange are still a running team, which makes its big plays through the air. If Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley can get going, pick up a few early first downs and set up some play action passes, I like our chances of staying in this thing.
SK: Scott Shafer's affinity to not only beating, but beating up, highly-ranked opponents who looked ahead or expected a cakewalk.
JC: Linebackers. Cameron Lynch, Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis are exasperating matchups, and should serve to aggravate Clemson as well. Roaming free for the most part, they'll play their typical high risk/high reward style that could end up swinging the tide of this game.
Does Syracuse honestly have a chance of pulling off the biggest upset of the season this Saturday?
TIS: Yes. I think Syracuse has the ability to move the ball against Clemson's defense. We need to establish a lead early, get the crowd into the game, and use our 12th man to will the Orange on to a legendary win. Make no mistake, the Tigers are as good as advertised... but it's 0-0, and the Dome has produced some wildly unexpected results in the past.
AP: Yes. There's always a chance. Last year, Louisville owned almost every opponent and dominated the Sugar Bowl. A 45-36 lost setup the Cardinals for a weak finish and saw the Orange play terrific on both offense and defense. I think the Orange make a game of it for the first half. The difference between winning and falling apart after the half will be early splash plays to get the Dome loud. A pick six or deep ball or both would hope swing the momentum pendulum in the Orange's favor for the rest of the game.
MM: In a word: no. But what the hell do I know? If you're an Orange fan, just hope Syracuse keeps it close through the first three quarters. If this game is tight in the fourth, with a loud and rowdy crowd in a cramped and hot Dome, Clemson could easily fold. It could happen. But in my heart of hearts, I just don't see it.
DL: They definitely have a chance. There's something to an electrifying Dome crowd and a team that feels slighted taking the field against kids who don't even know where Syracuse is. The last time I remember a player openly discussing his ignorance about the SU team was a lineman on West Virginia a few years ago. After the last three years, it doesn't play as well. I'm in no way expecting or betting my weekend on a Syracuse win, but far stranger things have happened in college football.
JS: There's a chance, but its like Jim Carrey, "you're telling me there's a chance" chance. The Orange have confidence, which is good, and could possible hang with the Clemson team, but we saw how quickly things can get out of hand against good teams like Northwestern. I am would be amazed if this team improved THAT much over the past few weeks.
SK: Of course. Much stranger things have happened in the world of college football. Plus, you've got two teams with recent reputations for winning and/or losing when they're not supposed to. Throw in what will be one of the best Dome crowds in year (fingers crossed) and some Scott Shafer magic (fingers double crossed) and it's entirely possible.
JC: Can they? Sure. Will they? No. For as much as the Dome's been home to many upsets, I just don't see it this time around. Clemson's just too good on offense, and the underrated defense is set to do some damage. Consider SU lucky if they can keep things close for a half or so. No shame in losing this game, though.