The Syracuse Orange football season is getting closer! (It's 56 days away, for those keeping track) And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at SU. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 Orange schedule, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
School: Clemson University
#BRAND Slogan: "Hear Us Roar"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "DISRESPECK." "F&$K YOU, DABO."
TNIAAM Shakin the Southland
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 8th year. There's plenty to criticize with Dabo from our end, but.. overall, you have to admit he's done a pretty impressive job at the school which has typically failed to string together this much consistent success. Recruiting over the last five years is l4th-best in the country -- again, pretty amazing considering the schools they're mixing it up with each and every time. A ton of that is due to some phenomenal skill/luck hiring assistants. With one of his best (Chad Morris) off to new opportunities in 2015, we'll see if he can hit the nail on the head yet again.
2014 Record: (10-3) (6-2)
Recapping Last Season:
Minus a ton of weapons on the offensive end, expectations at Clemson were largely hinging on a dominant defense last season. And it certainly delivered, carrying an injury-riddled group on the other side of the football. Those fireworks everyone was used to from Morris's attack were completely gone, instead replaced by the fireworks of a lethal pass-rush. Brent Venables has worked wonders since taking over right after the Tigers' disastrous Orange Bowl experience a few years back. And 2014 was the exclamation point on the project he's undertaken.
After ranking 71st in total defense in 2011, Venables' group has managed to jump a full 70 spots in just three seasons, as the Tigers finished first overall during the 2014 season. Their yards per game (260.8) and yards per play (4.03), respectively, were far and away the best figures in the nation. And they were fifth in run defense, second in pass defense and third in scoring defense. This unit excelled at a level that's tough to duplicate, and it was all thanks to some elite recruiting on that side of the ball. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony were just a few of those names that turned in career years to make it all possible and launch themselves off to the pros.
Offensively, things were stunningly weak at times, given Morris's propensity for high-scoring attacks. But an injury to clear starter Deshaun Watson left the QB position vulnerable, as backup Cole Stoudt failed to really impress in his extended duties under center. Stoudt, the senior last year, managed just 1,892 yards, nine TDs and 10 picks in 302 attempts. Watson, a freshman, would tally 1,466 yards, 14 scores and just two picks in only 137 throws. Neither was helped by a struggling run game (ranked 91st in the country in yards per game), nor was the team truly able to establish the deep receiving threat that had made the O so formidable in years' past. Consistency lacked all around, and execution paid the price.
History with Syracuse: The teams have only faced off three times, with Syracuse winning the Gator Bowl by a score of 41-0 in 1996, followed by two straight losses to the Tigers since joining the ACC. We've got this weird dislike thing going too, as I probably don't need to point out to you. Between "Jim in South Carolina" writing Bud Polquin (and Sean, and myself) about the "DISRESPECK" he feels Orange fans pay to Clemson, the aforementioned "EFF YOU DABO" moment and #Number10Gate, among numerous other offenses... well, you could see why this one's gotten sort of heated on the internet.
2015 Season Outlook:
Clemson was very good last year, as you probably noticed above. But there is the slight possibility they take a small step back in 2015. The team must replace as many as 16 starters, depending on who you ask, including nearly all of 2014's highly dominant defensive unit. They lose a boatload of overall tackles from the front-seven in particular, which will not be easy to replace despite some quality depth there, but... this is why you recruit. But the Tigers' schedule also does them no favors, with Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State all on the docket on or before November 7. Ouch.
The offense, despite Morris's departure, may actually recover quite nicely, so long as Watson (one of seven Heisman hopefuls SU faces in '15) can stay healthy. Syracuse did not have to play victim to the dynamic QB's skills last year, but those that did last year did not fare well at all. With a very experienced group of receivers returning, along with a full stable of running backs too, the team's refresh at offensive line may not matter as much as opponents would hope. Watson should be able to lean on his backfield-mates more this fall, and that means heftier doses of players like Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice than we saw last year. Artavis Scott and Mike Williams could terrify on the outside again -- both wideouts combined for 133 catches last year.
Defensively, the rebuild looks daunting, but it's doable. Shaq Lawson and D.J. Reader are both veterans, and can help bridge the gap after the Tigers lost six of its top seven players along the front. At linebacker, star Ben Boulware has a shot to do some real damage as he takes over as the leader of that unit (grabbing the reins from the departed Anthony). In the secondary is where they're truly scary, though, with Jayron Kearse, Travis Blanks and Mackensie Alexander all healthy and ready to cash in on the hype each brought with them to campus. So while the other position groups find ways to replace all the tackle numbers they lost, this one keeps most of theirs (and the turnovers too) intact.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 14
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 7 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Maybe at a different spot on the schedule, the home date against Clemson doesn't loom as daunting for Syracuse. But at the end of a brutal three-game stretch (at Florida State and Louisville, respectively, leading up to this Saturday), it's a tall order for SU to pull an upset -- regardless of what happens in the preceding games. As mentioned, 'Cuse avoided Watson the last time around, and now they get him on turf. The Tigers are likely to replicate their last trip to the Carrier Dome, utilizing speed on the outside to grab an early lead and keep it. Maybe SU hangs around for a little while, but this just doesn't look a great matchup for a team that may be pretty tired out by this juncture in the season. At least we'll enjoy hating on them incessantly in the week leading up?