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Syracuse football 2018 opponent preview: Clemson Tigers

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2Syracuse2Clemson: “This time, it’s personal.”

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Sure the Syracuse Orange’s football season doesn’t kick off until August 31. But that’s not going to stop us from discussing SU’s 2018 opponents.

The Orange face yet another challenging schedule this year (and odds say we’re looking at 4.5 wins). So it’s not going to be easy, even with an improved and/or healthier team. Still, we’re looking at the positives wherever possible. Today’s foe:

Clemson Tigers

School: Clemson University

Mascot: Tigers

#BRAND Slogan: #ALLIN

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “The team that was upset by Syracuse last year” or “Most of the first round of next year’s NFL Draft

Recommended Blog: Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician Shakin the Southland

Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference

NCAA Football: Clemson Spring Game Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Dabo Swinney, 11th (10 and a half) season. Dabo played wideout at Alabama from 1990-92, then jumped right into coaching as a grad assistant for the Crimson Tide in 1993. He served on Bama’s staff until 2000, when he worked for AIG Baker Real Estate. Swinney got back into coaching in 2003 at Clemson, then earned the interim head coach gig in 2008 after Tommy Bowden resigned. He got them to the Gator Bowl and that was enough for the full-time gig. Since then, the Tigers have made a bowl every year, had seven straight seasons of 10 or more wins, took home four ACC titles and one national championship. He also coins slogans while being a classy guy, resident “cool dad” and purveyor of the “NOBODY BELIEVES IN US” narrative, even while his team is ranked No. 1.

2017 Record: (12-2) (7-1)

Recapping Last Season:

Clemson started the season a method 6-0, squeaking by Auburn, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, but overall, looking the part of defending national champs. That all came to a screeching halt when the No. 2 Tigers showed up to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse. As you well know, the Orange knocked off Clemson in one of the best upsets of the 2017 season (no, I don’t want to hear about Kelly Bryant’s injury). The Tigers won another six straight after that before being crushed by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The defense led the way for much of the season, ranking fourth in yards allowed per game and second in scoring defense. Clemson was able to force turnovers (20 in all), but it was the line that really set the tone. The Tigers tied for the national lead in sacks with 46, and were sixth in tackles for loss with 109. Clemson was one of the only teams in the country with two players that collected at least eight sacks (in this case, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant).

Having an elite defense helped ease the pressure on an offense that took a step back without Deshaun Watson at the helm. Clemson averaged about 75 fewer yards per game in 2017 than 2016, and about six fewer points as well from year to year. Kelly Bryant was pretty solid on the season, all things considered. He accounted for over 3,400 total yards and 24 touchdowns.

NCAA Football: Clemson Spring Game Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Season Outlook:

You’re not going to believe this, but Clemson is going to be very good once again. The Tigers are No. 3 in early S&P+ projections, and also third in terms of returning production. If you look up and down the ACC, they appear to be head and shoulders above everyone else right now — especially in the Atlantic Division. The closest comparison is probably Miami. We’ll see whether or not Willie Taggart has Florida State ready to compete right away.

Clemson brings back a whole lot of players, as mentioned. Kelly Bryant returns, as do the team’s top four rushers (including last year’s leader Travis Etienne). Future New England Patriot Hunter Renfrow is back at receiver, and there’s plenty of experience on the offensive line as well.

Of course, a bunch of defenders also return too. Numerous players in the front seven opted to stick around for another season instead of declaring for the draft, meaning much of last year’s elite players should be even more improved with yet another season under their belts. Dorian O’Daniel is really the only top tackler to leave. That’s a boatload of players coming back with 50 or more stops last year (including numerous potential 2019 first-rounders).

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 29

Location: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

Odds of Orange Victory: 5 percent

Very Early Outlook:

I said 10 percent at this time last year for the Tigers’ game at the Dome vs. SU, and I was clearly wrong. Saying five percent this season, I hope I’m very wrong again. Despite the Syracuse offensive line having plenty of experience and improvement slated for this fall, this Clemson line is just too damn good. If the Tigers’ offense can even resemble last year’s (against any team but the Orange), that’s probably enough. I’m hoping I’m able to watch this one, but y’know... #DisloyalInfant and all.