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Syracuse football 2019 opponent preview: Clemson Tigers

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Our best friends finally thank us for the strength of schedule bump.

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

Last week, we talked about the Syracuse Orange’s week two opponent, Maryland, and how the Terps could be a bit pesky in a tune-up for the home opener the following weekend. This would be that following weekend.

Perhaps you’re not as excited since it’s only April. But since Syracuse won 10 games last year, and I run this place, we’re talking about them anyway. The Orange have plenty of challenges ahead — some of those greater than others. Today, we take a look at SU’s week three foe:

Clemson Tigers

School: Clemson University

Mascot: Tigers

#BRAND Slogan: #ALLIN

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “DON’T YOU DARE DISRESPECK” OR “They s’posed to be S-E-C” OR “Yes, we’re responsible for this” OR “Syracuse almost took our national championship.”

Recommended Blog: TNIAAM Shakin’ the Southland

Conference: ACC

Coach: William Christopher “Dabo” Swinney, 11th full year (12th overall). Everyone likely knows Dabo’s story by now. He was a receiver at Alabama in the 1990s, then went right into coaching at his alma mater through 2000. He worked in real estate for a couple years, then started coaching wide receivers at Clemson in 2003. By 2008, he took the interim head coach role when Tommy Bowden was fired, and kept the gig after going 4-3 with a Gator Bowl loss. Since then, he’s turned the Tigers into a national power. They’ve gone 112-27 over the following 10 years, with seven Atlantic Division championships, five ACC championships, four straight College Football Playoff bids and two national titles.

2018 Record: (15-0) (8-0)

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Recapping Last Season:

Clemson came in with some high expectations, and certainly met them by going unbeaten with a national championship in resounding fashion. Just two teams truly tested the Tigers: Texas A&M in a 28-26 Aggies loss at College Station, and Syracuse in a 27-23 Orange defeat in Death Valley. Syracuse controlled much of that game, as you’ll recall and was basically a fourth down conversion away (called back via penalty... dammit) from taking the game and the title hopes that come with it.

But yeah, otherwise, Clemson beat all other opponents by at least 20 — including Alabama, who the Tigers drubbed 44-16 in the title game. Clemson averaged 44.3 points per game (fourth-best in the FBS), and only allowed 13.1 points per game against (best in the country). With Trevor Lawrence at the helm, the passing offense did plenty. But really, it was the run game that truly led the way for the Tigers with over 248 yards per game. Part of that’s from killing off the clock so often, but still, impressive.

Defensively, Clemson allowed just 285 yards per game (fifth in the nation), while also maintaining a top-five run defense. Teams were usually trying to mount comebacks against the Tigers, so it made sense why the pass defense was “only” 24th in yards per game allowed. Clemson also had a nation-leading 54 sacks and 136 tackles for loss., as one would expect when returning All-Americans across the line and having blue-chip players everywhere.

2019 Season Outlook:

Clemson kicks off the ACC Network by hosting Georgia Tech, then gets Texas A&M in week two before heading up to Syracuse for week three. That pretty much does it in terms of big tests for the year... save maybe a road game against South Carolina at the end. SU has moved from an angry talking point when Tigers fans bitch about the ACC to the team they point to when South Carolina starts throwing shade about strength of schedule.

While Clemson’s defense hits reset this year, the offense is both very young and frighteningly good. Lawrence is back, as is Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins (among others). With a veteran line in front of them, it’s a group that should be just as lethal — if not more so — compared to last season. Both Lawrence (3,280 passing yards, 30 TDs) and Etienne (1,658 rushing yards, 24 TDs) are potential Heisman candidates, which should concern ACC foes.

There’s reason to expect regression on defense because of the aforementioned turnover. However, defensive coordinator Brent Venables has dealt with it before. Plus, the team returns leading tackler Isaiah Simmons and fourth-leading tackler Tanner Muse. The defensive line is young, but obviously full of four- and five-star players. Clemson’s secondary will have a little more pressure on them, but seem plenty equipped to handle it.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 14

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 13 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Nothing would delight me (and every Orange fan) more than SU pulling off its second upset over Clemson in three tries. With College Gameday likely coming to campus as long as both teams take care of business in the first two weeks, there will be a lot of eyes on Dino Babers and Syracuse. A loss doesn’t derail momentum at all, so long as it’s respectable. A win, however, puts SU in the driver’s seat for the Atlantic Division, ACC crown and potentially more. It’s great to get the Tigers early, while they’re still breaking in the new aspects of the defense. But we’ll be doing the same at the linebacker spot, which is likely what stops the upset bid as Syracuse struggles to stop Clemson’s run game. Still, a close game will put the Orange in good position to challenge for an Orange Bowl bid.