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Syracuse football 2020 opponent preview: Clemson Tigers

8-Ball (pictured) sprints away from the authorities after light questioning on his whereabouts.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 13 CFP National Championship - LSU v Clemson Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re still in the dark on whether or not the 2020 college football season actually happens — and if it does, if the Syracuse Orange and other teams can even play the schedule as written. But until we hear something different from what we know right now, it’s business as usual around here.

Last time out, we checked in on the Liberty Flames, much to our chagrin. This week, we’re focused on our “best friends,” the Clemson Tigers. Though last year didn’t go so well at the Dome (damn third quarter issues...), at least Clemson was thwarted in the national title game vs. LSU. I’ll take that as a consolation prize in the short-term.

If you think it’s a little early or presumptuous to be talking about upcoming opponents, that may be true. But whether we’re coming off a five-win season or a 10-win season, I’m personally excited to see what 2020 turns into for the Orange. And since I run this place, we’re already diving into the coming year’s opponents. Next:

Clemson Tigers

School: Clemson

Mascot: Tigers

#BRAND Slogan(s): #ALLIN OR T.I.G.E.R.S. (“This is Gonna End Real Soon”)

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: T.I.G.E.R.S. (“These Ignorant Germs End Real Seasons.”)

Recommended Blog: Shakin the Southland

Conference: ACC

Coach: Dabo Swinney, 12th full season as head coach (13th season overall).

The man you see above is not, in fact, your weird uncle loose with your phone after six beers. He’s Dabo Swinney, the highly successful Clemson football coach.

As you’ve certainly heard, Dabo went from playing at Alabama to coaching at Alabama in the late 90s, then he wound up going into real estate for a bit before coming back to coaching at Clemson in 2003. He was Tommy Bowden’s ace recruiter, and took over the Tigers following Bowden’s resignation mid-way through 2008. A 4-3 record and a Gator Bowl loss was enough to earn him the full-time job and he’s been off to the races ever since.

Going back to 2011, Clemson’s lost more two games just twice, has won six ACC titles, has taken home seven major bowl wins and two national championships. Dabo’s 130-31 as a head coach and 77-16 in ACC play (yes one of those losses came to Syracuse in 2017).

2019 Record: (14-1) (8-0)

Recapping Last Season:

The Tigers were a top-five offense last year, averaging 43.9 points per game while picking up nearly 529 yards per. Despite not having to play in a lot of second halves, Trevor Lawrence put on a clinic in the back half of the schedule and wound up with 3,665 passing yards and 36 touchdowns (to just eight interceptions), and added another 563 rushing yards with nine scores. Travis Etienne was a monster on the ground once again, picking up 1,614 yards and 19 TDs. Tee Higgins was dominant out wide catching 59 passes for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Justyn Ross hauled in 66 for 865 yards and eight scores.

Defensively, it was more of what you’ve come to expect by now. Clemson only allowed 13.5 points per game, and 288 yards per game. North Carolina was the only ACC squad to get to the endzone more than twice vs. the Tigers. Otherwise, most opposing offenses struggled mightily, with eight different teams managing 10 points or fewer against Clemson. They were top-10 in sacks with 47 on the year, and the team’s 30 takeaways were tied for second in the country.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

2020 Season Outlook:

Swap in Notre Dame for Texas A&M and you have a pretty similar schedule for Clemson in 2020. The Irish also appear to be one of two potential road challenges, with the other being Florida State, if you think the ‘Noles can regroup quickly under new coach Mike Norvell. The Tigers also lose co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, who took over at USF. But Tony Elliott (with a big pay raise) and Brent Venables both return.

Offensively, Lawrence is back and will remain a Heisman Trophy contender in what’s perhaps his final year on campus (he’s a likely No. 1 pick if he declares for the 2021 NFL Draft). Etienne also returns, and should remain the same punishing runner we’ve seen these past few years. Though Higgins departs, Ross is still an impressive athlete and major playmaker. Plus Amari Rodgers will be back as well, and in full health. Clemson’s line has some spots to fill after replacing two draft picks and a total of three departing starters. Still, all of those blowouts gave plenty of snaps to younger players.

The Tigers lose Isaiah Simmons, A.J. Terrell, Tanner Muse and K’Von Wallace on defense, but this cupboard isn’t bare either. Returning defensive end Justin Foster was second on the team in tackles for loss last year with 10.5 and fellow starter Xavier Thomas had eight. Nyles Pinckney was All-ACC and Tyler Davis could be one of the top defensive tackles in the country. This team will be monstrous up front, similar to how they were constructed a few years ago.

That’s good news given the key departures at linebacker and in the secondary. Derion Kendrick was All-ACC last year and was seventh on the team in tackles in 2019. Senior linebacker James Skalski was second in tackles and sixth in TFLs for Clemson. They’re both back, and should be leaders on the defensive end.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 24

Location: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C. (the “other” Death Valley)

Odds of Orange Victory: 5 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Clemson’s once again loaded with talent, and even if they have some key pieces to replace on both sides of the ball, Trevor Lawrence remains under center. Couple that with a depth chart full of blue-chippers, and it’s unfortunately easy to see how this one gets chalked up to a loss for Syracuse. With luck, we’ve stocked up enough early wins on the schedule that a defeat here doesn’t completely knock us off track.