CLEMSON - Kind of like Clemson's opponent the previous week, Syracuse squeezed everything it could with a first-year head coach and found its way to a bowl game.
The Orange is still trying to crack its way into the upper tiers of college football, taking a small step with a nice Texas Bowl win over Minnesota. But unlike Boston College, which also produced a promising 7-6 campaign in 2013, Syracuse was not up to the task against the big boys in its league.
Clemson swamped Syracuse 49-14 in the Carrier Dome last October - and really, it wasn't even that close - and FSU prevailed 59-3 against the Orange. Season-opening losses by six points to Penn State and 21 to Northwestern further show there's room for improvement.
There's been a steady stream of coaching turnover in upstate New York, even though Shafer was previously the team's defensive coordinator when Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse is bracing for a 29-day stretch including tests against Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State and Clemson, with the team's furthest trip from home headed for Death Valley.
Opponent preview No. 1: Georgia
Opponent preview No. 2: S.C. State
Opponent preview No. 3: Florida State
Opponent preview No. 4: North Carolina
Opponent preview No. 5: North Carolina State
Opponent preview No. 6: Louisville
Opponent preview No. 7: Boston College
Game 8: Syracuse at No. 22* Clemson, Oct. 25, time and TV TBD
Syracuse coach: Scott Shafer (7-6, 2nd season)
Returning starters: 13 (six offense, seven defense)
2013 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC; T-3rd ACC Atlantic
Scoring offense: 22.7 points per game (99th in FBS)
Scoring defense: 25.4 points allowed (56th)
Series: Tied 1-1, have never met in Clemson
Last meeting: Clemson 49, Syracuse 14 (Oct. 5, 2013)
Opposing beat writer to follow: @MinkNate
Three things to know about Syracuse
1. Dual threat: Young quarterback Terrel Hunt certainly had his tough moments - he completed just eight of 24 attempts against Clemson - but he definitely offers the Orange a decent running threat. He is the team's leading returning rusher - tailback Jerome Smith, who had graduated but had a year left of eligibility, made a surprise decision to declare for the NFL Draft, where he went undrafted. Overall, Hunt's 500 yards (on 106 recorded carries) were good for third among ACC quarterbacks. However, Hunt must improve upon his dreadful 6.0 yards per passing attempt, though he needs help from the unheralded receivers to do so.
2. Hole in the middle: Sort of similar to Grady Jarrett's impact in the center of Clemson's defensive line, Jay Bromley dominated the interior for Syracuse, which played tougher throughout the year in its first ACC schedule. Bromley's the only lineman missing in next fall's outfit, though he leaves a large void. Syracuse will need production from Robert Welsh, Eric Crume or Micah Robinson chasing down opposing quarterbacks.
3. Not so bad, not so great: Good time to credit Athlon's preseason magazine for helping out with plenty of background on these Clemson opponents. One of their team-rating tools has been evaluating the "most important factors" to team success: field position, down-and-distance efficiency, explosiveness, finishing drives and adjusted turnover margin. In these five categories, Syracuse rated between 55 and 87 in each one. For the most part, the Orange is not a bad football team, but it could be better in plenty of ways. Figure on Syracuse beating who it should and losing to who it should, which bodes well for Clemson to close October.
Week before: @Boston College
Next week: @Wake Forest (Nov. 6)
On the horizon: @Georgia Tech, South Carolina