CLEMSON – The last time (also the first time) Clemson invaded western New York, the Tigers received the highest of compliments.
It was a swinging shindig, as Austin Powers might say, in Syracuse. Homecoming weekend, the Orange’s first ACC game, and the orange-clad opponent was ranked No. 3 in the country.
Rude as a guest could be, Clemson scored long touchdown after long touchdown and looked very much that day like the No. 3 team in the country. It was probably Clemson’s best wire-to-wire, three-phases afternoon of that 2013 regular season.
The return trip arrives with some good-news, bad-news. First, the bad: if you haven’t been to western New York in mid-November, um, you might want to start breezing through summer specials on winter coats. It’s bone-chillingly cold.
On the bright side, the game’s in the Carrier Dome. And besides, there probably will be a few familiar faces on hand to check out Clemson; while it was C.J. Spiller roaming the sideline in 2013, this year it’ll no doubt be Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan (whose son Seth is a walk-on receiver) as well as Sammy Watkins, who played a big part in ruining Cuse’s ACC welcome with a 91-yard touchdown catch.
As Clemson enters the final quarter of its 2014 season, bear in mind the list of opposing quarterbacks the Tigers will face down the stretch is positively ghastly.
Syracuse coach: Scott Shafer (10-15, 3rd season)
Returning starters: 9 (6 offense, 3 defense)
2014 record: 3-9, 1-7 ACC
Scoring offense: 17.1 points per game (121st in FBS)
Scoring defense: 24.3 points allowed (37th)
Series: Clemson leads 2-1, including 1-0 on road
Last meeting: Clemson 16, Syracuse 6: Oct. 25, 2014 in Clemson
Opposing beat writer to follow: Nate Mink, Syracuse Post-Standard (@MinkNate)
1. Low expectations: It’s only Year 3 for Scott Shafer, but unlike other coaches who began the same year as him like Boston College’s Steve Addazio and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, the arrow isn’t particularly pointed upward. Shafer’s promising rookie year taking over for Doug Marrone (wins at Maryland and in the bowl vs. Minnesota) couldn’t create positive momentum: Syracuse’s only wins last year were FCS member Villanova (by 1 point), 7-6 Central Michigan and 3-9 Wake Forest.
2. Rebuilding defense: Syracuse was pretty good on defense last year – see Cole Stoudt’s 16-point production in Clemson last year – but what’s worrysome is all the new faces now playing much larger roles. The Orange have a Vic Beasley-type in Ron Thompson, a former highly-touted tight end who’s found his home at defensive end, but he’s one of just three returning starters along the entire unit.
3. Hunting for success: Well, it’s now or never, Terrel Hunt. He looks good stepping off the bus at 6-3, 235 pounds, but the dual threat Hunt has fought injury and ineffectiveness over his Syracuse career. He’s had a decent-enough set of running backs in the past in Jerome Smith and Prince Tyson-Gulley, but there’s no clear answer this year out of the backfield or on the perimeter. Syracuse failed to top 255 total yards in five of its eight ACC games last year, and with no excitable playmaker on the roster, it’s conceivable Syracuse is already out of bowl contention by the time the Tiger Paw rolls north.
Week before: Florida State
Next week: Wake Forest
On the horizon: at South Carolina