CLEMSON — On the evening of Oct. 13, 2017, a single, orange balloon floated down from the Carrier Down rafters en route to the biggest party in college football. Down below, Syracuse players and coaches were celebrating with their fans, clogging the field at a moment when Clemson players couldn't find the locker room fast enough.
"(Syracuse coach) Dino (Babers) is outstanding, and you can just see it kind of coming," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had said earlier that week. "This is going to be a really tough division opponent for many years as long as he's there."
Swinney's words proved prophetic at an inopportune time for his team. Then-No. 2 Clemson's 27-24 loss to the underdog Orange appeared to put the Tigers' College Football Playoff hopes at risk.
For Babers, it was a marquee win and a beacon of hope for the Syracuse fan base.
The rematch in 2018 — Trevor Lawrence's first start and with Chase Brice finishing at quarterback — wasn't decided until the final minute, when a two-yard rushing touchdown from running back Travis Etienne sealed Clemson's 27-23 home victory.
Clemson has been a level above the rest of the ACC in recent seasons. On Oct 6., 2018, in the most emphatic distillation of the Tigers' dominance, they defeated Wake Forest, 63-3, on the road.
Now Syracuse, one season removed from a 10-3 campaign, stands as perhaps the Tigers' biggest threat to a fifth straight conference title, and the Orange will have the chance to upset Clemson once again at home Sept. 14.
"Dino has done an unbelievable job," Swinney said. "It's a great place. It starts with him. I mean, he's put a good staff together. They have a good philosophy in place."
Babers was reluctant to talk about Clemson at ACC Media Days last week. Syracuse opens the season at Liberty on Aug. 31 before challenging Maryland on the road the following weekend. Then Clemson comes to town.
"If we're lucky enough to get through those two games, then we'll get to our third game," Babers said. "Every one of those games are a big game to us, regardless of who we're playing."
Swinney, who ventured into the Syracuse locker room and congratulated Babers after the 2017 upset, said that it's apparent Babers runs a "relationship-driven program," similar to Clemson.
The similarities don't end there for the two programs, who will square off at 7:30 p.m. on ABC in what will be Syracuse's homecoming game.
After Lawrence, an early Heisman Trophy contender, Syracuse might have the next best quarterback in the ACC. Sophomore Tommy DeVito was impressive in relief of starter Eric Dungey last season, completing 44 of 87 pass attempts and throwing for 525 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions.
He was a four-star prospect, per 247sports.com, and the No. 7 player in the state of New Jersey for the class of 2017.
DeVito believes he's a good fit for Syracuse.
"When I was getting recruited, offense was definitely a big selling point for my family and I," he said. "We're Italian, so we're all about trust. When we had a conversation with Coach Babers and the rest of the coaching staff, we had a lot of trust and belief with them. My gut told me to go for it."
He did, and a big opportunity for him to make good on Babers' faith in him is near. Perhaps this time Syracuse will have more than one orange balloon stocked in the rafters.