Without knowing the recent history between these two teams, this doesn’t appear to be a great matchup. On paper, Clemson is a runaway top-two team in the country, while Syracuse is an up-and-coming squad but went 4-8 each year from 2015 to 2017.
While Clemson is the reigning National Champion and has made the College Football Playoff each of the last four years, there has been one team that has been a proverbial thorn in the Tiger’s foot: Syracuse. In 2017, Syracuse shocked the college football world when they upset Clemson, 27-24, in the Carrier Dome. Last season, the Orange led the Tigers 23-13 in the fourth quarter before Clemson staged a miraculous comeback, culminated by a touchdown in the game’s final minute to win, 27-23.
So, what does Syracuse do that causes so many problems for Clemson? The Orange feature one of the highest-octane offenses in the country. Few teams move as quickly as Syracuse, but the Orange have had to replace plenty from a team that averaged 40 points and 465 yards per game last year. One of those new starters is sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito, a top recruit from the 2017 recruiting class. With a young quarterback, the offense has relied more heavily on a ground game with two backs, senior Moe Neal and junior Abdul Adams, splitting carries.
The ‘Cuse defense was one of the best at getting after the quarterback in 2018. The Orange return seniors Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, a pair of defensive ends who combined for 20 sacks and 29 tackles for loss last year. But despite the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, Syracuse still allowed 264 yards through the air in 2018. That number should improve this year with all four starters returning in the secondary, including sophomore Andre Cisco, who intercepted seven passes in 2018 and has already picked off two passes this year.
But Clemson is exactly what they have been over the last several years, one of the best teams in the nation. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country since taking over last season. Junior running back Travis Etienne was considered a top-two running back in all of college football and he’s lived up to that billing. Receivers Tee Higgins, a junior, and Justyn Ross, a sophomore, are each 6’4” and catch everything thrown their way.
The Tiger’s defense was among the best in the country the last few seasons, but lost the top five defensive lineman to the NFL and two linebackers must be replaced. But what Clemson does return is a strong secondary and top-tackler Isaiah Simmons at linebacker. And, of course, the Tigers will reload the defensive line with top recruits over that have joined the team over the last two seasons.
It seems improbable, but Clemson is seemingly getting better each season despite winning two of the last three national titles. But somehow, someway, Syracuse has figured out how to push the Tigers to the limit and it could likely happen again in a packed Carrier Dome.