When the first College Football Playoff Rankings came out in 2015, Clemson found itself at the top, a spot the Tigers held throughout the remainder of the season. This past Tuesday, in this year’s initial CFP Rankings, Clemson was No. 2 and they would again gladly hold that spot until the postseason begins.
Last week the Tigers beat Florida State 37-34 in an emotional game in Tallahassee. Now they come back home to face Syracuse, a team that has already pulled one big upset this year by beating ACC Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech.
Clemson has dominated Syracuse since the Orange joined the ACC, winning each of their three meetings by at least 10 points.
Syracuse at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: Clemson -27
Three Things to Watch
1. The Quarterbacks
Everyone that follows college football knows about Deshaun Watson. Perhaps he has made a few more mistakes this year than he would like, but he is No. 13 nationally with a little more than 332 yards of total offense per game. What fewer people realize is that Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey has some special numbers of his own, including 329 passing yards and 365 yards of total offense per game. Of course, wins are what really matters and Watson has eight of those.
2. Fending Off the Clemson Pass Rush
Syracuse doesn’t run the ball very effectively. Their bread and butter is the passing game and they throw the ball a lot. But that puts Dungey in harm’s way quite often and Syracuse has allowed 22 sacks on the season. That is a major problem this Saturday because the ‘Cuse will have to contend with a Clemson defense that is No. 2 in the country with 31 sacks. Syracuse can move the football but if the offensive line can’t contain Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins and the rest of the Clemson front seven, the Orange will have problems putting points on the board.
3. Making Clemson’s Offense One-Dimensional
The Tigers have more than enough offensive fire power in the passing game alone. But Clemson’s offense has yet to really click and part of that has been due to a spotty running game. The offensive line has been inconsistent and running back Wayne Gallman, who has had some injury issues this season, is still looking to find his 2015 form. This could be the week that the Clemson ground attack makes its presence felt. Syracuse does not have a strong run defense and the Tigers would love for their offensive line and Gallman to gain some confidence by physically pounding the Orange.
With Florida State in its rear-view mirror and the toughest remaining game — Pittsburgh — next week, this is a trap situation for Clemson. The NC State scare is an indication that things are not necessarily going to be easy just because the game is being played in Death Valley. Plus, Syracuse has some confidence from taking down Virginia Tech earlier this season and the Orange have had two weeks to prepare for the Tigers. That being said, this doesn’t look like a good match up for Dino Babers and company. The Syracuse defense is not nearly skilled enough to stay with Clemson for 60 minutes and the soft spot of the Syracuse offense — the line — will be exploited by the Tigers’ rugged defensive front. Clemson may sputter at the start due to a Florida State hangover, but the Tigers’ talent will make this an easy victory in the end.
Prediction: Clemson 35, Syracuse 17
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.