When Clemson squared off with Alabama in January to determine the lordship of college football, there was at least one Tigers fan in the central New York area. His name is Kendall Coleman, and he is a Syracuse defensive end of note.
“If Clemson’s in it, best of luck to them because I want them to bring it home back to the ACC. Bring it up to the Carrier Dome, and we’ll hash it out and see what happens,” Coleman said.
The hashing session between the defending national champions and Coleman’s Orange will ensue Sept. 14, in the third week of the season. It will be the first time in the coming season that an Atlantic Division team will get the chance to take part in a contest that has been entirely fruitless for the past four autumns – Catch the Tigers.
The other six teams in the division will endeavor to prevent Clemson from winning the division a fifth consecutive time. In the relatively brief history of FBS conference championship games, only one power-conference team has made five consecutive appearances (Florida, SEC East, 1992-96).
Who can stop the mighty powerhouse of orange, purple and white, the collectors of five-star prospects, producers of high-round draft picks and winners of 58 of their past 62 games?
On the Atlantic side, “I would go Syracuse, N.C. State, Florida State, probably, in that order,” said ACC Network analyst (and former Georgia Tech captain) Roddy Jones. “But to say that they are an overwhelming favorite in the league is an understatement because they’re just so good. They’re so good.”
At the ACC Football Kickoff on Wednesday, Tigers pursuers paid respect, but withheld deference.
“I think there’s a gap between Clemson and everybody right now,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “I mean, they just beat the SEC champion by however (many) in the championship game, so they’re the team to beat. They’ve earned that. Like I said, they deserve credit for that. It’s our job to try to catch ’em.”
“Having Clemson on our side definitely gives us motivation,” N.C. State offensive tackle Justin Witt said. “Everyone knows they’re the team to beat in our conference and even in the country, but when it comes down to it, they’ve got to play us sometime.”
The Orange have posed the greatest intra-conference threat to the Tigers in recent years. Syracuse upset the then-No. 2 Tigers 27-24 in 2017 in the Carrier Dome and led 23-13 in the fourth quarter last year at Death Valley (Tigers starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence was knocked out of the game) before Clemson rallied to win 27-23.
As farfetched as it might seem, had Syracuse hung on against Clemson last September and other results remained static, the Orange would have won the Atlantic, as both would have finished 7-1, and Syracuse would have owned the tiebreaker.
“I think sometimes our (up-tempo spread) style may give us a little bit of a better chance than some other teams,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “You have to give Dabo (Swinney) and the University of Clemson (yes, that’s how he phrased it – alert the message boards) their props. They haven’t lost a game since 2017. Last time I checked, there’s only one team that can say that.”
After a 10-3 record last year in Babers’ third season (following seasons of 4-8 in his first two years), Syracuse’s preseason talk is of becoming a consistent contender.
“I think that talent-wise, we’re catching up, and we’ve got more talented guys to fill in my shoes,” said Coleman, who bagged 10 sacks last season, two against Clemson. “I think that’s exciting, what we’re on the verge of.”
At Syracuse, excitement is building for the arrival of Clemson. On StubHub, the least expensive ticket Wednesday was $77, 4-1/2 times higher than any other home game. It also will serve as homecoming and the home opener.
N.C. State also is eager for Clemson’s visit, on Nov. 9. In 2016 and 2017, the Wolfpack lost by a touchdown to the Tigers, but lost 41-7 last fall.
“I feel like from a competitive standpoint, we’ve definitely got that chip on our shoulders where we haven’t beaten them, but I feel like this year is going to be a good year for us,” Witt said.
Another season begins with Clemson wearing a target on its back. The Tigers start the season at home against Tech on Aug. 29.
“Yeah, it’s kind of business as usual for us, to be honest with you,” Swinney said. “It’s just what we do every year.”
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