The Syracuse Orange waste no time in kicking off its inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference campaign when the No. 3-ranked Clemson Tigers visit the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. Scott Shafer’s team finds itself jumping into the deep end of the ACC pool as the Tigers are 2-0 in league play (with a hard fought victory at North Carolina State) and an impressive out of conference win over the Georgia Bulldogs to open the season.
Clemson is led by Heisman candidate Tajh Boyd. The senior quarterback has a 163.3 passer rating through four games to go along with nine touchdowns and 994 passing yards. He has yet to throw an interception. The Orange defensive backs will certainly be tested by a pair of explosive receivers in Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
Syracuse is fresh off of a bye week after leveling its mark on the year at 2-2 with back-to-back annihilations of FCS opponent Wagner and the Tulane Green Wave. Sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt has been nothing short of sensational in both wins after seizing the job from struggling senior Drew Allen. To be fair, Wagner and Tulane don’t possess the depth of talent that Penn State and Northwestern do. The Orange started the year dropping its first two games to Big Ten foes.
But with Hunt now calling the signals, the Orange offense has been a well-oiled machine, having notched 104 points in its two wins. The offensive turnaround can be traced to Hunt. Through two games, he has completed 31-of-39 pass attempts for 446 yards with seven touchdowns, and, like Boyd, zero interceptions.
The talent level throughout the Tigers’ loaded roster should give even the most confident of Orange fans some pause. Syracuse’s season is about to get very real. Besides a win on the field over national championship contender on national television (3:30 p.m., ABC), the Orange has a lot to play for off the field. Recruiting is the life blood of any successful major college program. Even Nick Saban would be hard pressed to win at a high level with mediocre talent. Syracuse has a golden chance to make a lasting impact on potential recruits. Here’s how:
Just win, baby!
As Herm Edwards so famously said, “You play to win the game.” Simpler than it sounds for sure. But, the Orange has a recent history of knocking off the cream of its conference crop. In the past three years, Syracuse shellacked Louisville and West Virginia at home, while also sneaking out a road win over the Mountaineers. Hunt’s play at QB gives Syracuse a chance to keep up with Clemson on the scoreboard. He will face defensive pressure like nothing he’s seen to date and his receivers will have to work that much harder to get open. If they can, and if the offensive line gives Hunt time to throw, the Dome’s scoreboard operator will have a busy day.
The Syracuse players certainly will be licking their chops at the opportunity before them. The question is, will the fans fill the Dome? Fans have a right to be wary given the four years of agony known as the Greg Robinson Error. And former coach Doug Marrone took his show down the Thruway once the Bills came calling. That just happened to be as it appeared Syracuse was gaining momentum on his watch. Plenty of basketball coaches around the country are more than aware of what a home court advantage the carrier Dome can be when Jim Boeheim’s teams are fast breaking all over their opponents. Shafer can only hope those same fans turn the Dome into a House of Horrors for Clemson.
Stock the cupboard
According to Scout.com, seven recruits from the Class of 2014 will be visiting Syracuse this weekend. Four of those prospects (Jason Cabinda, Naesean Howard, Rodney Williams, and A.J. Long) have already given verbal commitments to the Orange. Offensive linemen Beau Benzschawel and Aaron Roberts along with cornerback Mike Johnson have yet to commit to a school. What better way to impress recruits than by knocking off one of the top teams in the nation and by playing offensive and defensive styles that attract top talent?
No football coach is satisfied with a moral victory. Even if Clemson manages to escape the Dome with a close win, Syracuse has a great chance to still win while losing.Steve Auger (Follow on Twitter @Corner_Cube)