As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be tackling the biggest burning questions on the 2019 Syracuse football team. Today’s burning question: Can Syracuse repeat 2017 by knocking off ACC favorite Clemson?
The date September 14, 2019 is circled on many calendars in Central New York.
That is the date that Syracuse will play its home opener after two games on the road to begin the season, and will likely welcome the No. 1 team in the country, Clemson, into the Carrier Dome.
There is already plenty of hype building around the game. Should Syracuse win its first two games, it will be a battle of top 25 teams, with College Football Playoff implications on the line. It will also be Orange Homecoming that weekend, and single-game seats for the contest sold out back in May.
But don’t even think of getting Syracuse head coach Dino Babers to talk about the Tigers.
“We don’t even speak about it,” Babers said. “The way you guys go straight to the third game, I don’t even think that way. Our opening opponent is Liberty University.”
SETTING THE STAGE
True, Babers will tell his coaching staff and team to not look ahead to Week 3, but it’s understandable why there’s palpable excitement, and why ESPN College Gameday is rumored to be interested in broadcasting from the Dome that day (they’ve never come to Central New York before).
Two years ago, Syracuse shocked the college football world by knocking off the then-No. 2 Tigers 27-24.
Eric Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, and with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter, Cole Murphy’s 30-yard field goal capped a 16-play, 68 yard drive that spanned 6:04.
Syracuse ground down the final 6:10 of the clock after the defense forced a 4th down turnover, snapping an 11-game ACC winning streak for Clemson and sending Syracuse into a frenzy.
“This is really special,” Babers said following the game. ” This is truly one of the moments that you coach for.”
A year later, Syracuse nearly pulled off the upset on the road, leading for all but 41 seconds in a heartbreaking 27-23 loss.
Still, the Orange recovered, going 10-3, and posting a top 25 ranking to finish the season for the first time since 2001.
It also confirmed that Syracuse is closing the gap with Clemson, making September’s showdown that much more intriguing.
“The last time that those young men at Clemson lost, the year was 2017,” Babers said. “It’s 2019 now.”
THE MATCHUP THIS YEAR
One difference from last year’s game is that the Orange will be at home this time. On top of winning 10 games in 2018, the Orange also protected its house, winning all of its games at the Carrier Dome.
“Going undefeated at home last season was a major feat in itself,” defensive end Kendall Coleman said. “Hopefully we can make that happen again this year.”
But the task won’t be easy. Clemson is once again the class of the ACC, with 13 players named to the Preseason All-ACC Teams. That includes quarterback Trevor Lawrence and receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins, who are all projected as top quality NFL talents.
By contrast, Syracuse, the team with the second most Preseason All-ACC players, had four.
“They’re very good at what they do,” Babers said. “They have fantastic personnel, and they’re always getting better.”
But so is Syracuse. And the other major advantage SU has is the confidence that they’ve already beaten the Tigers.
“When you win a game, you always feel like you have the belief that you can win another,” Babers said. “You’ve seen the mountaintop, okay? You’ve seen what it looks like.”
The beast at the top of the mountain has noticed.
“Dino has created the belief in his team that they can win,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “And I don’t see them going away anytime soon.”