Now that second-ranked Clemson has completed the difficult part of its schedule, the rest of the season should be a cakewalk, right?
Not so fast.
Though the Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) should be the heavy favorites in each of their last four regular season games, its remaining opponents each present a unique challenge to Clemson in its quest for perfection for a second straight regular season.
Today’s opponent Syracuse, who will visit Death Valley at 3:30 p.m. (ABC), with an up tempo offense Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables have both said they have never seen before.
The Orange average 84 plays a game, and had 100 plays against Virginia Tech on Oct. 15, when they came out from the get-go and attacked Bud Foster’s defense. Led by quarterback Eric Dungey, Syracuse totaled 561 yards in a 31-17 upset.
“You just turn the tape on and they handled V-Tech pretty good, they really did,” Swinney said. “They played well and then they come back and beat Boston College at BC. Now they have got an open date. They are really playing with a lot of confidence. There’s no doubt about it. Our guys have a lot of respect for Syracuse.”
Clemson, better than anyone perhaps, knows how difficult it is to win football games. The Tigers had to rally from eight points down to beat No. 7 Louisville and No. 22 Florida State this season, plus needed a missed field goal as time expired in regulation and then a touchdown pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson in overtime to beat NC State.
“It’s incredibly difficult to win. I mean, I have a great appreciation for these guys and how they continue to just battle and find ways to win games different ways,” Swinney said. “And just like the other night (at Florida State), we were at our best when we needed to be. When we needed a drive, we had it. When we needed a kick, we had it.”
Five times this season, Clemson has won a game by six points or less, more than any other team in the country this year, and it’s already tied for the second most in Clemson history.
“It’s very difficult to be a very consistent program. We’ve won nine in a row on the road, and that doesn’t sound like a lot. But the reason that’s a record here is it’s really hard to do because there’s a bunch of good teams in this league, and always have been,” Swinney said. “So it’s a challenge every single week, every single week and that’s why to be consistent, you have got to have a true plan of preparation that you believe in and you’ve got to stay committed and focused and put everything that you’ve got into each game. That’s the only way you’re going to be consistent.”