At least in the preseason, the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference is looking up to Clemson once again.
The Tigers were the overwhelming choice Monday to win the ACC for a fifth consecutive year as they earned 170 of the 173 first place votes from the media who cover the league.
“Clemson is a great team. They are at the top right now. That is undisputed. You cannot challenge that. They have won a couple of national titles and all,” Syracuse defensive end Kendall Coleman said.
Though the Tigers’ were the media’s runaway favorite, two people did pick Coleman and the Orange to win the ACC. Virginia, who was favored to win the Coastal Division, also got a pick.
But the majority of the media believe there is too big of a gap between Clemson and the rest of the conference right now. The Tigers have won 34 of their last 36 games against ACC competition and currently own a 13-game winning streak against ACC teams.
“I think there is a gap between Clemson and everybody right now,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said. “I mean they just beat the SEC Champion by however many in the (national) championship game. They are the team to beat. They’ve earned that. Like I said before, they deserve credit for that. It’s our job to try and catch them.”
Clemson rolled through the ACC in 2018 on its way to winning the national championship with a perfect 15-0 record.
In its nine games against ACC teams, Clemson won eight of them by 20 or more points. The margin of victory in the Tigers’ nine league wins was 35.2 points per game.
“You’re talking about a team who just won the national championship, beat the University of Alabama by double digits score, and haven’t lost a game since 2017. I think they are a fantastic team,” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said. “I think that the ACC Atlantic and the ACC teams have a better feel for them because we play them a lot more. I think when the other teams outside the conference plays a team like that, they have a lot of trouble with them.”
No one has given Clemson more trouble than Syracuse the last two years. The Orange is the last ACC team to beat the Tigers, a 27-24 victory in the Carrier Dome in 2017. They were the only league opponent to even compete against Clemson last year.
Syracuse had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, before a fourth-and-six completion for 20 yards from Chase Brice to Tee Higgins kept the Tigers’ game-winning drive alive. Running back Travis Etienne, who rushed for a career-high 203 yards that afternoon, scored the winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play, lifting Clemson to a 27-23 victory.
The Orange finished the season 10-3 and second to Clemson in the ACC Atlantic after winning six of their last seven games to close the season and five straight in the ACC.
“We have put together one season of work that displays that we were good enough last season to come second to them, but this is a new season and one season does not define everything,” Coleman said. “We have to go out and establish ourselves as a consistent team who can do this all the time before we can expect others to believe in us that way.
“I will tell you, in our locker room, we got all the belief we need.”
Syracuse will host Clemson on Sept. 14 in the Carrier Dome, and the Orange believe they have what it takes to pull off an upset and shock the world for a second time in three years.
“I think it is safe to say that we aren’t or should not be intimidated by any team that we play,” Coleman said. “Everybody is beatable on any given day. Football does not go to a seven-game series to find out who is the best. You get one shot and one opportunity on any day something could fall your way, or something could not fall the other team’s way. It is just a matter of how it played out on that specific day.
“So, I’m not afraid to play against anyone in our conference or the nation for that matter.”