Alabama and Clemson. Clemson and Alabama.
At roughly the midpoint of the 2017 college football season, any legitimate list of the nation’s top 25 teams is going to start with those two. And why shouldn’t it? The sport’s two most dominant programs from the last two years have continued to win games convincingly this fall, both maintaining undefeated marks as they hit mid-October.
As the Tigers embark on the back end of their schedule, a 12-0 regular-season finish is in the forecast if they do one thing: Take care of business.
It’s not that Clemson will avoid any challenges moving forward. Georgia Tech, which will travel to Death Valley for an Oct. 28 matchup, is playing its best football in three years, while the Tigers also face the task of playing a red-hot NC State group on Nov. 4 in Carter-Finley Stadium.
But unlike in the not-so-distant past, Clemson has become accustomed to winning those types of games. On top of that, it’s become inconceivable that Dabo Swinney’s team could wind up on the losing end of a major upset.
Simply put, “Clemsoning” just isn’t a thing anymore.
The Tigers don’t lose often, and when they do, they fall to quality opponents. Last season’s 43-42 defeat at the hands of Pitt was the program’s first loss to a team outside the Top 25 since November 2011, and it’s worth noting that the Panthers finished 2016 with eight victories.
The staff has done a remarkable job of keeping players focused every week. Prior to last weekend, Swinney made it clear he wasn’t going to overlook Wake Forest in referring to the Demon Deacons — who have posted just one winning season since 2008 — as a “dadgum good” team. That attitude has trickled down to the guys on the field who have embraced the mindset that no foe should be treated lightly.
It’s why Clemson won’t fall apart in the national spotlight against Florida State or South Carolina, and certainly not versus The Citadel. It’s why the Tigers won’t come up short on Friday night at Syracuse.
The Orange will throw everything they have at Clemson during the prime-time showdown. A fast-paced offense — Syracuse leads the nation with 516 plays run — combined with a Carrier Dome crowd that will try to make life difficult for the Tigers present unusual challenges.
But it won’t be enough.
After leaving last weekend’s 28-14 win over Wake Forest with an ankle injury, quarterback Kelly Bryant will be back to lead a Clemson offense that’s averaging 471 yards per game (tied for 25th in the FBS ranks). The defense, which has surrendered an average of just 4.09 yards per play (No. 7) through six games, will look to continue its dominance.
It’s a true David vs. Goliath matchup, only with a twist — Goliath is going to win this time.
This is the type of contest that Clemson has won repeatedly under Swinney, and that’s not going to change on Friday night.
That formula has made the Tigers a national power, and it will have them playing for yet another ACC championship this December.
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