Syracuse, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-ranked Clemson Tigers put their unblemished mark on the line once again, as they take on the Syracuse Orange this Saturday in an Atlantic Coast Conference clash at the Carrier Dome.
Clemson had high expectations coming into the season, as it was ranked No. 8 in the preseason poll, but an outstanding 4-0 start has allowed the team to climb all the way to No. 3, and its opening night win over Georgia solidified it as a legitimate national title contender. The Tigers have begun their slate of ACC tilts at 2-0, dismissing NC State on the road (26-14), and making easy work of Wake Forest at home (56-7).
"Our team is growing and improving," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "We played outstanding in all three aspects of the game (against Wake Forest). I'm really pleased with the growth, and it was just a great day for our football team. We're 4-0 and we know how to win."
Syracuse's season got off on the wrong foot, as it lost a pair of difficult games against Big Ten foes Penn State (23-17) and Northwestern (48-27), both away from home. Since then, however, the Orange have been able to beat up on lesser competition, kicking off its current three-game homestand with blowout wins over Wagner (54-0) and Tulane (52-17) to even out at 2-2. The victory versus the Green Wave was the program's 700th all-time, making it just the 16th in FBS history to reach that mark.
"It means a lot," head coach Scott Shafer said following the historic win on Sept. 21. "We have such a storied tradition here. It's one of the most underrated traditions in the country in my opinion."
These newly-minted ACC rivals have met just once before, with Syracuse winning the 1996 Gator Bowl, 41-0.
Clemson's offense has been high-powered through the first four games, as it ranks third in the conference in both scoring (43.0 ppg) and yardage (491.8 ypg). The unit is one of the most efficient in the nation, converting more than 50 percent of its third-down attempts and committing just two turnovers.
Tahj Boyd has been nothing short of outstanding under center. The Heisman hopeful has completed 64 percent of his passes for 994 yards, rushed for another 159 yards, and has accounted for 13 total touchdowns without throwing an interception.
Roderick McDowell spearheads a strong rushing attack with 253 yards, but he has yet to find the end zone. He is listed as probable for this bout with an ankle injury, but in the event he can't go, D.J. Howard (104 yards, TD), Zac Brooks (92 yards, TD) and C.J. Davidson (88 yards, two TDs) would all be in line for larger workloads.
Sammy Watkins is Boyd's preferred target in the passing game, racking up 355 yards on 25 receptions while scoring a pair of touchdowns. In all, 19 players have caught a pass this season.
The Tigers are far from a one-dimensional team, however, as their defense has stepped up this season in limiting opponents to 17.3 ppg, and Swinney knows that the unit's success will be key in whether or not it can contend for a national championship.
"Our defense has improved greatly, starting with the second half of last season and it has carried over to now," Swinney said. "They are playing sound, fundamental football. Our defense is giving our offense the ball. They're doing a tremendous job."
The defense is led by Stephone Anthony, who has 44 tackles, 3.5 TFL, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Vic Beasley is a great pass rusher, tallying 6.0 sacks this season.
Syracuse has scored a total of 106 points in its first two home games to up its season average to 37.5 ppg. The club racks up 423.5 ppg while converting third downs at an impressive 46 percent clip.
After Drew Allen began the season as the starter and proved to be ineffective (.575, two TDs, six INTs), he was replaced by Terrel Hunt, and the results of the change could not have gone any better for the Orange. Hunt has completed nearly 78 percent of his passes (33-of-43) for 468 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Jerome Smith (217 yards) earns the most work out of the backfield, and while he averages a modest 4.3 yards per carry, he has a nose for the end zone with six scores.
Ashton Broyld (155 yards) has a team-high 19 catches, doing most of his work between the 20s, while Chris Clark (202 yards, three TDs) and Jarrod West (211 yards, TD) are more viable down field threats.
The Syracuse defense has performed well, allowing 22.0 ppg and 337.8 ypg, but surprisingly, in an league filled with great defenses, both numbers rank in the bottom half of the standings.
Cameron Lynch has team-best 22 tackles to go along with 3.5 TFL, a sack, an interception and three pass breakups. Jay Bromley has made his mark behind the line of scrimmage with 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and two forced fumbles.