Syracuse brings “a slingshot and a rock” to face No. 2-ranked Clemson

November 4, 2016 GMT

CLEMSON — Give Dino Babers credit: the Syracuse coach is honest about his squad’s chances of upsetting the balance of power in college football Saturday afternoon.

Babers spent several interviews this week masquerading as Clemson’s hype man, repeatedly asserting “they have no weaknesses.” To a local reporter’s question whether Syracuse can “prove the naysayers wrong” as a 26.5-point underdog, Babers advocated his team’s position as a long-shot to win, punctuated by a candid warning: “Don’t bet the house on it, brother.”

But, Babers, the fiery first-year Orange coach who’s already knocked off one ACC contender this year, added this: “Give us a slingshot and a rock, that’s all I ask. A slingshot and a rock.”

Harkening back to the tale of David and Goliath, it would be an upset of biblical proportions, indeed, if little Syracuse brought mighty Clemson to its knees Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. However, there is precedent for such events.

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“David beat Goliath too, last time I checked,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’re going to make sure we’re ready to go.”

This is sort of the theme the Tigers face for the month of November. Four games, three at home, three in-conference, one in-state rival, and four opponents who have each had their separate positive moments this 2016 season.

Yet Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and South Carolina appear, at this time, overmatched by Clemson, which is ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff standings debuting Tuesday and would have to lose twice in the next three weeks to forfeit its spot in the 2016 ACC Championship.

Four underdogs on four Saturdays. Four slingshots and four rocks.

“We’re glad that we’re in the driver’s seat, and we control our own destiny,” senior linebacker Ben Boulware said. “The season’s going how we planned it to be. We’ve got to take care of Syracuse this week, and then focus on Pitt, and then Wake, and then South Carolina.”

The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) have not played well enough to warrant more lackadaisical performances and expect to win easily. They have won their three home games vs. FBS opponents by six (Troy), six (Louisville) and seven points in overtime (N.C. State.)

“We know going into each game that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” Boulware said. “Boston College beat N.C. State; we demolished Boston College (in Chestnut Hill.) I don’t mean to disrespect them, but we demolished them. And N.C. State played unreal against us. It was a close game.

“So you can tell each team is going to throw the kitchen sink at us. We’re ready for anything.”

Even if a crystal ball could reveal Clemson’s fate, that the Tigers would indeed run the table in regular season play and enter December with a 12-0 record, seeding could prove crucial as the playoff’s final four unfolds.

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“Going into this last stretch, we don’t have any time for error or complacency,” junior defensive back Ryan Carter said. “We need to take a full head of steam and keep our one-game-at-a-time mentality.”

Syracuse is on a two-game winning streak, including a road win at BC and a huge upset of Virginia Tech at the Carrier Dome. The Orange have been underdogs in its last seven games, yet possesses a 3-4 record in those games.

“They’re playing really hard, very competitive, very confident,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “You see it in both their special teams and offensively, a new philosophy, new system. The coaches coach them with a lot of energy, and the players are believing in what they’re doing.”

When the Tigers play these games against teams they’re expected to beat by a ton, they can tell when that opponent views a trip to Clemson as its own version of a big-time bowl or championship appearance, giving its absolute best shot.

By the way, Clemson was a 30-point favorite visiting Syracuse last season. The Tigers won by 10.

“We have a target on us. Every team’s going to give everything they have, because they want to beat Clemson,” Carter said. “So I don’t want to take any opponent lightly.”