Syracuse has a lot to think about as it prepares for a nationally-televised matchup against Clemson.
National television, 3:30 p.m. window, against a top-three team in the nation with a Heisman hopeful at quarterback is a big stage for Syracuse. The spotlight itself is a good thing. It’s exactly why SU was so aggressive about a move to the ACC. More exposure, better competition, brighter future. But there’s also a risk to being on that stage. The audience is waiting to see if someone misses his cue cards or part of the set falls down.
Syracuse’s tilt against Clemson will be shown regionally on ABC, and nationally on ESPN2. And why wouldn’t it? Tajh Boyd is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The Tigers play an exciting brand of football. Clemson is in the national title hunt. It’s SU’s first ACC game. Don McPherson will have his jersey retired. Should be a good, noisy crowd at the Carrier Dome. There’s plenty to like if you’re ABC/ESPN about getting this distributed to a wide audience.
But just showing up on Saturday is not enough for the Orange. That’s not where the benefit lies. A 70-10 pasting on front of an apathetic crowd where SU isn’t even competitive does plenty of damage. Syracuse wants to prove to its fans, the country at large, and, most importantly, recruits, that it’s ready for this ACC stuff. If the Dome is loud and passionate, and SU hangs with Clemson for most of the game, the Orange has to feel good about this brave new world.
If Dabo Swinney decides the Orange secondary is vulnerable, and this is going to be Boyd’s Heisman moment, and attempts to get him 7 touchdowns to do so, well SU will look like it’s not ready for prime time. The Tigers have put up 50 twice this year, including a 56-7 win over Wake last week. They hung 62 on NC State last year. The Orange needs to keep this game under control, make sure it stays around for three quarters and doesn’t look completely overwhelmed.
A win is a lot to ask. Even the most strident SU fan isn’t expecting a huge upset. But as the first conference game in a new big-boy league, this also shouldn’t look like Coastal Carolina getting whipped by 65 against Alabama. And the Tigers have the weapons to make that happen.
The attention can be a great thing. This is a chance to sell recruits to the big time of the ACC. It can be an emotional and historic day inside the Dome where maybe it starts to feel like the old days again, when football mattered just as much as hoops. It can also be a huge letdown if SU isn’t careful. Watch out, Orange—the nation is watching.