Oh, you thought two losses would shut me up? I've not yet begun to degrade myself.
Any hater can be a front runner, it takes talent to hate with a 2-2 team backing you up. This week my 2-2 Tigers (THE BEST TWO AND TWO TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL) head north....way north to play Syracuse one more time before Clemson University pulls up stakes and relocates to a barren plot of land in northern Wisconsin in order to join the Big27.
Before they leave the ACC and the South altogether, the Tigers have some business to attend to.
That’s right folks, it’s Syracuse time!
Normally that entails a top 5, National Championship contending Clemson team inexplicably struggling for 2 1⁄2 quarters before giving up on the passing game and letting the running back pick up 150 yards and 3 touchdowns in the final 18 minutes to once again crush the Orange’s dreams. College football is all about tradition, and Clemson struggling with Syracuse is one I’ve leaned into over the years.
This is the first time in a decade Syracuse doesn’t have a built-in excuse for a Clemson loss, and it should terrify Dino Babers. Clemson has been a no-lose situation for the Orange head coach, now it’s an “only win” situation.
In the Past
Lost by 30 and there’s no shame in getting blown out by an elite Clemson team. Everyone expects Clemson to blow out Syracuse.
Play the Tigers close, and you get to say, “Great season! We went 7-6 and only lost to Clemson by a touchdown!”
Beat the Tigers and you get to make a hype video in a J.V. locker room and your coach gets a contract extension. Beat Clemson and your coach gets to wipe 3 losing seasons off his resume.
There’s no excuse for getting blown out at home by a 2-2 team.
There are no moral victories for beating a 2-2 team.
You can celebrate a win, but nothing would be more pathetic than storming the field after beating a 2-2 team.
Syracuse has Everything in Place to Win
This is normally a place of hate, but I’ve covered Shrader since his days as a starter at Mississippi State, and I’ve got nothing but love for the Syracuse quarterback. I like my QB’s tough, and they don’t come much tougher than Shrader. Seriously, look at this hit he took as a freshman desperately trying to keep the game alive on 4th down.
This man was willing to put his life on the line for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State. Do you know what sort of competitor you have to be to lay it all on the line for Dan Mullen and Mississippi State? Shrader would rather die than come up a yard short because he decided to slide with the game on the line. You could hit him with a sledge hammer and he’s not going to cough up the ball. I’m 100% serious y’all, this kid spent his offseason fighting polar bears that I assume live around the Syracuse campus. If Clemson thought tackling a basketball player with two first names was tough, wait until they try and bring a man that spends 3/4’s of the year in total darkness, and then the other 1⁄4 of the year in perpetual light as I can only assume happens in Upstate New York.
Seriously, Syracuse, you’ve got the quarterback to win this game, and that, in my opinion, is the most important thing to have in place.
Home Super Fund Advantage
Playing in a rusting World War II airplane hangar has its advantages. Clemson plays on lush, natural grass. I’ve walked on the field at Death Valley, and it’s like walking on a grass-covered pillow. Syracuse plays on a cracked concrete slab they stretched a green indoor/outdoor carpet over. That’s got to be a tough adjustment for the Tigers. The Orange players know how to fall without having their heads bouncing off the turf like an over-inflated basketball. They know you have to pick your feet up so you don’t get tackled by a seam in the concrete or a crease in the rug. I’m afraid the turf monster is going to get to Clemson one way or another.
Not only does Syracuse have a decided advantage because their team is acclimated to playing on a field capable of stripping every shred of flesh off your forearms, but they also have the crowd. Sure, it’s only 50,000 strong, and a quarter of that is disinterested vagrants looking for a warm place to nap, but it feels like more when you’re playing in a stadium with the acoustics of an airport lobby.
Not only is it loud in the dome, but they’ve got some boys that spend all day getting geeked up on Molson Ice and Lacrosse highlights before heading to the dome. Their women know 500 different recipes for beanie weenies. They think an old wool sock is an acceptable hygiene product. When Syracuse is playing good football, not only does the dome shake, but it smells like a porta-potty on the 5th day of Bonnaroo. Truly one of the toughest venues outside of an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Not only does Syracuse have the quarterback in place and a unique home-field advantage; they still have the disrespect factor.
A 2-2 Clemson team that hasn’t met a mistake they can’t make is a touchdown favorite over the mighty 4-0 Orange? The Tigers are getting 7 points despite playing in the legendary JMA Wireless Dome? You don’t walk into the JMA Wireless Dome and walk out with a win. You may walk out with a more flexible and affordable wireless plan, but you’re leaving with substantial monthly savings and an L.
Dino should have his men at Pinstripe Bowl levels of intensity after his pregame speech. A team that lost by three scores to Duke is favored, on the road, against a team that destroyed the mighty Colgate Raiders 65-0. A team whose coach tried to beat Florida State by kicking a field goal with a career back-up kicker playing in his first game back from retirement is favored to beat a squad that dismantled Western Michigan 48-7. A team that was sitting at 3rd and 1 in overtime and ran two unsuccessful passing plays to lose the game is favored over a team that went into the heart of Big 10 country and left with a 35-20 win over the defending Big10 West Champions Purdue? A team that was tied 14-14 with Charleston Southern heading into the 2nd quarter is favored over a team that beat the entire frickin’ Army 29-16?
This is the most disrespectful thing I’ve seen since Clemson played man defense against Florida State last week.
Syracuse fans, your boys should be on edge. Clemson’s getting more credit for being good on paper than the Orange are for being good on the field. How dare Las Vegas disrespect the legacy of such Syracuse greats as Scott Shafer and Greg Robinson? Do they not understand that Paul Pasqualoni, winner of the 2001 Insight Bowl, once roamed these concrete sidelines? How can the 2018 Camping Bowl Champions be an underdog to a 2-2 team?
Syracuse has a quarterback capable of winning the game, a home-field advantage, and can still play the disrespect card? If I were a betting man, I’d put all my money on The ‘Cuse.
Here’s the problem
Syracuse has all this going for them, and the most likely outcome is still a loss. I’m not saying a loss is a given. Nothing is a given with this Clemson team. I trust them less than I trust Dabo’s late-game decision-making, and I trust that as much as I trust a shaved ice from Williams Brice stadium.
Syracuse could win this game.
Clemson could find another unique way to lose a football game. Maybe Cade gets confused and throws the ball to the wrong orange jersey. Maybe Clemson loses half their team to cement turf concussions. Maybe Dabo decides to only kick field goals to prove a point. I have no idea what football atrocity this team is going to commit next, but the odds are they still beat Syracuse.
That’s got to be a tough pill to swallow for the loyal Orange fans who have sat through awful football over the years in hopes of a game like this. They have an opportunity to deliver the death blow to a reeling college football giant that has tormented them over the years. If they can’t beat Clemson on Saturday, what’s the point? What are you playing for if you can’t beat a 2-2 team at home with everything working in your favor?
I’m sorry Syracuse, Clemson has you in an only-win situation.
You should win this game, but even if you do, it’s a victory over a Tigers team looking for a place to die. Lose this game, even by a single point, and it’s another disappointing loss in a long line of disappointing losses. There’s no half-credit for keeping it close. Yes, you would have totally won with a healthy Oronde Gadsen, and that’s something you can use to soothe yourself after the loss, but still, deep down, you know you should win this game, but you’re worried you won’t.
Anyways, good luck out there on Saturday, Syracuse. Hope the pressure doesn’t get to you.