Last Updated: 2017-10-10
The Clemson Tigers aren’t going to be on upset alert when they head to upstate New York to take on the Syracuse Orange, as the 22.5-point spread at Bookmaker Sportsbook would suggest, but this is one of those games that we see throughout the season that require a little bit of deeper digging. Given the body of work and the strength of schedule so far for Clemson, we know just about everything we need to know about the nation’s second-best team. The same cannot be said about Syracuse.
The Tigers are 6-0 straight up and 4-2 against the spread on the season. Facing a letdown spot against Boston College, it took three quarters for Clemson to wake up and the Tigers failed to cover. A gritty, physical struggle against Wake Forest last time out also resulted in an ATS loss, but the Tigers kept their perfect straight up record in tact. Syracuse is 3-3 straight up and 3-2-1 or 3-3 for you depending on the numbers that you have gotten this season against the spread. Last week’s ugly win over Pittsburgh snapped a three-game ATS win streak at any number, but some escaped with a push.
It looks like Kelly Bryant is a go for the Tigers this week. The junior quarterback has completed 67.3 percent of his throws with a 4/4 TD/INT ratio this season. Bryant’s legs have been an integral part of the Clemson offense with a team-leading total of 401 yards on a team-leading total of 97 rushing attempts. The skill position losses at Clemson seem to have hurt a little bit more than anticipated, yet the Tigers are still scoring 35 points per game. They are almost on pace with last year’s 6.2 yards per play as well. The offense just doesn’t seem to have that same dynamism as last year, but then you look at the full body of work and it resembles last year’s team. The difference is that Clemson has 21 rushing touchdowns and only six through the air.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Clemson defense has been extremely special this season. Brent Venables is one of the country’s highest-paid defensive coordinators, but he earns it week in and week out. The Tigers have allowed 11.3 points per game this season and have allowed just hair more than a field goal per game in the first half. Opposing teams have rushed for just 99 yards per game and only 4.1 yards per play. In conference games, the Tigers have allowed 4.9 yards per play to Louisville, Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest, but this is a very stingy defense with one of the best defensive lines in the country. Considering the designed quarterback runs and porous protection for the Syracuse offense, the battle in the trenches clearly belongs to Clemson in this game. That’s why the line is so high and why, despite what looks like a tough spot for Clemson in kind of a no-win situation, there is reason to pause. Clemson could blow out Syracuse and it means nothing. Clemson could win close and it means very little. The big games are coming up in November with Louisville, Auburn, and Virginia Tech in the rearview mirror.
This is a bit of a litmus test game for Syracuse. It is really hard to evaluate this team so far. Syracuse has a 5.4 to 5.3 yards per play advantage on the opposition, but Syracuse has run 18 more plays per game than the opposition on average, so the 467-358 edge is a bit misleading. The offense has scored 32 points per game, but this Dino Babers group just isn’t as efficient as it needs to be. Eric Dungey is doing everything that he can. Dungey is 168-of-261 passing for 1,802 yards with a 9/4 TD/INT ratio and he’s also the leading rusher with 80 carries for 325 yards and eight rushing scores. Dontae Strickland has only managed 2.9 yards per carry, which underlines the offensive line problems in the trenches. The Orange will give the Tigers secondary a workout, assuming Dungey has time to throw. Steve Ishmael has 56 grabs for 729 yards and Ervin Philips has 52 snags for 475 yards. Dungey has been sacked 14 times this season. Clemson has 22 sacks in six games this season. Coming up with the right protections for Dungey could allow Syracuse to hang around, but that is easier said than done.
Also, this Orange defense has to hold up its end of the bargain. The Syracuse defense has allowed 5.3 yards per play, but only 24.3 points per game. Of course, in conference play, that number balloons to 5.9 yards per play and the points allowed jump up to 28.5. Syracuse has played some decent offensive teams, but nobody that has the athleticism or the explosiveness of the Clemson offense. Considering Syracuse allowed 38.6 points per game and 6.9 yards per play last season, any gains are good ones. We’ll find out a lot about this defense over the next five games with Clemson, Miami, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Louisville coming up.
Free College Football Pick: Syracuse Orange +22.5
Syracuse is in a decent spot here against a Clemson team that is making the long trip to the Carrier Dome with a bye week on deck. Sometimes the bye week can be a bit of a look-ahead, especially with a banged up quarterback and the schedule that Clemson has played to this point. Syracuse’s defensive improvements should be taken with a grain of salt because of the level of competition to this point, but my numbers have this game at 18.5 and I have Clemson rated second in my power ratings, so there’s a bit of underdog value.