Last year, Syracuse lost to Clemson by just four points.
Two years ago, Syracuse beat Clemson.
So Syracuse might be the only ACC team with a decent chance of beating the defending national champions this year. Syracuse, which will host Clemson on Sept. 14, won 10 games last year and finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.
But Orange coach Dino Babers does not want his team to overlook the first two foes on its schedule.
Liberty, whose new coach is ex-Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze, will host Syracuse on Aug 31. Maryland, whose new coach is former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, will host Syracuse the following week.
“The first game that we have is a quality opponent with an outstanding head coach that’s known for his offensive genius,” Babers said last week at ACC football media days in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s going to be a difficult game for us, especially since we don’t have any tape of him with that personnel.
“And then to play the University of Maryland with their personnel and their head coach coming off an offensive coordinatorship with Nick Saban at the University of Alabama … is going to be difficult.
“And if we’re lucky enough to get past that, then we’ve got Goliath. And then we’ve got to get our slingshot, our flat stones out and just maybe, maybe we’ll have a chance.”
Considering how the last two Clemson-Syracuse games went, is that David vs. Goliath metaphor still apt?
“Did you see what they did to Alabama?” Babers replied.
Yes, Clemson did squash Alabama 44-16 in the College Football Playoff title game to cap an unbeaten season.
But given the past two meetings, doesn’t Babers think his players will have some confidence heading into this year’s Clemson duel?
“I think that our guys have a quiet confidence, but I think they need to understand that you need to give that team its props,” Babers said. “They’re the national champs. They’re like the [undefeated 1972] Miami Dolphins of the NFL — they haven’t lost since 2017.
“And they’ve got a 6-foot-6 quarterback [Trevor Lawrence] coming back with blond hair that looks good. I mean, how can those guys do wrong?”
Clemson won the Atlantic Division title last year with an 8-0 ACC record. Syracuse finished second in the division with a 6-2 league mark.
“Talent-wise, we’re catching up [to Clemson],” Syracuse defensive end Kendall Coleman said. “We match up really well across the board. They have a prolific offense and we’ve got the same thing — nice skill players that can really get after it. They’ve got a defense that can put up points, and we’ve got a defense that can get the ball back too. Special teams, it’s right there head-to-head.”
One would imagine that the Clemson game is circled on the Syracuse players’ calendars.
“The game that’s circled is Week 1 against Liberty,” Coleman said. “If you oversleep [on] any small school that you play, that’s the small school that’s going to mess up your entire season.
“It’d be nice to go undefeated this season, right? But you can’t go undefeated if you don’t win Week 1.”
Syracuse will be the first ACC football team to ever visit Liberty, which is entering just its second FBS season.
And why exactly is Syracuse opening the season at Liberty?
“I would like to take you home back to Syracuse and we’d like to ask some people those questions,” Babers said with a laugh.
That game is actually kicking off a two-for-one series that will see Liberty visit Syracuse in 2020 and 2021.
The Athlon Sports preview magazine has ranked Syracuse No. 21 in its preseason Top 25 and has picked the Orange to again finish second in the Atlantic Division.
Syracuse reached double digits in wins last year for the first time since 2001. It was Syracuse’s first winning season since 2013.
“We would like to be consistently good, not occasionally great — somebody that you can wind your clock by, day in and day out, that you know we’re going to be a good football team,” Babers said. “That’s what the 2019 season’s all about.”
Syracuse returns six starters on offense and eight on defense, as well as All-ACC punter Sterling Hofrichter and All-American place-kicker Andre Szmyt.
Tommy DeVito will take over at quarterback from Eric Dungey, who threw for 2,868 yards and who ran for 754 yards as a senior last season.
DeVito came off the bench last year to help Syracuse beat Florida State and North Carolina.
The third-year sophomore said he is ready to be the starting quarterback.
And what gives him that mindset?
“That’s how I’ve always been growing up, being from New Jersey,” DeVito said. “A lot of people from New Jersey have that mindset … that if they want to do something, they’re going to do anything they can to go do it.”