KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
SERIES: Syracuse and Clemson have met just once before, but the Orange enter the ACC with an edge. Syracuse stomped Clemson 41-0 in the 1996 Gator Bowl.
AP RANKINGS: Clemson, No. 3; Syracuse unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Clemson's "Death Valley" is widely considered to be the toughest place to play in the ACC. Taking the field before a crowd of thousands of screaming fans wearing orange can be a nightmare for inexperienced squads, unaccustomed to the impact that noise and energy can have.
Fortunately for Syracuse, the Orange's conference opener against the Tigers is at home in the Carrier Dome. But coach Scott Shafer is hoping for the same kind of experience this weekend -- only with the Orange fans playing a starring role.
The school is doing its part. Ticket-sales promotions are urging the fans to fill the dome for its first-ever ACC game. Syracuse legend Don McPherson's jersey will be retired at halftime. It's Homecoming weekend on campus. And everyone dealing with the media has taken every opportunity to remind its fans of how important their role as the 12th man will be this weekend.
Moreover, the Tigers enter the week ranked No. 3 in the country. Thanks to the struggles of the Big East, the last time Syracuse has played host to a team in the Carrier Dome with that lofty a ranking came in 2002, when it faced a Miami squad ranked No. 1.
Syracuse enters with some momentum, courtesy of back-to-back victories. Of course, the wins came against Wagner and Tulane, while the Orange opened the season with losses against Penn State and Northwestern.
The Tigers didn't waste time ironing out questions about their offense, so those should be put aside after last week's whitewash of Wake Forest.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd did more to enhance his national reputation, pushing his career total to 102 for the number of touchdowns he has accounted for (either by passing or running). Those numbers are the priority for the Tigers, but because of some of Boyd's totals the team seems to be on the right track.
Clemson has Boyd, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the best players in the country. The defense faces by far its biggest challenge of the season. Clemson is coming off a 56-7 victory over Wake Forest, the second time this season the Tigers have broken the 50-point barrier. And its fans notoriously travel well, so some of the seats being sold this week likely will be billed to addresses in South Carolina.
Terrel Hunt has energized the Syracuse offense since winning the starting job, but this game may rest on the Orange ground game instead. The best way to defend the Tigers is to keep their offense off the field. The more Syracuse can control the clock and move down the field, the louder those Carrier Dome fans will be.
Overlooked in the all the offense has been some steady defensive performances by the Tigers even though they've come against teams trying to establish credentials on offense such as North Carolina State and Wake Forest.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Terrel Hunt looked great in his first career start last week. Then again, Tulane's defense isn't much to deal with. He'll be under a lot more pressure this week, especially considering the formidable Tigers pass rush.
--DE Robert Welsh got banged up against Clemson, but is expected to play this weekend. Welsh and the defensive line have a big role this week containing the pocket and not giving Tahj Boyd room or time to run the offense.
--OL Sean Hickey will likely spend a lot of his time matched up against standout Clemson DE Vic Beasley. Hickey's got the edge inside, but Beasley's shown the speed to get to every quarterback thus far.
--K Ryan Norton hasn't kicked in pressure situations yet, but those days are coming. For the Orange to have a chance against Clemson, he'll have to be at his best, both when given the chance to kick field goals and pinning Clemson back on kickoffs.
--QB Tajh Boyd threw for three touchdowns and ran for another last week to join Philip Rivers in the ACC's 100-TD club. At his pace, Boyd will stand alone atop the all-time conference TD list by the end of the season. He has been streaky, and is Syracuse gets his timing askew, Boyd must avoid forcing the issue.
--WR Sammy Watkins caught a 64-yard touchdown pass last week and is the big-play threat and likely future first-round pick Boyd looks to most. He'll get tandem coverage from Syracuse.