No. 1 Clemson travels to Syracuse; Tigers on even keel
''I embrace the position that we are in, and we celebrate what we work for,'' Watson said. ''It's hard to get to this point in the season and be 9-0 and do the things that we did. I just try and stay focused and make sure that's not my main priority.''
Watson and the Tigers (9-0, 6-0 ACC; No. 1 CFP), fresh from a 23-13 victory over Florida State that vaulted them to No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time since the final poll of the 1981 season, travel to Syracuse (3-6, 1-4 ACC) on Saturday.
Clemson already has clinched a share of the ACC's Atlantic Division title and a berth in the ACC championship next month. A win over the reeling Orange would make the Tigers the outright Atlantic champion as they strive for a berth in college football's final four. It also would give another positive jolt to the feeling of elation that's engulfed the Clemson campus.
''It's cool to see the students and the teachers and all the fans excited about what's going on,'' Watson said. ''It brings joy to the campus.''
The last time the Tigers played in the Carrier Dome they were ranked No. 3 and dismantled the Orange 49-14 in Syracuse's Atlantic Coast Conference debut in 2013. Tajh Boyd threw for a school-record 455 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters of work as Clemson finished with 624 yards of total offense and averaged 8.1 yards per play.
Now comes Watson and his gang against a team that's lost six straight. In the past four games, Watson has accounted for 13 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards to lift his name back into the running for the Heisman Trophy.
In spite of their woes, the Orange welcome the challenge.
''This is a big stage. It's a stage that you dream about,'' senior center Rob Trudo said. ''There's not too many times you're going to play the No. 1 team. This is like a dream.''
Or a nightmare.
Syracuse has played the No. 1 team in the nation 10 times and has one victory, 17-9 over Nebraska in 1984 in the Carrier Dome.
Other things to know when Syracuse hosts No. 1 Clemson:
MAHONEY RETURNS: Syracuse starting QB Eric Dungey suffered a head injury in the fourth quarter last week at Louisville and the freshman is out. That means walk-on Zack Mahoney, a junior college transfer who enrolled in January and played his way into the backup role, will get the nod. That will give him a unique resume - two FBS starts against top-10 teams. Mahoney's Orange debut came against then-No. 8 LSU in September when Dungey was recovering from another head injury, and he threw for three TDs in a 34-24 loss.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT: Clemson TB Wayne Gallman, 23 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, had his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the year in the win over the Seminoles. He needs one more to tie the school record of seven set by Kenny Flowers in 1985 and matched in 1996 by Raymond Priester.
44 HONORED: These Tigers could use a history lesson, and they're in Syracuse at the perfect time. Before the game, the university will unveil statues of three former Orange greats who wore No. 44 - Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney named Tigers long snapper Jim Brown a captain for Saturday's game to pay homage to the great Orange and Pro Football Hall of Fame runner of the same name. When Swinney told the team Monday, all he got were blank stares. The statues are at Plaza 44, located in front of Ensley Athletic Center, the school's new indoor training facility that will be formally dedicated Saturday.
TIGER DOMINANCE: Clemson is fifth in the nation in total defense (287.3 yards per game), seventh in pass defense (168 yards), 20th in rushing defense (119 yards) and ninth in scoring defense (17 points per game). Last year, the Tigers beat Syracuse 16-6 at home, holding the Orange to just 10 first downs and 170 total yards in 62 plays, a 2.7 average.
PURRING TIGERS: Clemson averages 488 yards offensively per game and has reached that level against a schedule that includes four of the top-25 defenses in the nation. ACC rival Boston College leads the country in total defense (236.5 yards per game) and Clemson gained 532 against the Eagles.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina and freelancer Mark Frank in Syracuse contributed.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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