Syracuse's Babers ready for challenge from No. 3 Clemson
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) This is the time of year Syracuse coach Dino Babers wants his young team to fully embrace, even if it must start at No. 3 Clemson.
The Orange (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) have won two straight to head into the regular-season's final month with a bit of momentum.
''To be 4-4 at Syracuse University, where the games you remember are the ones in November,'' Babers said. ''We are going into November where the games matter. There is something riding on it.''
There's much more at stake for the Tigers (8-0, 5-0), voted No. 2 in the year's first College Football Playoff rankings this week. Clemson is looking to win its 23rd consecutive regular-season game and remain on track to win the ACC Atlantic, gain a spot in the league title game and compete for the national championship.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said his players know they have little margin for error down the stretch.
''This is the championship phase of our journey,'' Swinney said.
Syracuse is supposed to be the first of four overmatched opponents for Clemson this month. Next up is Pitt at Death Valley before Clemson travels to Wake Forest and finishes up against South Carolina.
The Orange have lost their past three games against Clemson, Pitt hasn't played the Tigers in nearly 40 years, Wake Forest has lost the past seven in the series while the Gamecocks have dropped the past two rivalry games.
Swinney said his team has worked since Jan. 12 - the day after its 45-40 loss to the Crimson Tide in the national title game - to take the final step forward to get back there again. A slip up down the stretch and those championship goals could go down the drain.
''We've got a chance to clinch a division title, a chance to win a state title and play for a conference title,'' Swinney said. ''There is a lot at stake.''
Some other things to watch when No. 3 Clemson plays Syracuse:
ETTA-TAWOS: Syracuse receiver Amba Etta-Tawo is returning to Clemson's Memorial Stadium where he once watched his older brother, defensive tackle Etta Etta-Tawo, play for the Tigers. Etta's career was cut short when medical issues ended his football career.
WATSON'S RISE: The questions about Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson's production seem to be fading with each and every performance. He threw for 378 yards - a season high - in each of his past two games and has completed better than two-thirds of his throws in the last three contests. Watson's not worried about the stats, just as long as they lead to victory. ''I'm still growing as a player and a person,'' he said.
ORANGE-COLORED GLASSES? Syracuse coach Dino Babers is prepping his team to play its best against the Tigers. How's he like the Orange's chances? ''I wouldn't bet the house on it, brother,'' Babers, the realist, said. ''This is an excellent team and it's at their house and they're highly motivated. But give us a slingshot and a rock, that's all I ask.''
LET'S GO: Expect a fast, productive attack when Syracuse has the ball. Quarterback Eric Dungey leads the ACC with 328 passing yards a game this season to lead the Orange's fast-paced offense. Amba Etta-Tawo tops the league with 1,034 yards receiving and seven TD catches. The Orange lead the ACC with 672 offensive snaps, 50 more than second-place Virginia Tech.
WINNING THE CLOSE ONES: Clemson has been adept at pulling out tight games this season with five of its eight victories coming by a touchdown or less. Three of their past four wins all fit that category with a 42-36 victory over Louisville, a 24-17 overtime victory over North Carolina State and a 37-34 victory at Florida State last Saturday.
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