Weird things can happen on Friday nights in college football, but no one (and I mean no one) predicted what took place this week in the Carrier Dome. In short, the Clemson Tigers rolled in as the No. 2 team in the country and come Sunday that ranking will be tumble on the heels of a stunning 27-24 loss to the Syracuse Orange.
Dabo Swinney’s team entered as more than a three-touchdown favorite and, frankly, it was easy to see why on the strength of an unblemished resume. Clemson deploys perhaps the best defense in America and, with young quarterback Kelly Bryant playing well, there was no reason to think that the Tigers would be in trouble, even on the road in conference play.
However, Bryant went down after a brutal hit just before halftime and his exit with a concussion certainly did not help the cause for the Tigers. It should be noted, though, that Clemson never led in the game, with that vaunted defense allowing 440 yards to the Orange, and Bryant’s injury was not necessarily the pure catalyst that you might expect during an upset of this magnitude.
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey had the game of his life, completing 20-of-32 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns in the win, while rushing for an additional 61 yards on 21 carries. It was a bit of a lethargic effort from the Tigers, who had previously not allowed a team to keep a game within 14 points. The Orange somehow managed to pull off the massive upset as 24-point underdogs and the Syracuse faithful stormed the field in excitement when the clock hit 0:00, and rightfully so.
This isn’t the end of the road for Clemson’s hopes at back-to-back titles. Oklahoma dropped a game to Iowa State as more than a 30-point favorite just one week ago and, of course, this type of thing happens in college football. Still, Clemson’s defense theoretically keeps the team out of harm’s way more often than not and Syracuse’s upset victory on Thursday is one that won’t soon be forgotten. The Tigers are still alive in the College Football Playoff race but, thanks to one poor effort in ACC play, the margin for error has vanished.