|No. 2 Clemson may be without starting QB at Syracuse|
The big question surrounding No. 2 Clemson as it prepares for a Friday night game at Syracuse is whether starting quarterback Kelly Bryant will be ready to return to the lineup after sustaining an ankle injury last week in the Tigers' 28-14 win against Wake Forest.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers says it doesn't matter.
"They have really, really good players," Babers said. "Whether he plays or someone else plays, there will be another five-star (quarterback) back there that can hand the ball off or throw to those guys."
Babers is right.
If Bryant is unable to go, the starting nod is likely to fall to freshman Hunter Johnson, who was rated the nation's top prep quarterback in 2016 by ESPN. Johnson guided the Tigers for their final three offensive series last week and completed all five of his passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Bryant, who is just the second freshman quarterback in Clemson history to win each of his first six starts, could be a game-day decision for the matchup at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
"He'll be day-to-day, and we'll see how he progresses through the week," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. "If he's ready to play, he'll go play. If he's not, we'll play the next guy."
Clemson (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won 12 consecutive games on the opponent's home field -- the longest streak in school history and tied for the second-longest active streak in the nation. Oklahoma has a 13-game run, and Alabama also is at 12.
The Tigers have the nation's longest active winning streak overall, 11 in a row.
"They're the defending champs from last year and obviously doing a great job this year," Babers said. "Clemson is one of the premier programs, and the way Dabo does it is absolutely the right way. I have nothing but fantastic respect for him and program.
"The biggest motivation for us is that they're a really good football team in 2017. Not to take anything away from 2016, because they were national champs, but I think it's more important that they're ranked No. 2 in the country this year, and depending on where you're at, they probably should be ranked No. 1. If they had a different last name, they'd be ranked No. 1, a different surname, so to speak."
Despite losing offensive standouts such as quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Wayne Gallman to the NFL, Clemson's offense has remained explosive under Bryant, a stable full of running backs led by sophomore Tavien Feaster and freshman Travis Etienne, wide receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow and a veteran offensive front.
Balance has been the key to the Tigers' early success -- Clemson averages 237.3 yards rushing and 233.7 yards passing.
However, the team's primary calling card is its defense.
Led by a deep and talented front line anchored by All-America candidates Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, the Tigers rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (11.3), total defense (264.3), sacks (3.67) and fewest yards allowed per play (3.87).
"They're solid -- not only solid starters, but solid backups," Babers said. "I mean, you can tire them out and they put someone else in ... we don't know their name, but they play just like the guy in front of them. Their front four guys, and their linebackers, they're as good as anybody. There are no holes."
Syracuse (3-3, 1-1) is coming off a 27-24 victory against Pittsburgh that snapped a streak of close defeats.
Quarterback Eric Dungey passed for 365 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. The Orange have no shortage of talent at wide receiver -- Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips rank first and second in the ACC in receptions.
"Syracuse is playing well -- a big win against Pitt. Played LSU tight. Played N.C. State tight at N.C. State, so it's a big challenge for us," Swinney said. "We've had a tough little stretch here through the first six games and got another one this week. We're looking forward to the open date afterward, but our focus is really on trying to empty our tank this week and sprint into this open date and play our best game Friday night."
There is precedence for the Orange pulling monumental upsets against defending national champions. Syracuse topped Penn State in 1987 and Michigan in 1998 in the season after their national titles.
"This is huge, to have the nation tuning in Friday night to the Carrier Dome," Babers said. "It's a heck of a task, there's no doubt about it. The odds are against us, but we'll be there Friday night and see what happens."