Road Work Ahead! Away from Death Valley, Tigers will face unfamiliar challenges

N.C. State, Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia will be looking to derail Clemson from lofty goals

N.C. State's Darryl Cato-Bishop sacks Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in the third quarter. The Wolfpack defense combined for six sacks and four turnovers in the game two years ago in Raliegh.

N.C. State's Darryl Cato-Bishop sacks Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in the third quarter. The Wolfpack defense combined for six sacks and four turnovers in the game two years ago in Raliegh.

The 'big three' frame Clemson's 2013 season - the Bulldogs on August 31; the Seminoles seven games in, on October 19; and the Gamecocks on November 30.

Throw always-tough Georgia Tech in for good measure, in a late-season showdown that's a rarity for Clemson football - a Thursday night home game at Death Valley.

Those challenges are not all that stand between the Tigers and their lofty season goals, however.

Four road games stand out, not so much as season-makers, but as potential season-breakers.

Here's a quick early look at what the Tigers will face this season when they play away from Death Valley.

N.C. State, Thursday, Sept. 19, Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC: The Wolfpack had its ups-and-downs under Tom O'Brien, and before that under Chuck Amato. But State has always been tough 'out' for the Tigers. Clemson won last season's November slugfest 62-48, and a year before the Wolfpack unexpectedly hammered the ACC champions 37-13 at Carter-Finley Stadium. A year earlier, Clemson edged the Pack 14-13 in a defensive struggle. You get the picture.

Under new coach Dave Doeren, N.C. State promises to turn up the tempo on its offense. The game will be the ACC opener for both teams - State's following games against Louisiana Tech and Richmond, and Clemson after playing Georgia and S.C. State at home. The history, unknowns and Thursday night setting make this one a danger-zone.

Syracuse, October 5, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY: The game will be Clemson's first against Syracuse as a member of the ACC, and the first overall since the Orangemen delivered a memorable (for all the wrong reasons) 41-0 thrashing in the 1995 Gator Bowl. Syracuse, like N.C. State, has a new head coach (Scott Shafer having replaced Doug Marrone, who departed for the Buffalo Bills after reviving the Syracuse program) and some momentum from last year's 8-5 season. Also like N.C. State, the Orange will be operating with new team leadership after sending its starting quarterback to the NFL. The game will be the ACC opener for Syracuse, which opens at home against Penn State, plays at Northwestern, and then is back in the Carrier Dome for games against Wagner, Tulane and Clemson. Syracuse may not yet be an ACC title contender, but they're plenty good enough to play the spoiler.

Maryland, October 26, Byrd Stadium, College Park, MD: Speaking of playing the spoiler, there's nothing Randy Edsall's Terps would like better than to give the ACC something to remember as it departs for the Big Ten. After last season's injury-fueled frustration, the Terps are due to have some things go their way during their final season in the ACC. Edsall is starting to have some recruiting success in securing the home base, and he has one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers in Stefon Diggs. Following an important, and emotional, game at home against Florida State the previous week, the Tigers will be on the road against an opponent whose dangerous tendencies they know all too well. Clemson breezed past the Terps last year, but needed everything they had for 56-45 win in 2011. The Tigers can't afford to overlook this one.

Virginia, November 2, Scott Stadium, Charlottesville: The Tigers and Cavaliers are in the same conference, but since expansion they might as well have inhabited different universes. The teams last played 2008-09, with Clemson winning 13-3 at Charlottesville - part of a 4-of-5 run that earned interim head coach Dabo Swinney his full-time gig, and then 34-21 at Death Valley in 2009. Those were the first meetings between the two programs since 2004. Everything has changed at Charlottesville since then, so it will be another unfamiliar test for the current generation of Tigers.

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