- Can Irish contain potent Clemson attack?
- Tigers’ star-studded defensive front could break out
- Notre Dame’s D the best Clemson has faced all year
And then there were four.
The quest for college football supremacy resumes in less than a week, with a pair of semi-final match-ups, including No. 2 ranked Clemson (13-0) and No. 3 ranked Notre Dame (12-0) meeting in the Cotton Bowl, with a trip to the National Championship game on the line.
This is the Tigers’ fourth straight trip to the playoff, while Notre Dame, just two years removed from a 4-8 campaign, will be making their first appearance in the playoff.
Find the early odds, statistical comparison, and best bet below.
2018 Cotton Bowl Odds
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish (#3)||+12.5 (-110)||+370||O 55.0 (-110)|
|Clemson Tigers (#2)||-12.5 (-110)||-440||U 55.0 (-110)|
*Odds from BetOnline.
Date: 4:00 PM ET, Dec. 29
Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Hard to imagine that a team that’s gone undefeated in the regular season and finished the year ranked third in the nation can be a massive underdog like the Irish are in this one. But that’s less a slight and more a credit to the demolition that Clemson has put on in this year on both sides of the ball.
On defense, Clemson’s front four of Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are as good as it gets, and all four are projected to be high draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
"The Road To Santa Clara" Tweet Of The Day: Only three teams have scored more than two touchdowns against the Tigers, and Clemson's defense has allowed just 19 touchdowns, eight rushing and 11 passing. pic.twitter.com/zqkaUJ3zl2
— Scott Rhymer (@TigerPreGame) December 20, 2018
On offense, they are powered by running back Travis Etienne, who had himself a year.
Travis Etienne was a touchdown and first-down machine this year pic.twitter.com/rG5W6ydSJA
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 12, 2018
But don’t expect Notre Dame to fold too easily, as they present some great match-up elements that should test Clemson. Defensively, the 21st-ranked Irish will be the best ranked defense the Tigers will have seen all year (previous high was 36th).
— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) December 2, 2018
Bryan Kelly’s squad isn’t as marquee as Clemson’s unit, but they did rank equally effective in both the run (33rd) and the pass (36). While it’s hard to stop a team that averages better than 45 points a game, they have held every team but one to under 23 points this season.
I really liked this empty check from Notre Dame on Saturday. Within a fraction of a second, the defense can bring 7 and play zero, drop to an inverted man under two deep, or have the inside linebackers rob the underneath slant windows, or anything in between. pic.twitter.com/ub2TW3fXu5
— Bobby Peters (@b_peters12) September 4, 2018
And there’s no question that Notre Dame will look to their own star running back, Dexter Williams, to break through that front and into some daylight. In just eight games, Williams racked up 941 yards on a healthy 6.6 yards per tote.
"They are a run first offense. They are built to run the ball.” – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney on Notre Dame’s offense pic.twitter.com/0sB3RFM1Rt
— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) December 15, 2018
If Notre Dame’s line can hold up, Williams can do some things. In fact, a balanced attack led by QB Ian Book will likely be the difference in this one being close, or a blowout like some are predicting.
— #NobodyDied (@ftbeard_17) November 11, 2018
Notre Dame vs Clemson Statistical Comparison
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish||Statistic||Clemson Tigers|
|12-0 (6-4-2 ATS)||Record||13-0 (7-6 ATS)|
|17.3||Points Allowed Per Game||13.7|
|48.9% (5th)||F/+ Combined Rating||51.7% (3rd)|
|20.6 (6th)||S&P+ Rating||27.9 (2nd)|
|25th||Strength of Schedule||14th|
These are two of the top six in S&P+ Rating in all of college football.
Clemson has more talent on its roster from top to bottom, and having played on the big stage consistently over the past few seasons, they should be favored.
But that’s a hefty amount of points they are giving Notre Dame. The Irish might not be great at any one thing, but the are very solid at everything. If they can establish the run and keep their defense fresh, this should be a close one.
Clemson will probably win, but I’d be pretty stunned if they covered.