Notre Dame got the matchup everyone was anticipating for weeks, as it turned out, as the Irish were seeded #3 by the College Football Playoff selection committee and placed into the Cotton Bowl against Clemson, a game that will kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 29 on ESPN.
— Cotton Bowl Classic (@CottonBowlGame) December 2, 2018
I don’t think anyone actually anticipated any shenanigans regarding ND’s inclusion, but it was still nice to see the Irish stay at their #3 spot as the lowest-ranked of the three major unbeatens (with shouts to 12-0 UCF). The close SEC championship game briefly opened up the “eye test” argument with respect to the Irish among some pundits, with some people deciding to push for 11-2 Georgia to not just stay ahead of Oklahoma but also jump ND after losing a game, which is an interesting take.
Kirk Herbstreit just said he thinks the committee will move Georgia UP to No. 3.
“I don’t get caught up in champions I get caught up in ‘best.'”
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 2, 2018
The committee decided to ignore this, thankfully, although they listened to enough of it to give the Bulldogs the ceremonial #5 spot ahead of Ohio State. Doesn’t matter for ND fan purposes, but it’s fun to argue about (and we did, in the Slack, though we all seemed to have the same opinion). Luckily, most of the sports media cognoscenti sided with rationality, and so did the committee, placing Oklahoma opposite Alabama in the Orange Bowl that will take place right after the Irish’s semifinal game. That one should be interesting, especially if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa continues to struggle with injury as he did in the SEC title game.
COLUMN: Georgia went 0-2 against the two best teams on its schedule. The Bulldogs looked great against Alabama, but this isn’t a beauty pageant. Georgia shouldn’t be in the playoff https://t.co/hzf8a8LcVP via @usatoday
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 2, 2018
Anyway, with the arguing (mostly) over, there are actual games to be played. And boy, is this one going to be tough.
The two teams have four common opponents this year: Wake Forest, Florida State, Pitt and Syracuse. Obviously, both teams swept all four. Each team blew out Wake and FSU (although Clemson’s blowouts were even more lopsided than ND’s). Each team had a clear advantage in one of the other two side-by-side comparisons. ND smacked around the Cuse while Clemson needed a last-minute drive from third-string QB Chase Brice to win (Trevor Lawrence was injured and that was the first game post-Kelly Bryant transfer). Clemson very briefly struggled before pulling away against Pitt yesterday in the sacrosanct conference championship game, while ND, while statistically handling the Panthers, didn’t take the lead until the fourth quarter in what was the Irish’s most unnerving performance since going to Ian Book at quarterback.
The teams played a very close game in 2015, which Clemson won (you’ll recall that it took place in a monsoon), but few of the teams’ current players were involved in that one and most of the Irish’s coaching staff has changed over as well.
Of course, you can toss all that out the window when the Irish and Tigers clash. Clemson is opening as favorites by somewhere between 10 and 12 points depending on where you look, and while you can debate how big the number should be, there’s no question the Tigers pose a massive threat to ND, and they’ll be by a large margin the best team ND has faced since the season opener against Michigan. (Of course, ND is going to be rather easily the best team Clemson has played all season too, which is something I doubt will get as much play nationally. But I digress.)
My more talented colleagues will go more in-depth on the matchups as the game approaches, I’m sure, but for now, be aware that the Tigers have probably the best defensive line in college football, loaded with NFL first-round talent, and they’re pretty damn good up front on the other side, too.
Clemson leads the nation in rushing yards per attempt on offense (6.75) and defense (2.40). No team has led in both categories for the same entire season in the last 10 years.
— Tim Bourret (@TimBourret) December 2, 2018
Until those #longreads come up, get ready for the longest four weeks of your life. We’re in.