As expected, Clemson is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff seeding, and Notre Dame is No. 3. They’re going to play in the Cotton Bowl semifinal on Dec. 29.
1. Both of these teams are great, but it’s been a while since either’s gotten to show its stuff against an elite opponent.
Notre Dame hasn’t gotten a chance to do that since it beat Michigan in Week 1. Clemson hasn’t had that kind of shot since ... last year’s Playoff against Alabama, though the Tigers did play and win a hard road game against Texas A&M in Week 2.
2. Both teams also have outstanding defenses.
All are great. They’re also fun. Wilkins also has an ability to play basically anywhere on a football field. Both he and Lawrence have scored rushing touchdowns this year.
You could’ve figured coming into this season that defense was going to be a Notre Dame strong suit, too, as the Irish brought back talent at every level from a top-30 unit last year. But things have still been better than was widely expected; Notre Dame’s No. 3 in Defensive S&P+ and has yet to give up more than 27 points in a game.
The Irish do a great job limiting explosive plays. They haven’t let up a single 60-yard scrimmage play all year, and they’re No. 3 in Marginal Explosiveness allowed, an advanced stat that measures how successful plays are based on the down and distance.
3. Both teams have looked even better since making QB changes.
While Clemson’s defense is a nice anchor for them, the offense has added a new downfield dimension with five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. He was able to fine-tune his game throughout the year against Clemson’s weak schedule.
And with explosive receivers like Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, and Amari Rodgers (and an all-world running back in Travis Etienne), he’s developed into a star since Kelly Bryant announced after four games he would transfer. He’s also thrown a bunch to senior Hunter Renfrow, who caught Deshaun Watson’s title-winning touchdown pass two years ago.
Notre Dame’s in a similar boat. The Irish were winning games with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback, but things were slow at times. The offense has been more prolific with Book usually at the helm since late September. The former three-star has turned out to be an ideal fit for Brian Kelly’s offense:
What Book is bringing to Notre Dame is conceptually similar to what Tua Tagovailoa is bringing to Alabama. With a versatile skill set that includes the ability to distribute the ball in spread-option schemes, RPOs, and play action, the defense gets into a bind. It has to either confuse Book about where the ball’s going or beat some talented player man-to-man.
If the QB matchup were Bryant vs. Wimbush, it’d still be a good game. But the two teams have made significant strides since they made changes.
4. The last time Clemson and ND played, it was ugly and memorable
Playing in Death Valley during Hurricane Joaquin, Clemson went into the fourth quarter up 21-3, but the Irish stormed back with a trio of touchdowns to make it a two-point game. Except, on their two-point conversion attempt, Notre Dame did this:
24-22, Clemson. Final. That win was key in the Tigers making it to 2015’s Playoff, where they almost beat Bama in the national title game. They haven’t missed a Playoff since.
These teams are capable of providing us with another great one.
And this one won’t happen during a hurricane.