Cotton Bowl Pick: Notre Dame vs. Clemson
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) vs. Clemson Tigers (13-0 SU, 7-6 ATS)
CFP Semifinal – The Cotton Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 29th, 4:00 PM
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Point Spread: ND +13 / CLEM -13
Over/Under Total: 55
In the first of the BCS Semifinal Playoff games, two undefeated teams face off when Clemson and Notre Dame meet in the Cotton Bowl. This is just the fourth all-time meeting between the two, with the Tigers having won the most recent back in 2015 24-22 in a game played in a near hurricane and decided by a failed two-point conversion attempt by the Irish in the final seconds.
Clemson’s appearance in the BCS playoffs came as no surprise, as this will be their fourth trip in a row and was an easy pick for number two in the country to start the season and throughout it. Over the past four seasons, they have four straight conference titles and have put up an incredible 52-4 record while also winning the National Championship in 2016.
WHEN CLEMSON PASSES
The Tigers offense ranked as one of the best in the country this year, coming in at 5th in both scoring and total offense. Led by freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, they scored at least 27 points in every game and were able to attack effectively in both the passing and running games. After replacing incumbent Kelly Bryant in September, Lawrence ended up throwing for 2606 yards while posting an impressive 24-4 TD/INT ratio. Their number one target through the air is Tee Higgins, who earned second-team All-ACC honors with Lawrence after catching 52 passes for 802 yards and ten touchdowns. He is far from alone with Hunter Renfroe, Justyn Ross, and Amari Rodgers rounding out the main receiving options. Higgins is sure to draw attention from Notre Dame cornerback and 1st Team All-American Julian Love, who along with safety Alohi Gilman will be counted on to lead the way in stopping the Clemson air attack.
THE CLEMSON RUNNING GAME
As good as the Tigers were through the air, they were even better rushing and ended the year 10th in the nation in yards per game on the ground. The focal point is Travis Etienne, who earned 2nd Team All-American and 1st Team All-ACC honors after rushing for 1463 yards, 21 touchdowns and an 8.3 yards per carry average. Backing up Etienne is Lyn-J Dixon, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster, and the entire backfield benefits from a dominant offensive line led by 1st Team All-American Mitch Hyatt. The whole squad will have their work cut out for them going up against an experienced Notre Dame front seven highlighted by Jerry Tillery, Te’Von Coney, and Drue Tranquill.
WHEN NOTRE DAME RUNS
Game planning around a strong defense is something Notre Dame will undoubtedly have to do, as they will be facing one of the top-ranked squads in the country with Clemson coming in at 2nd in scoring, 4th in yards per game and 3rd in rushing. One of the biggest matchups of the game will be Notre Dame’s rushing attack versus a Clemson defensive line that features four future NFL players (Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, and Austin Bryant) along with a linebacking crew highlighted by Tre Lamar and Kendall Joseph. The Irish backfields’ best is Dexter Williams, who despite missing the first four games of the year ended up with 941 yards rushing and twelve touchdowns. After Williams, there remain two legit threats in Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong, who both combined for 11 touchdowns this season.
WHEN THE NOTRE DAME PASSES
While the Clemson front line gets plenty of attention, their defensive backfield is plenty talented as well with Trayvon Mullen, the best of the group after earning second-team All-ACC honors. He will likely see plenty of Miles Boykin, the best Irish passing threat who got even better after Book was made the quarterback. Since his insertion into the lineup, Boykin has averaged 80 yards and a touchdown per game and seems destined for the NFL himself one day. Quarterback Ian Book has been a steady force after taking over the quarterback position and ended the regular season ranked 4th in passing percentage and 7th in QB rating. After Boykin, his top targets are Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Alize Mack.
For those interested in against the spread trends, there are some interesting ones in line for each team. Both have done well of late with Notre Dame putting up a 6-2-1 record in their last nine overall and Clemson 6-2 in their previous eight. Both have also fared well at neutral sites, as the Irish have gone 4-0 in their last four while the Tigers have been even better at 11-2 in their previous thirteen. One difference is their recent performance in bowl games, with Notre Dame going just 2-4 record in their last six compared to an impressive 7-1 record for Clemson in their last eight postseason games.
THE FINAL DECISION
There is plenty of talent abound on both sides of the field with NFL caliber players throughout the teams’ rosters. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, this years’ title game matchup of Alabama vs. Clemson was nearly preordained before the season started and it will be the final outcome once the BCS semifinal weekend is completed. As much I will be rooting for the Irish to pull off the upset, I just believe the Tigers are just that much better on both sides of the ball, and by games end, they will get the win and cover in the Cotton Bowl.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Clemson -13. Editor’s Note: Need a top level sportsbook that accepts bitcoin? Fast deposits and fast payouts at our recommended bitcoin sportsbooks.