Notre Dame Football: First Look at Cotton Bowl Matchup

It’s official, the Fighting Irish are in the playoffs. Notre Dame fans no longer have to listen to the “Conference Championship” jargon anymore. They will face Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. As expected, the Irish will be heavy underdogs in this playoff matchup. Head Coach Brian Kelly will face one of the biggest tests of his coaching career when the #3 Irish square off against #2 Tigers on December 29th.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: December 29th at 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • Location: AT & T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
  • Matchup: Notre Dame is 1-2 all-time against the Clemson Tigers (Last Meeting 2015: Clemson won 24 to 22)
  • Current Odds: Clemson -10.5

Clemson Details:

  • Conference: ACC (Atlantic Division)
  • Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
  • 2018 Record: 13-0
  • 2017 Record: 12-2

Initial Thoughts:

Irish earn #3 Playoff Spot. Contrary to popular belief, Notre Dame is well deserving of their #3 ranking and the opportunity to compete for a National Championship. Even though many opponents on Notre Dame’s schedule weren’t up to their normal standards, the Irish still beat 3 ranked teams (#7 Michigan, at #22 Northwestern, #20 Syracuse). All 12 wins were against FBS schools, the Irish have never played an FCS program, like most SEC schools do annually.

Ideal Matchup? The Irish will have a chance to play the Clemson Tigers instead of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Not taking anything away from Clemson whatsoever, but the history of 2012 still looms large for most Irish fans. I believe playing an opponent who the Irish only lost to by 2 points in 2015 gives Notre Dame a better mindset. Also, Brian Kelly will get to play in Arlington as opposed to the Orange Bowl, where Notre Dame has struggled recently.

Notre Dame Cotton Bowl History:

Tradition of winning at the Cotton Bowl. The Fighting Irish have had a long history of winning at the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame has the 2nd most Cotton Bowl victories (5), behind the Texas Longhorns (11). In 1979 the Irish had one of the most memorable Cotton Bowls in history. Down by 22-points with the flu, a young Joe Montana led the Irish to a monumental victory. A game which turned out to only be the beginning for the future 4-time Super Bowl champion.

During the 1993 Cotton Bowl, Lou Holtz coached the Irish to a 28-3 blowout of 12-0 Texas A & M. The most recent trip to the Cotton Bowl was in 1994 when Lou Holtz once again led his Irish to a 24-21 victory over the Texas A & M Aggies. This season will mark the first trip for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame since that 1994 season. Although they will not be playing at the Texas State Fair this time around, it will be at AT&T Stadium – aka “Jerry World”.

Clemson Early Storylines:

The Tigers are back for redemption. Last year, Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers were shutdown by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first round of the playoffs. Led by Kelly Bryant, the Tigers lost 24-6 against in the Sugar Bowl. The storyline early in the season was the quarterback battle between the veteran Kelly Bryant and the true-freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence.

Looking for a better passing quarterback, Dabo elected to go with Trevor Lawrence. We’ll see if the decision paid off in a few weeks.

Clemson is making their 4th straight playoff appearance; they clearly have the advantage in experience. The Tigers have asserted themselves as #2, behind Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Nothing less than a National Championship will be expected for the Tigers and their fan base. Standing in their way will be the Fighting Irish, a team that nearly beat them at home the last time they meet.

Major Favorites. Dabo Swinney will not be able to play the underdog role in this Cotton Bowl. All the experts across the country will likely be picking Clemson to face Alabama in the National Championship Game. As an experienced coach, he will not be overlooking this matchup. But will Dabo’s players be looking past the Irish? That is a possibility.

Notre Dame Early Storylines:

Only 4 teams remain. It seems just like yesterday fans were supporting the “Green Out” of Michigan, but here the Irish are 4 months later. The Fighting Irish are 12-0 for the second time during the Brian Kelly era and 2 wins away from a National Championship. Standing in their way of a Title Game? One of the most talented teams that Brian Kelly has ever faced.

Can the Irish compete? Absolutely. Just a few years ago Notre Dame traveled to South Carolina to take on Clemson. At that time the Tigers were not the powerhouse fans know today. The 2-point victory for Clemson catapulted the Tigers into the dominate program that fans know today.

Many experts say that the Irish aren’t good enough to be in the playoffs. I’ll reference the 2015 Clemson game. Notre Dame only lost by 2 points on the road to a Clemson team that gave Alabama a run for their money (in a monsoon nevertheless). Secondly, the Irish only lost to Georgia by 1-point last year. Since then, the Bulldogs have had Alabama down big on two different accusations but couldn’t finish the job.

Final Thoughts… For Now

The playoff matchups were just announced today, but many fans expected this game for a long time. Both teams have been sitting at #2 and #3 for quite some time. I’ll give my prediction closer to kickoff, but I think the underdog role will suit the Irish perfectly. Notre Dame fans will pack AT & T Stadium in a month and if the team can build off this underdog role, I believe they can go toe-to-toe with Clemson.

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  2. I believe the Irish will compete to the finish and put themselves in a position to win. Clemson will be a tough foe only to make ND a tougher foe to Alabama in the championship game.
    #NDwinsItAll ?

  3. I’m calling it now…Notre Dame will win this game vs Clemson silencing any skepticism.I don’t know about Alabama because they are that good, however, Oklahoma will score on them and put up a lot in a hurry….Wouldn’t that be a match up… Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma in the National title game!!!

  4. Your cover photo of Trevor Lawrence helps reveal his Achilles heel and shows his freshman pedigree. On almost every single pass attempt, he will stare down his primary receiver; no look offs ever. From the moment he gets the snap, he’s locked in. ND should be able to exploit this and make him look for other outlets. While he’s frantically eyeballing the board, SACK-O!

  5. It’s been a magical regular season, with the Irish consistently making huge plays and often dominating in the fourth quarter. That need not change @ Jerry World December 29th.

  6. I think that as this year has progressed our defense had really stepped up and the offense is hitting on all cylinders. I think we should use both QBs because if Bama can do it then why can’t we. Use all means of your disposal because this is won or go home.

  7. I definitely am happy the Irish don’t have to play Alabama in the first round. That’s not to say Clemson won’t be incredibly tough to beat. But the Irish have some experience playing Clemson in the last few years and we’ve taken them to the wire.

    Given weeks to prepare and a longer period of time since we last played Alabama, that would have been the worse matchup for ND.

    And I think Michael makes a good point. Practically everyone already has penciled in a Alabama-Clemson rematch in the title game. Now the coaches will try to keep the players focused on ND, but how much will the players be salivating over getting another shot at Alabama and lose their focus? Even just a bit could be enough to disrupt their rhythm.

    Now on the Irish side, they can’t count on that. If that causes Clemson to falter, great, use it. But don’t expect it. They have to prepare as if they will be entirely focused on ND.

    And maybe the Irish can play with some attitude. Almost no one excepts ND to win this game. And they’ve heard all week, and the last few days in particular, that maybe they don’t belong at all, even that a 2 loss team should be ranked ahead of them. They aren’t being respected. In fact, they are almost expected reading some of the comments to be manhandled by Clemson (perhaps that too will cause Clemson to be a bit overconfident). Use that disrespect. Nothing helps a football player like a healthy dose of being disrespected when you know you’re better then that.

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