The first of two CFP semifinal games being played on Saturday, Dec. 29 features the #2 Clemson Tigers (13-0, 1st in ACC – Atlantic) playing the #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0). Kickoff for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl is 4:00 pm ET. The game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Our Cotton Bowl Classic pick and preview has the Clemson Tigers favored by anywhere from 12.5 to 14.00 points. The over/under sits at either 56.5 or 57.0.
The Fighting Irish put up a perfect record this season with a schedule that included four nationally-ranked clubs. They started the season against #14 Michigan beating them 24-17. In weeks five and six, Notre Dame met and took down #7 Stanford 38-17 and #24 Virginia Tech 45-23. On Nov. 17, they beat #12 Syracuse 36-3. They finished the year with a 24-17 victory over unranked USC.
The Tigers of Clemson played a somewhat similar schedule. But, it was actually a bit easier than Notre Dame’s. Clemson started their 2018 season with a 48-7 win over Furman. They did have some of the same teams on their schedule as the Irish, including Syracuse, Wake Forest, Florida State, and Pittsburgh. But the Tigers only played two nationally-ranked teams, #16 NC State and #17 Boston College. Clemson ended the regular season with a 56-35 win over South Carolina. They then played Pittsburgh for the ACC title and won easily 42-10. Here’s how we see our Cotton Bowl Classic pick, the spread and totals, working out.
Notre Dame – Analysis
Notre Dame averaged 33.8 PPG this season. They used a balanced rush and pass attack, as the Irish threw for 266.6 YPG and ran for 190.5. Junior QB Ian Book (70.4 COMP%, 19 TDs, 6 INTs), who passed for 2,648 yards, will be looking to toss to senior WR Miles Boykin. Boykins led the team in receptions (54), yards (803 YDs), average yards per catch (14.9 YPC), and receiving touchdowns (8). There are three other pass catchers with a minimum of 34 receptions. Senior RB Dexter Williams (142 ATT, 6.6 YPA, 12 TDs) rushed for 941 yards this season and is the team’s primary ground gainer.
Our Cotton Bowl Classic pick notes that ND had a solid defense that allowed 17.3 PPG. The team was not extraordinarily stingy, but they did limit teams to 198.0 YPG. That’s solid. The 133.5 YPG in rushing allowed is not as sound. Junior safety Jalen Elliott has four of the Irish 11 interceptions and six of their 55 PD. Corner Julian Love defended 15 passes while taking in one pick. He’s also recovered three fumbles. The Irish have made 31 sacks and 72 TFL. Defensive linemen Khalid Kareem (11.0 TFL, 5.5 SCKs) and Julian Okwara (10.0 TFL, 5.5 SCKs) are two top performers upfront.
Clemson – Analysis
The Tigers churned out 528.9 YPG with a whopping 259.8 YPG coming off the run. They also passed for an average of 270.1 YPG. The team averaged 45.4 PPG. Freshman QB Trevor Lawrence (65.0 COMP%, 24 TDs, 4 INTs) has had a winning first season. WR Tee Higgins (62 REC, 15.4 YPC, 10 TDs) is his primary target. Sophomore RB Travis Etienne (176 ATT, 8.3 YPA, 21 TDs) rushed for 1,463 yards this season. But he’s not all that the Tigers have when it come to the ground game. Three other running backs have combined for a total of 1,451 yards and 21 scores.
Clemson has a very tight defense. They allowed opponents a mere 92.9 YPG in rushing. They also held them to 183.8 YPG in passing. Points given up per game stand at 13.7. Cotton Bowl Classic pick observes that the Tiger D has notched 45 sacks and over 120 TFL. All-American DE
Clelin Ferrell has secured 10.5 sacks, 17.5 TFL, and 47 tackles. He’s a prime leader on this side of the ball. Clemson also defended 37 passes, took down nine picks, and forced 15 fumbles.
Five Keys to the Game
- Can ND stop Tiger running game?
- Clemson needs to use pass effectively for balance
- The Irish must take control of the tempo of the game
- Clemson offense is exceptionally deep
- Irish rush attack will have a tough time vs Clemson D
Our Cotton Bowl Classic Pick
Our Cotton Bowl Classic pick likes the over in this game despite the fact that there are two tough defenses featured. We do think that both teams are very capable of scoring. Bet the over at 56.5. The spread is big especially when you consider how the Irish have performed this season. We say take Notre Dame at +14.0. See our full slate of picks by connecting with our 2018 bowl schedule. Click here for the other CFP Semifinal game between Alabama and Oklahoma.