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No. 3 Notre Dame to play no. 2 Clemson in 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal

| Monday, December 3, 2018

Gathering in the Isban Auditorium in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex just past noon on Sunday, the Notre Dame football team celebrated its first-ever College Football Playoff bid after the selection committee announced the Irish (12-0) will be taking on No. 2 Clemson (13-0, 8-0 ACC) on Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl with the winner advancing to the national championship. The game — played in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium — will determine who faces off against the winner of Alabama and Oklahoma, who will play on the same day in Miami in the Orange Bowl.

“[We’re] really excited about our ability to continue to this journey on, being invited as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s hard to be there. I think it’s a combined 50 and one [record] of the four teams. This is what we work for.”

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish head coach Brian Kelly stands in the tunnel prior to Notre Dame’s 44-22 victory over Navy on Oct. 27 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego.

Although technically the Cotton Bowl Classic, the game will be played at AT&T Stadium — commonly referred to as “Jerry World,” after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones; the stadium has been home to the Cowboys since 2009 following the destruction of the Texas Stadium. AT&T Stadium has also hosted the Big 12 Championship game the past two years, including Saturday’s contest which vaulted No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1, 9-1 Big 12) into the Playoff with a win over No. 15 Texas. The stadium seats 80,000, making it the fourth-largest NFL stadium, and features an iconic video screen that spans 60 yards along the middle of the field. Notre Dame has competed in the Cotton Bowl Classic seven times in program history.

Although Notre Dame is no newcomer to national television with its NBC coverage and bowl game history, for many of the players, this game is the fulfillment of all their dreams.

“That’s what Notre Dame is all about,” graduate student offensive lineman Sam Mustipher said. “You think about some of the venues kids dream about — [AT&T Stadium,] … Fenway Park, … Yankee Stadium, and I’ve had an opportunity to play in all three now. So it’s very exciting.”

Despite the hype and fanfare that’s expected to surround this game, Kelly is intent on keeping his team focused and carrying its momentum from the past month into the new year.

“You know, all of our work was done in November to get us into the final four,” Kelly said. “Now there’s four teams left. They are all great teams. You’ve got to be really sharp for two weeks.”

Kelly and his players understand that this matchup will require their complete execution, taking on a formidable opponent in Clemson. The last time the Irish and the Tigers met was in 2015, when the then-undefeated Irish travelled to South Carolina to take on Clemson. The game, played in a hurricane, ended in a 24-22 loss for Notre Dame. Despite that mid-season loss, Kelly managed to build an impressive comeback, nearly earning a ticket to the College Football Playoff before losing to Stanford on the road on a field goal in the final minute.

This time, the Irish are taking nothing for granted.

“All they did was punch their ticket into the opportunity in the Playoff to win a National Championship, so now it’s go-time,” Kelly said. “Now we got in, let’s go achieve something. So that’s how they see it and that’s a great mindset.”

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