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Staff Predictions: Cotton Bowl

| Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Tobias Hoonhout — Managing Editor

If you talk to Brian Kelly or Dabo Swinney, there’s nothing but respect on either side for Notre Dame-Clemson. And for good reason. If this game is anything like the one in 2015, we’re set for a another classic.

Both the Tigers and the Irish have a wealth of offensive options at their disposal — this matchup seems set to be decided on the defensive end, particularly in the trenches. While Clemson’s defensive front poses a serious threat to any offensive line, Notre Dame already has experience in handling talented front sevens this season — just ask Michigan. On the flip side, Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t faced an offense like Clemson’s — Trevor Lawrence may be a freshman, but he plays well beyond his years, and Travis Etienne is an explosive back. Plus, Swinney’s program has the invaluable experience of being in the Playoff the last three seasons — we’ll have to wait and see how Ian Book handles the pressure.
Ultimately, I think this game will be a coin flip. But Brian Kelly has proved time and time again this year that he’s flipped the script, whether it being beating David Shaw and Stanford or closing out the year with a win in California. I can’t help but feel that revenge against the Tigers is next on the list.
FINAL: Notre Dame 38, Clemson 30

Elizabeth Greason — Assistant Managing Editor

Notre Dame’s strengths match up very well with Clemson’s strengths, which is a bit of a scary thought, when you consider how strong Clemson’s strengths really are.

But at the same time, Notre Dame is hungry for redemption. Redemption for the hurricane loss in 2015. Redemption for the 4-8 2016 season. Redemption for the loss in the national championship to Alabama in 2012.
Both squads have high-powered offenses that will lead to a high-scoring game, but each team also has one of the nation’s best defenses. This game will be about not turning the ball over and extending drives. The real question for me is which Ian Book is going to show up — the one who played against Wake Forest and Stanford, or the one who struggled against Pitt and USC? Will the Irish be able to effectively run the ball against Clemson’s scary front seven, as they have had difficulty getting those signature breakout runs in a number of situations this season? I’m confident in the Irish defense’s ability to get the critical stops. My doubt creeps in when it comes to offense. But at the same time, I’ve doubted this team on various occasions throughout the year and each time, I have been proven wrong.
FINAL: Notre Dame 35, Clemson 28

Joe Everett — Sports Editor

Here we go. No. 2 Clemson against No. 3 Notre Dame for the right to play in the national championship.

Overall, Clemson is the more talented team. The Tigers have weapons all over the field on offense, and feature three defensive linemen that will probably go in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. Oh, and those 300-pound defensive linemen often appear on offense, especially in goal-line situations. Scary.
However, I think the rest and preparation period will benefit the Irish more than it will the Tigers. Notre Dame is no longer traveling coast-to-coast, and Drue Tranquill can finally rest and get healthy.
I believe this’ll be a close game, and it’ll come down to quarterback play. Clemson’s secondary is the weakness of its defense. Can Ian Book effectively throw the deep ball and exploit that advantage? How will true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence handle the moment? Notre Dame is the best defense he will have faced all year. Whichever team executes better, and whichever quarterback makes more plays will be the one that advances to Levi Stadium.
I think Notre Dame ultimately comes up just short.
FINAL: Clemson 34, Notre Dame 31

Charlotte Edmonds — Associate Sports Editor

This is what Notre Dame wanted, right? Avoid Bama, and take on ACC-rival Clemson. The problem being, Clemson is ACC in name but SEC in brand. They win for a living. That said, this team isn’t invincible. Heck, their closest matchup came in a three-point win against Syracuse, the same Syracuse team that the Irish nearly shutout, although the Orange were without starting quarterback Eric Dungey for most of the game. With the exception of two close games to Texas A&M and the Orange early in the season, the overwhelming trend of winning everything by 20 or more points indicates this Clemson team knows how to be successful.

I do think Notre Dame is underrated. There’s no doubt they deserve a spot over defenseless Oklahoma or inconsistent Ohio State. Georgia can make an argument as perhaps a better team, but wins over three top-25 teams don’t discredit Notre Dame’s right to play for a spot in the national championship. However, the experience of the four-straight College Football Playoffs means the Tigers will be too much for the Irish in AT&T Stadium.
As much as I want to predict a Notre Dame win, I keep having flashbacks to 2012. I think the luck of the Irish might come to an end in Dallas.
FINAL: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 24

Connor Mulvena — Associate Sports Editor

Notre Dame has a lot riding on this, and I don’t just mean a shot at a national title. The Irish need to prove that they really belonged in the top four. With narratives swirling about how Georgia or Ohio State should have been in, and how they are better than the Irish, if Notre Dame takes a bad loss here, the committee might not have faith in an undefeated Notre Dame with no conference championship in future playoff selections. That’s a heavy weight to carry for this team, and especially for Brian Kelly. But this team has proved me wrong many times this season, and there’s no reason why they can’t be up to the task once again.

All of that aside, Clemson is really a different animal for the Irish. Brian Kelly’s squad has beaten some impressive programs this season, but Clemson set itself apart, with Alabama, as a clear contender for a national championship early on in the season, and the Tigers kept rolling and rolling and rolling. Notre Dame’s defense is among the best in the nation, and I have no doubt that the unit has the ability to get under the skin of freshman Trevor Lawrence early on the big stage. But I really worry about Notre Dame’s offense here. Clemson’s defense is ferocious, and although the Irish have faced off against some impressive front sevens, they haven’t seen one quite like this. Notre Dame will need to grind out some ugly first downs in this contest, and if I look at the offense that came out in the first half against USC, I worry about Notre Dame’s ability to do that in this one. Ultimately, I think the Clemson defense will be too much for the Irish to handle, and Travis Etienne will find the holes in the Irish defense to give Clemson red zone opportunities. It will be competitive on Dec. 29th, but the Irish will fall short.
FINAL: Clemson 24, Notre Dame 13
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