We finally are getting near to the Playoff games. Instead of making it New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve, College football put it on a few days before. I guess that works for me….
This year’s Playoff marks a few things: the four teams in (Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma) went a combined 50-1 (the lone loss was by Oklahoma who exacted the revenge in the Big 12 title game against Texas). It marks the first time that we not only have one, not two, but three undefeated teams going into it. And now we have a 50% chance that we will see our first 15-0 team in college football in the Playoff era (Alabama or Clemson) or 14-0 team (Notre Dame). So it should be fun all around. The first preview is Clemson and Notre Dame. I will do the Alabama-Oklahoma preview later today or tomorrow.
COTTON BOWL: #2 CLEMSON VS. #3 NOTRE DAME, 4:00, ESPN: This game is going to be one I’ve had a slightly tough time figuring out. People are just automatically handing Clemson the W while some are saying Notre Dame is going to pull off the shocker. I can see it both ways. Clemson from a talent standpoint is probably better. However, anything happens on a football field. Notre Dame has played to their opponents levels at times (Ball State, Vanderbilt, USC) while getting up for their bigger opponents (Michigan, Syracuse) and showing they are legit. Obviously the look will be to an Irish fan they will get up for Clemson and I don’t dispute that. But will it be enough to overtake Clemson?
CLEMSON WINS IF:
- SCORE EARLY AND OFTEN: Easier said than done. Notre Dame save for the USC game hasn’t been down much in the season. If you want to see how the Irish respond to it, attack early. Clemson has a lot of weapons and firepower so it is possible they try for a knockout blow early.
- KEEP IAN BOOK UNCOMFORTABLE: Since Notre Dame named him the starter he has been on top of it and done a great job directing the offense. The way you change it is if you have a pass rush constantly getting at Book. And Clemson has that as well. If they can jump after the Irish quarterback, it may be a long game for Notre Dame.
- TAKE THE POINTS WHEN THEY CAN: One thing that at times Dabo Swinney does and can be frustrating is not take up points when they have the chance (i.e. go for it deep within opponents territories on 4th downs). I know you need to be aggressive at times, but sometimes when you leave points out there, it really comes back to bite them. I’m thinking of a game Clemson had with A&M had the Aggies not fumbled it at the goal line late where Clemson opted not to kick a late field goal to add to their lead at half. Instead they went for it and failed. It also dictated the tempo for the second half for Texas A&M. If they do that here, I don’t know if lightning will strike twice here for Clemson. And while Notre Dame has a good offense, it is not Oklahoma or Alabama where they HAVE to trade touchdowns.
NOTRE DAME WINS IF:
- THEY PROTECT BOOK: Clemson’s defense is good, but the secondary at times can be suspect. If the Tigers pass rush is shut down or they do not dictate the tempo, the secondary gets exposed. Back to the Texas A&M game where it seemed like Clemson was getting gashed and ran out of gas at the end of the game. And that was when the pass rush was still decent if I am not mistaken.
- THEY KEEP TREVOR LAWRENCE OFF THE FIELD: Goes back to the first one. Book gets protected, they get a few first downs, it really will wear out the Tigers defense. And it will not give Lawrence the rhythm THAT he needs. Notre Dame’s defense is pretty good, but Lawrence can show he can throw against the better defenses. But anything to keep Lawrence from taking over the game will be huge and anything that keeps him off the field will be keeping him from taking over the game.
- BRIAN KELLY HAS AN A+ GAMEPLAN: Kelly has been a polarizing character at Notre Dame since he took over. The years he has the Irish as a top 5-10 program he looks like he is a genius coach and fans are off his back. The years he is 8-4, 7-5, or worse he is the worst coach in Irish history. A part of it is I think is how his gameplans have been. In other words, play the odds to his advantage, don’t take any unnecessary risks, and put trust into your leaders on the field. Getting up for Clemson isn’t going to be hard for Notre Dame, but keeping the mistakes down is going to be a key factor whether the Irish will be playing in the National Championship game or going home. So Kelly has to find a plan where the mistakes will be cut down as much as possible.
OVERALL PREDICTION: When I saw this as the “official” game (I think we all had it penned after the conference championship games were over), I said Clemson would win in a blowout. I don’t think the Irish have the same talent or the horses as the Tigers have. But, Notre Dame will be up for this game. And I think Kelly will have them prepared well. Again, it will be if Notre Dame can protect Ian Book and to me that will decide the game. Clemson will get their points. But the Irish need to limit that by finding ways to keep the Tigers offense standing on the sidelines. I think this game will be close for three quarters and the Irish frustrate Clemson on both sides of the ball. But I do think Lawrence will make the plays he needs to make down the stretch and I do think the defense will get to Book in the second half where Book will have problems making plays and forcing passes. Clemson pulls away in the 4th quarter. CLEMSON 34, NOTRE DAME 24
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat