- Clemson certainly looks like the better team in this matchup, but a spread over 10 points sells Notre Dame short.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Clemson Tigers (-11.5)
Sat. 12/29, 4:00 p.m. ET in Dallas, TX
Three things to know before betting on Notre Dame-Clemson:
1. When asked to compare Notre Dame and Clemson after his team lost 42-10 to the latter in the ACC Championship Game, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi made his opinion crystal clear.
"There's no comparison," he said. "Clemson is the best football team we've played so far to this point."
Since Narduzzi's Panthers nearly upset Notre Dame in South Bend in October, it was a logical response. But what would Dino Babers say? His Syracuse team nearly took down Clemson on the road in a 27-23 loss, but got smoked 36-3 by the Irish at Yankee Stadium.
While one can play the who-beat-who game all day, the fact of the matter is that both Notre Dame and Clemson beat everyone they played this season. Each team played a schedule that ended up being a lot easier than it looked on paper when the season began, and both had some quality wins. The reason Clemson is favored in this CFP semifinal is that it dominated almost every team it played while Notre Dame had some close calls against weak opponents. But an 11.5-point spread doesn't give the Fighting Irish the respect they deserve.
2. Clemson's biggest advantage is a defense stacked with NFL-caliber talent. The Tigers stuff opposing runners on 27% of rushes (third in FBS), and when an opponent looks to pass, Clemson sacks QBs on 9.9% of dropbacks (sixth). It allows just 4.08 yards per play (first) and 13.7 points per game (third).
But Notre Dame has an offense that can hang with the Tigers. When Clemson has been vulnerable on defense, it has largely been through the air. Texas A&M's Kellen Mond and South Carolina's Jake Bentley each threw for at least 430 yards against the Tigers. Notre Dame's Ian Book is better than both of them. He ranks eighth in the country in passer rating (162.5) and 10th in yards per attempt (8.8).
3. Clemson's freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a phenom, and he has a bevy of dangerous weapons at his disposal. Running back Travis Etienne is the only player in the nation to rush for more 1,200 yards on fewer than 200 carries (1,463 rushing yards, 176 attempts). But Notre Dame's defense is just as good, if not better. The Irish D is eighth nationally in total defense (4.53 yards allowed per play), ninth in scoring defense (17.3 points allowed per game) and fourth in big-play rate (gains of 20-plus yards allowed on only 4.2% of plays). Notre Dame held Michigan, Stanford and Syracuse to their lowest-scoring games of the season. The Irish should be able to do the same to the Tigers, who were limited to 27 points against Syracuse and Boston College. Clemson deserves to be the favorite here, but only by a touchdown or so. Notre Dame at anything greater than +10 is a value.
Pick: Notre Dame +11.5
Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)