The first College Football Playoff Semifinal will be played in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl Classic. This game will feature the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the Clemson Tigers on Dec. 29 with the winner advancing to the National Championship Game. Here is the 2018 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Preview.
No. 2 Clemson Tigers (13-0)
It’s another College Football Playoff with Clemson in the mix. The Tigers finished the regular season undefeated with 10 wins over bowl-eligible teams. They weren’t tested by some of the elite teams in college football, but do have wins over solid teams like Syracuse and Boston College.
The Tigers score 45.4 points per game, which ranks them fifth nationally. They rush for 259.8 yards (ranked ninth) and pass for 270.1 yards (ranked 28th) per game.
Although he didn’t begin the year in the starting lineup, Trevor Lawrence has shown off his immense talent at quarterback this season. He has thrown for 2,606 yards, 24 touchdowns and four interceptions on 65% completion. Four receivers have logged at least 400 yards, but Tee Higgins has been the primary target this year. Higgins has 52 catches for 802 yards and 10 touchdowns.
While there was a stable of running backs that can produce, Travis Etienne has earned most of the carries with his great play this year. Etienne has 176 carries for1,463 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, showing good acceleration and elusiveness. When he needs a rest, a few different running backs can fill in for the Tigers, given their great depth.
Clemson only allows 13.7 points per game this season, which is second in the country. They give up 92.9 rushing yards (ranked third) and 183.8 passing yards (ranked 18th) per game. Their defensive line has plenty of NFL talent and has produced. Clelin Ferrell has led them all with 10.5 sacks, but any could be a threat to make an impact on this game.
No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0)
A year after fading down the stretch, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished the season out strong to make the College Football Playoff. They beat eight teams that made a bowl game and even have a lot of similar opponents as Clemson on their schedule due to their agreement with the ACC. Their best win came over Michigan, who made a New Year’s Six Bowl Game.
Notre Dame ranks 34th in the country for scoring offense at 33.8 points per game. They rush for 190.5 (ranked 49th) and pass for 265.6 yards (ranked 31st) per game.
Ian Book also wasn’t the starter when the season began, but took his opportunity and ran with it. He has 2,468 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions on 70.4% completion. Three receivers have over 500 yards receiving, but Miles Boykin has become the go-to-target for Book. Boykin has totaled 54 receptions for 803 yards and eight touchdowns.
Dexter Williams has led the rushing attack with 941 yards and 12 touchdowns. When Williams was unable to play early in the season, Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones filled in well. Each has over 300 yards, giving the Fighting Irish a lot of options in the backfield.
The Fighting Irish are 10th in the country in scoring defense with 17.3 points per game allowed. They allow 133.5 yards on the ground (ranked 33rd) and 198 yards through the air (ranked 36th) per game. Jerry Tillery has led the Irish pass rush with eight sacks, while cornerback Julian Love has been one of the best in the country with 16 passes defended.
Clemson has more wins, more wins against bowl-eligible teams and better numbers in almost every category. Notre Dame has the better win. The Tigers will win with their balanced offensive attack, but it may not be a blowout like many think.
Clemson Tigers 34 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 22
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