No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Clemson: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much

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WHO? No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13-0).

WHAT? The College Football Playoff semifinal in the Cotton Bowl, the penultimate conclusion of a season-long playoff, if using Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney’s argument against expanding the playoff field to eight teams, something this space wholeheartedly agrees with.

WHEN? 4 ET, immediately followed by No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Alabama in the other semifinal, the Orange Bowl.

WHERE? The official name: AT&T Stadium. The more popular name: JerryWorld. One and the same, located in Arlington, Texas, easily referenced as Dallas, broadly generalized as North Texas.

ESPN has the broadcast, which means the Watch ESPN app can be the friend of all those dragged to weddings scheduled between the holidays.

WHY? Never has a question felt so unnecessary. A win would be the biggest for Notre Dame since at least 1993 (beating Florida State) and probably 1988. It would put the Irish in the national championship game for the second time in six years and render unnecessary any and all arguments about whether last year’s Citrus Bowl victory counted as a “big” bowl game triumph.

For Clemson, a victory would put the Tigers in their third title game in the last four years.

As of this Friday midday writing for a Saturday a.m. posting, Clemson remained favored by 12.5 points with a combined points total over/under of 56.5 That math yields a 35-22 result.

While Notre Dame has not faced an offense akin to the Tigers, giving up 35 points would be two touchdowns more than the Irish have in a competitive setting this season. When Wake Forest reached 27 and Navy got to 22, both relied on defensive letdowns in blowouts to do so. Notre Dame gave up 21 to Northwestern and 23 to Virginia Tech, otherwise keeping meaningful points  in the teens (or three, in the case of Syracuse).

Clemson, meanwhile, has given up three worrisome touchdowns to only South Carolina in the last three months. The Tigers seven other opponents averaged 8.43 points.

Thus, more than the spread, it is that total which catches an eye. Two of the top-four defenses in the country should not be expected to allow 56.5 points, even if Clemson’s offense is No. 7 by advanced metrics and Notre Dame’s is No. 26.

If granting this line of thinking, then it is natural to also expect the spread to shrink in correlation to the lesser total. That leads to logic expecting the Irish to cover, though a win feels like a reach when going against a team in its fourth straight Playoff, bolstered by an elite defensive line, led by a head coach with a track record in these situations.

Clemson 28, Notre Dame 20.
(11-1 in pick; 4-8 against the spread, 6-6 point total.)

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