The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one day away from facing the Clemson Tigers in the college football playoff at the Cotton Bowl. It’s been kind of a wild week with all of this college football news, Christmas, and the flu (oh it’s for real).
Here are the game picks from the OFD staff which are... probably slightly different than what Vegas is thinking.
Notre Dame 31, Clemson 24
After going 12-0 on ND picks this year I can’t turn my back on them now. I think our D Line gets pressure early in the game forcing a few errors out of Trevor Lawrence. Notre Dame will need more than a few guys to step up, and I think they do. This one is close the whole night and I definitely will have difficulty breathing for its entirety. Go Irish!
Notre Dame 27, Clemson 24
Is this a homer pick? Probably. But the Irish can definitely make it happen. With Dexter Lawrence likely being out, that takes one massive 350 lb issue out of the equation for the offense. Ian Book and Co. should be able to have a decent day in Arlington. And while this is Clark Lea’s greatest challenge yet, I expect him to step up and engineer a gameplan to slow this explosive Clemson O. I’ve got the Irish in a close one, and on their way to their second National Championship in the last decade.
Notre Dame 24, Clemson 21
My prediction? Go big or go home! GO IRISH!
Clemson 31, Notre Dame 28
Notre Dame 38, Clemson 35
Especially if Dexter Lawrence can’t play, Book should still be able to get time to throw. Dabo called us a “run first offense” which you could see with Dexter Williams in the backfield. However, we obviously have the receiving threat as well. Our defense will give up some points, but I see us shocking everyone and keeping close while edging out Clemson slightly. I have wanted this matchup for a while, and I think we have enough on both sides of the ball to beat Clemson.
Notre Dame 31, Clemson 24
Notre Dame are going to have to play their best football of the season. Clemson has a lot of talent on the defense especially, so it will take a near perfect game from the offense. Fortunately, I think the Irish have the firepower to pull it out.
Notre Dame 34, Clemson 31
Going with my heart here. To me, Notre Dame matches up extremely well with Clemson. I see no reason the Irish should not score on them. I think it will be a field goal game and I’ll take my team to come out with the win.
Notre Dame 30, Clemson 27
With or without Dexter Lawrence out there, everything in my brain tells me that logically, I should choose Clemson to win this one. I don’t think Notre Dame will be overmatched by any means, but there’s a reason Clemson has been the second-best program in the country over the last 5 years. Their defense is nasty, their offense is loaded with playmakers, and their quarterback is one of the best in the country as a true freshman. However, I don’t make picks with my brain -- I make them with my gut and with my heart -- which are both sizable, might I add. I think Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem will be in Trevor Lawrence’s face all day, forcing him to make a couple risky throws that guys like Julian Love, Alohi Gilman, and Jalen Elliott will take advantage of. Furthermore, I think Travis Etienne has a fine day, but is mostly limited to short/medium-distance runs by Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney as those home run TDs he’s used to are, for the most part, prevented. On the other side of the ball, I think the Irish will struggle a bit in the early going against the Clemson defensive front, but will make adjustments in the second half to pick on the Clemson secondary and linebackers with some patented Ian Book efficiency and Miles Boykin/Chase Claypool/Chris Finke/Alize Mack size, quickness, and precision. Dexter Williams won’t have a super explosive game, but I do think he breaks off one or two sizable runs on key drives that help cement the upset. I say Irish by 3 in what will be a really fun and exciting Cotton Bowl.
Notre Dame 24, Clemson 17
I’m going with the homer pick. I think with a healthy roster and time to prepare, Brian Kelly and Chip Long will have a game plan engineered to somehow jump on the Clemson secondary early and often. The Irish will get out to a 14-0 lead early (hello Michael Young TD), and then the defense will make enough plays to hang on for the win.
Notre Dame 27, Clemson 21
Both teams have looked dominant for most of the year, and because of the number of common opponents between them, I truly believe this will be a game where the most prepared team wins. Not exactly a hot take here, but I think the X factor is the absence of Dexter Lawrence. I see Dexter Williams having a big game now, and the Irish advancing to the CFP Championship in a close contest.
Clemson 27, Notre Dame 24
I’ve thought all year that Clemson and Alabama were on a collision course for the title game, and I hope I’m wrong, but the fact that Notre Dame stands in the way of that isn’t changing my mind. Dexter Williams, and Jafar Armstrong to a lesser extent, is the key to this game in my opinion. If Notre Dame can run the ball and not rely on Ian Book they have a good shot to win. If Clemson can stop the run and force Book to beat them they’ll win the game. My mind says Clemson holds on in a close one, my heart says Notre Dame moves on.
Notre Dame 27, Clemson 23
Yesterday I was fully prepared to pick Clemson. The Tigers are probably the better team, and regardless of the Dexter Lawrence situation, I was starting to feel like the Irish would come up a bit short. Then... I started puking for a few hours and laid down for about 16 straight hours. While I still believe Notre Dame will have a rough time running the ball, I’ve grown more confident that Clemson will as well. This will come down to the QB vs the secondary — and I like Notre Dame in that matchup a lot more than Clemson. Basically, we can say just about anything at this point to justify or challenge any thought/pick. 23-20 going into the 4th, but a masterful drive led by Ian Book gets the Irish in the endzone to win it.
Clemson 52, Notre Dame 40
This is going to be a weird game.
Brandon Wimbush scores the first touchdown of the game on a read option, and the Irish jump out to a surprising 7-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
Clemson survives a near pick six and a fumble that gets overturned to tie the score at 7, and then Trevor Lawrence finds Trevion Thompson to take a 14-7 lead late in the first.
Lawrence scores an easy goal line touchdown following a Justin Yoon field goal, and it’s 21-10 shortly before the half. The Irish close the deficit to four when Ian Book finds Kevin Austin on a 24-yard strike, and cut it to one at half via a Yoon chip shot.
The Tigers begin to pull away in the third quarter, starting with a Greg Huegel field goal (that comes after a big 32-yard run by Lawrence!) and, later, a Tee Higgins TD reception.
Yoon’s fourth field goal of the day cuts the lead to 31-26 early in the fourth, but Lawrence and Thompson go back to work — connecting a 49-yard bomb after a miscommunication between Troy Pride Jr. and Alohi Gilman.
Book finds Miles Boykin on the successive drive to again cut the deficit to five — 38-33 — but the defense is broken. Tavien Feaster finds the promised land on a 12-yard scamper, and it’s 45-33.
Not satisfied with the easy win, Dabo Swinney decides to pour it on. (Good teams win, but great ones cover.) Travis Etienne scores from three yards out to make it 52-33 with less than 90 seconds of game time remaining.
Book and the Irish need just 37 seconds to respond with a 11-yard Michael Young touchdown reception, and now the Irish need an onside kick (and divine intervention) to continue the comeback.
The Irish recover the onsides! But Kendall Joseph sacks Book and forces the fumble with Notre Dame driving near midfield, putting a final bow on the Tigers’ return trip to the championship.