Cotton Bowl Semifinal Game Preview: #2 Clemson Tigers vs #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish


For both the #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the #2 Clemson Tigers, the Cotton Bowl plays a part of program history. The Tigers are now back at the place of their first-ever bowl win and first-ever win over a Top 20 team, Boston College (who coincidentally saw their bowl game in the Cotton Bowl Stadium, the First Responder Bowl, cancelled due to weather) in the 1940 edition.

For Notre Dame, their first ever College Football Playoff appearance comes via their eighth Cotton Bowl Classic berth. The last time ND played in the Cotton Bowl was 1994, when they beat Texas A&M 24-21. It would be their last New Year’s Day bowl win until last season, when current QB1 Ian Book led them past the LSU Tigers 21-17.

Obviously, this is the biggest Cotton Bowl game that either side has ever played in thus far.

Cotton Bowl Classic FYIs

What’s at stake: winner meets Orange Bowl (Alabama-Oklahoma) winner for the National Championship on January 7 in Santa Clara, California

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 29, 3:10 pm, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: ESPN- Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge (booth), Holly Rowe and Tom Rinaldi (sidelines)

National Radio: ESPN- Bill Rosinski, David Norrie (booth), Ian Fitzsimmons (sidelines)

TV Segment Cotton Bowl Game Preview: We joined WGN/CLTV’s Jarrett Payton and Andy Masur to analyze Notre Dame and preview the Cotton Bowl this past Sunday:

Cotton Bowl Spread: Clemson -12.5 (Vegas Insider Consensus), For a whole lot more on the Cotton Bowl odds, playoff and title game odds, go to this link.

Cotton Bowl Hashtag Emojis: #ALLIN #GoIrish #CFBPlayoff

We also did another segment, discussing the other national semifinal, and the playoff system in general. It got quite spirited and animated, so we think you’ll enjoy it.

Watch it below:

Notre Dame News, Notes, Nuggets and Tidbits: 

Yes, we know that some of you don’t care for the fact that ND is here.  We’ve countered your argument over at this link. Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked about that topic at on-campus media day, and you can read his answers over at this link.

Also, if you don’t know the story of how the University of Notre Dame adopted the Fighting Irish mascot and nickname, then you absolutely must click on this link. The story involves a weekend in 1924 which saw 2,000 ND students (including one of the legendary Four Horsemen) beat up the Ku Klux Klan and drive them out of South Bend.

And since we’re talking about ND in a bowl game, you are probably aware that the Irish play USC on Christmas Eve in the 1988 film “Die Hard.” We did an in-depth analysis on that over at this link.

Notre Dame Preview Offense:

Quarterback Ian Book received the Monogram Club Most Valuable Player award this season. He overtook Brandon Wimbush as the starter in the fourth game of the season, and finished with 70.4% (197 of 280) completion percentage, 19 TD passes, six interceptions and 2,468 yards. Book also has 250 yards and four TDs on the ground this season.

Wimbush equaled Book in total INTs this season, despite throwing 178 fewer pass attempts. We bring that statistic up only to illustrate just how much the offense improved when Book (who ranks sixth and eighth, respectively, in FBS completion percentage and pass efficiency) assumed the QB1 position.

A big reason for Book’s development this season is quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees, who was on the last Irish team to play for a national title.


The Lake Forest, Illinois native is a fascinating story. Go here for our exclusive with him.

It wasn’t just Book who brought the offense up a few notches. Dexter Williams (142-941-12) became the featured back in late September and he’s posted a yards-per-carry average that’s more than a yard above any other Irish ball-carrier.

In the receiving corps, Miles Boykin (54-803-8) is the big time playmaker while Chase Claypool and Chris Finke have put up solid numbers as well. The unit’s best player though might be center Sam Mustipher, a co-captain and leader who brings both the tangibles and the intangibles.

jerry tillery

Notre Dame Preview Defense:

Arguably the strongest unit on this team, they can boast of an AP All-American in every position group. Cornerback Julian Love, possibly the next Todd Lyght (go here for more on that), the team’s only true 2019 NFL Draft first round prospect is on the All-American first team while DL Jerry Tillery, a NFL day two level prospect, landed on the second team.

Linebacker Te’von Coney made the AP third team.

There is so much more to this Irish unit beyond that stellar troika however. Big plays come from all over the place, and you’ll hear the names Drue Tranquill, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara, Daelin Hayes, Alohi Gilman and more on Saturday. There is a definite Gestalt to this ND defense, and team as a whole.

clemson football

Clemson Cotton Bowl News, Notes, Nuggets and Tidbits:

Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney has never been to the Cotton Bowl and he remarked on the symmetry of his program’s first bowl game being the same as their current postseason destination.

“For the 1939 team to come out here and play in the first bowl game, and to not have been back to the Cotton Bowl since, I think is really special for all of the Clemson old timers for sure,” added Swinney. “For me, just another one of those neat things that this senior class is able to put on their resume.”

Swinney actually has proper titles for his practice sessions each week: Mental Monday, TANOGA (Takeaways No Giveaways) Tuesday and Working Man Wednesday are three such examples.

Clemson Preview Offense:

The ACC Champions head into this game fifth nationally in total offense, averaging 529.8 yards per game. The Tigers are also fifth in scoring offense at 45.4 points per game. The unit is led by QB1 Trevor Lawrence, a true freshman who plays well beyond his years.

Lawrence, who has tossed 24 touchdowns against just four interceptions, has developed into something so special that both Kelly Bryant (Mizzou) and Hunter Johnson (Northwestern) elected to transfer away.

“The quarterback is really good,” said ND head coach Brian Kelly. “He has great arm talent. He’s tall (6-foot-6) and can see the field. The receiving corps is on par with a USC receiving corps. That’s a pretty dynamic offensive set.”

“(Travis) Etienne is as good a running back we’ve seen since (last year) against Georgia. He has that kind of talent.”

Etienne ranks fifth nationally with 1,463 rushing yards on the regular season.

Other key players to watch in this unit are receivers Hunter Renfrow, Amari Rodgers, Justin Ross and Tee Higgins; as well as OT  Mitch Hyatt.

Clemson Preview Defense:

This is the headliner unit of either team in this game, as the Tigers are tied for second nationally in scoring defense (13.7 points per game), fourth in total defense (276.7 yards per game), third in rushing defense (92.9 yards per game) and third in sacks (46).

The strongest position group in this game, and maybe anywhere in the entire nation, is the Clemson DL. Three of the four starters (DE Clelin Ferrell, DTs Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins) are very strong first round prospects.

clemson football

The other end, Austin Bryant, isn’t very far behind. When you add in cornerback Trayvon Mullen  you could conceivably see five Clemson defenders taken in the first 50-60 overall draft picks made this April.

However, on Wednesday (Boxing Day) it became apparent that Dexter Lawrence, one of three Clemson players who failed a drug test, is most likely going to miss this game due to suspension.

cotton bowl

Cotton Bowl Classic Prediction: Clemson 23, Notre Dame 19

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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