ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Clemson played Notre Dame during a hurricane on the way to its first College Football Playoff appearance.
Now the ACC champion Tigers (13-0, No. 2 CFP) are in football’s final four for the fourth season in a row, and taking on playoff first-timer Notre Dame (12-0, No. 3 CFP) in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29.
The national semifinal will be the first meeting for the teams since that October 2015 game, when Clemson won 24-22 at home while playing in heavy rains from Hurricane Joaquin as it hit the East Coast.
“I will never forget that game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday. “It was an amazing game. Both teams truly left it all on the field. We played in a hurricane, literally a hurricane. … They were an amazing opponent. And I think, you know, both teams walked away from the game with great respect for each other.”
When they play again for a spot in the national championship game, there will be no concerns about the weather. The Cotton Bowl is played at AT&T Stadium, which has a retractable roof.
Notre Dame has its first undefeated regular season since 2012 when the Irish were 12-0 before losing 42-14 to Alabama in the BCS national championship game.
While Notre Dame is the first independent team to make the playoff, the Irish went undefeated with 10 wins over Power Five teams. That included five ACC teams, four of them that Clemson also beat this season.
“They have been a model of consistency. We’ll have a great challenge but one that we’re excited about,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We’ve been on a journey here the last couple years to put our football team back in this position. So we’re certainly excited for the challenge that’s in front of us.”
Clemson has never played at the home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, which hosted the first national championship game in the CFP era in 2014. The bowl last served as a semifinal three years ago, when Alabama beat Michigan State 38-0.
The Tigers’ only Cotton Bowl was on Jan. 1, 1940, a 6-3 win over Boston College.
Notre Dame last played in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day 1994, beating Texas A&M when the game was still in its namesake stadium about 20 miles away at the site of the State Fair of Texas. The Fighting Irish are 5-2 in Cotton Bowl games.
The Irish were off Saturday when the Tigers were beating Pittsburgh 42-10 to win their fourth consecutive ACC championship game exactly 10 years after Swinney was hired as their coach.
Clemson didn’t make the first playoff in 2014, but has been in every year since. The Tigers made the championship game in 2015 and 2016, losing to Alabama the first time before beating the Crimson Tide two years ago.
SEC champion Alabama (13-0, No. 1 CFP), the only team that has made the playoff every year, plays Oklahoma (12-1, No. 4 CFP) in the other semifinal game Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners, in their third playoff, won the Big 12 championship over Texas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
The semifinal winners play in the national championship game Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
The Fighting Irish have played at AT&T Stadium once, beating Arizona State 37-34 in October 2013.
This will be only the fourth meeting between Clemson and Notre Dame, the first in a bowl game. The Irish won in 1977. The Tigers won in 1979 and again in 2015 when Deshaun Watson threw two TDs and ran for another score.
“To watch those kids battle, it was one of those games you remember because it was college football at its best,” Kelly said. “And, again, it will be similar, right? It will come down to a couple of plays, and every great college game somebody has got to make a play. Clemson made a couple more plays in that game.”
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This story has been corrected to reflect that Clemson played in the Cotton Bowl in 1940.