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Cotton Bowl notebook: Clemson, Notre Dame take turns at Media Day

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talks to reporters on Thursday at Media Day at AT&T stadium, one of the events leading up to the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish will face off on December 29, 2018. Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 27 (UPI) — The Clemson Tigers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish took turns speaking to the media during Thursday’s Cotton Bowl Media Day at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson arrived early for the first session and answered a variety of questions from the podium, including the status of star defensive end Dexter Lawrence and his suspension.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly took questions in the later session and discussed his program’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Below are highlights from the media session, and the biggest storylines ahead of the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

Dexter Lawrence suspended for Cotton Bowl

Clemson standout defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence had his suspension upheld by the NCAA for Saturday’s contest against Notre Dame.

Sources told Stadium Network that Lawrence’s “B” sample tested positive. The “B” samples for tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella also came back positive. Clemson can still appeal the NCAA’s ruling should they decide to do so.

Swinney and Lawrence maintained hope during Media Day that the ruling might be reversed, but the decision was upheld after the results came back late Thursday night.

“As far as our team, you know, we move forward as if, like I said Monday, it’s an injury,” Swinney said during his media session on Thursday. “But we’ve got a bunch of good players. And Albert Huggins is a co-starter for us anyway. I mean, he’s a great, great talent. And I don’t have any doubt that he’ll step in and do a great job for us, as will Nyles [Pinckney] and Jordan [Williams]. So just more opportunity for those guys. No different than any other position. If you have an injury or somebody can’t play for whatever reason, you get the next guy ready.

“So as a football coach, that’s all we can control. That’s how we’ve gone into the week. So hope to hear something [Thursday], but we’ve prepared fully to go without him.”

Swinney downplays experience factor

Clemson has reached the College Football Playoff in four straight years, including a championship win in 2016, while Notre Dame hasn’t reached the playoff since the format was introduced at the end of the 2014 season.

Swinney said the experience factor between the two teams matters little when they take the field on Saturday.

“Well, I think we’re a veteran team, for sure,” Swinney told reporters. “And I think experience is definitely good. But it still doesn’t have anything to do with the game. I think, at the end of the day, you got to play well. You know, it’s just as simple as that.”

Swinney went on to compare this year’s Notre Dame squad to when Clemson made their inaugural appearance in the playoff. Clemson defeated Baker Mayfield and the Sooners in that 2015 matchup despite the Tigers’ lack of experience.

“When we got here in 2015, we had not been in this situation either,” Swinney explained to reporters. “You have to play well in this game. It’s a few plays in games like this. So, I’m thankful that we’ve got an experienced team. But it still comes down to how you play on that particular day.”

Lawrence, Book searching for magical finish

Clemson starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Notre Dame starter Ian Book traveled a similar path this season, culminating with a showdown in the Cotton Bowl.

Both were on the bench to begin the year, but soon became starters following mid-season changes. Book replaced Brandon Wimbush, and Lawrence grabbed Kelly Bryant’s starting gig.

Book made his first start in Week 4 against Wake Forest, and Lawrence’s stellar first four weeks as a freshman led to a promotion in Week 5 against Syracuse.

“I think it’s really cool just being able to have similar situations,” Book said to reporters during Media Day. “Both of us have the same dream of winning a national championship. I’m happy for him. And he’s a good player. And I think we’re both probably extremely excited and feel very fortunate to compete.”

Book has completed 197-of-280 throws for 2,468 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s added 78 carries for 250 yards and four additional scores.

Lawrence has thrown for 2,604 yards (212-of-326 passing) with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

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