Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney thought he’d seen pretty much everything and every venue that college football has to offer.
Then came the news Sunday afternoon that his team would be facing Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Dec. 29.
“I’ve been in college football for a long time and have never had the opportunity to experience the Cotton Bowl,” Swinney said.
Twenty-six days hence Swinney can cross that one off the bucket list, too.
“This is a big deal,” Swinney said. “They say Dallas is a nice place. We’re going to paint Dallas orange.”
The game sizes up as a battle for the ages. Both teams are undefeated – Clemson at 13-0, Notre Dame at 12-0 – with the Tigers ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff bracket and the Fighting Irish No. 3.
There are plenty of similarities, including four common opponents: Wake Forest, Florida State, Syracuse and Pitt.
Both teams won convincingly against Wake Forest and Florida State, but Clemson struggled mightily against Syracuse, rallying for a 27-23 win; Notre Dame rolled against the Orange, winning 36-3.
On the other hand, Notre Dame got a late touchdown to edge Pitt, 19-14; Clemson routed Pitt 42-10 Saturday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, leaving a lasting impression on Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi.
“No comparison,” Narduzzi said when asked to compare Clemson and Notre Dame. “Clemson is the best football team we have faced this season and they will probably win a national championship in my opinion. That’s a good football team from the front end to the back end.”
Both teams feature balanced offenses that can flourish in whatever the situation dictates. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has passed for 2,468 yards – 138 yards less than Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Book has 19 touchdowns and six interceptions; Lawrence has 24 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Clemson has a 1,400-yard running back in Travis Etienne; Notre Dame has a 941-yard back in Dexter Williams.
Clemson may have the advantage defensively what with its abundance of NFL-ready talent, but Notre Dame has found a way to complete an unbeaten regular season despite multiple close calls, including winning six games by 10 points or less.
“What a year Notre Dame has had,” Swinney said. “It’s amazing what they’ve done with the schedule they’ve played.”
The Fighting Irish count wins against Michigan, Stanford and Southern Cal, among others.
“I’m looking forward to a great matchup,” Swinney said. “A couple of years ago we had an epic battle in a hurricane, so we won’t have to worry about that. We’ll be in a dry environment this time.
“I’m just glad we have the chance to compete against a great team on a great stage and seeing our players continue to enjoy their journey.”