Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly on facing Clemson: ‘We expect to win and continue to play.’
Mike Berardino, IndyStar
SOUTH BEND – A roar went up among the players in the Isban Auditorium early Sunday afternoon at the precise moment Notre Dame punched its first-ever ticket into the College Football Playoff.
As for the subsequent national uproar that will echo these next four weeks, especially in places such as Columbus, Ohio, and Athens, Ga., the third-ranked Irish aren’t too worried about that. They have enough to think about just getting ready for a Dec. 29 semifinal matchup with No. 2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
“Nobody likes Notre Dame; that’s just the reality of it,” graduate linebacker Drue Tranquill said with a weary smile. “If you’re not Notre Dame, you don’t like Notre Dame. Who cares what the (point) spread has to say? I guess we’ll find out on Dec. 29.”
Top-ranked Alabama will face No. 4 Oklahoma in the other half of the four-team bracket on that same date in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The winners will then meet on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif., for the national championship.
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“Every time we go against a school with seemingly superior athletes on paper, we haven’t fared well,” Tranquill said. “This team is different. This team is not the ’12 team. This team isn’t ’15. Look at our athletes on paper. I’d take us.”
Notre Dame, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its last national championship in 1988, finished off its fourth unblemished regular season (12-0) since 1950 with a 24-17 win at USC on Nov. 24. Despite that, online oddsmakers have installed the Tigers (13-0) as 11 1/2-point favorites.
“We don’t feel slighted by it by any means,” junior cornerback Julian Love said. “I don’t really care about what the spread is or anything like that. I know what this team is capable of. People can compare us to the teams who didn’t get in all they want. We’re in. We’re No. 3, and we’re going to show the world what we’re about.”
Notre Dame’s Julian Love, Drue Tranquill on facing heavily favored Clemson amid a nation of Irish doubters
Mike Berardino, IndyStar
Notre Dame and Clemson faced four common opponents, with the high-powered Tigers averaging nearly 48 points in those wins. Average margin of victory for Clemson in those games against Wake Forest, Syracuse, Florida State and Pittsburgh was 36.3 points.
The Irish, meanwhile, averaged 38.3 points in those four victories with an average margin of 24 points.
While Syracuse fell late at Clemson in a 27-23 road loss on Sept. 29, the Irish spanked the Orangemen 36-3 on Nov. 17 at Yankee Stadium. Both teams blew out Wake Forest and FSU, but Pittsburgh led the Irish by eight points in the third quarter before falling 19-14 on the road on Oct. 13.
Clemson rolled to a 42-10 win over the Panthers on Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
“There’s no comparison (with Notre Dame),” Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi said afterward. “Clemson is the best football team we’ve played so far to this point. They deserve to be where they are. They’ll probably win a national championship.”
Asked about Narduzzi’s comment and the widespread doubts about the Irish in general, graduate center/captain Sam Mustipher brushed both aside.
Hear No. 3 Notre Dame players cheer the moment of their selection to first College Football Playoff in school history
Mike Berardino, IndyStar
“I don’t really care about anybody’s opinion outside of this building, and I don’t think the rest of this team does either,” Mustipher said. “We did what we’ve had to do when there are opponents in front of us, and I’ve voiced that to the rest of the team as well. They understand that and they know what we’ve done all year.”
Notre Dame is 4-3 in bowl games under Brian Kelly, including a 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship game after the 2012 season. That game, played in Miami, marked the last meeting between the Irish and the Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide are chasing their sixth national title in the past 10 years. This is Alabama’s fifth straight appearance in a College Football Playoff system that began with the 2014 season.
Clemson will pit the nation’s fifth-ranked scoring offense (45.4 average) against a Notre Dame defense allowing 17.3 points per game, tied for ninth. In terms of yards per play, the Tigers’ offense averages 7.37 yards (third nationally) while the Irish defense is eighth at 4.53.
Notre Dame’s offense ranks just 34th in scoring (33.8), but since Ian Book replaced Brandon Wimbush as the starter in Week 4 that number has climbed to 37.2. That would be tied for 17th.
“There’s always going to be doubters,” Book said. “You use it to fuel yourselves. We play for each other.”
Clemson, which features perhaps the nation’s best defensive line, is tied for second in scoring defense at 13.7 points per game while allowing 4.08 yards per play (first). The Irish offense is tied for 35th at 6.18 yards per play.
This will be the fourth meeting ever between the Irish and Clemson. Notre Dame has won just once in the series, with the victory coming on the road, 21-17, in the national title season of 1977.
Here are the players to know for the 12-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
In October 2015, the most recent meeting between the programs, Notre Dame climbed back from a 21-3 second-half hole at rain-soaked Death Valley but missed a two-point conversion attempt (DeShone Kizer keeper) with seven seconds left in a 24-22 loss.
The Irish committed four turnovers that night, including a fumble inside the Clemson 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter. Still, the visitors held a marked advantage in total yardage (437-296) despite facing current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Notre Dame entered that meeting with a No. 6 ranking while Clemson was 12th nationally on its way to the first of back-to-back meetings with Alabama in the national title game.
Notre Dame is 5-2 all-time against Alabama and 8-2 all-time against Oklahoma, with the most recent meeting a 35-21 home loss in 2013. The Tide is favored by two touchdowns over the Sooners, who avenged a 3-point loss to Texas in Saturday’s Big XII championship.
This will be Notre Dame’s eighth appearance in the Cotton Bowl, with the last one coming after the 1993 season, a 24-21 win over Texas A&M. The Irish are 5-2 overall in Cotton Bowl games.