Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Notre Dame aims to continue its perfect season in the CFP semifinals

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian- Getty Images

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

When No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 2 Clemson clash in the 83rd Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 29 (4 p.m. ET, ESPN), more will be at stake than perfect records.

The Cotton Bowl Classic serves as one of this year’s College Football Playoff semifinal games and the winner will head to Santa Clara, CA to battle for a National Championship on Jan. 7. Notre Dame will be playing in the Cotton Bowl Classic for the eighth time in history, while Clemson will be making its second appearance.

But how exactly did Notre Dame make the College Football Playoff without being affiliated with a conference?

While Notre Dame is not technically in a conference for football, the Irish are considered to be a “Power Five” conference team by almost everybody. Notre Dame played its yearly five-game arrangement with ACC schools (at Wake Forest, at Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Syracuse in New York City), in addition to a Big Ten, SEC and two Pac-12 schools. 

While the 13-member committee places a great deal of emphasis on winning your conference championship, Big Ten champions Ohio State had a chance to make the playoff. 

An embarrassing 29-point loss to a 6-6 Purdue squad essentially took them out of CFP contention, while Pac-12 champions Washington finished the season with three losses, eliminating them from consideration. Georgia lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game to finish with two losses, enough to knock them out of contention. Oklahoma avenged its lone loss in the season with a win over arch rival Texas in a rematch for the Big 12 championship, which boosted them into the final playoff spot.

The committee puts an emphasis on quality wins as well. Going into Championship Saturday, Notre Dame was the only team in the country with four wins against teams currently in the top 25. With Pittsburgh falling out of the Top 25 after their loss to Clemson, the Irish hold wins over No. 7 Michigan, No. 22 Northwestern, and No. 20 Syracuse.

By remaining undefeated throughout the regular season and racking up several quality wins along the way, Notre Dame forged a clear path to the College Football Playoff. Ian Book will look to lead his offense once again over the Clemson Tigers on Saturday. Book has thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of the eight starts made for Notre Dame this season.

While Notre Dame will be experiencing the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history, Clemson has been in this situation several times before. The Tigers have made the Playoff for each of the past four seasons, capped off with a 2017 National Championship victory over Alabama.

All-Time Series:

Clemson leads the series 2-1 over Notre Dame. The Tigers won the last matchup 24-22 at Memorial Stadium in 2015. The two teams have never met in a bowl game or at a neutral site.