No.6 Notre Dame and No.12 Clemson have looked like serious contenders to make the College Football Playoff, but both are seeking their first win against an elite opponent. Each school has their chance to get that marquee victory on Saturday night when they meet at Memorial Stadium.
Brian Kelly’s squad held its position in the AP Top 25 Poll this week after a 62-27 victory over UMass. Dabo Swinney’s team actually dropped one spot in the poll, even though they are still undefeated. Clemson had a bye last week, and when they take the field against Notre Dame it’ll be their first contest in 16 days.
Both sides boast a solid ground game. C.J. Prosise has been Notre Dame’s top performer in 2015, rushing for 600 yards on just 74 carries. Clemson running back Wayne Gallman is coming off his best performance of the season, rushing for 139 yards on 24 attempts against Louisville.
Something to Prove
As the undefeated No.6 team in the country, Notre Dame has been considered a playoff contender since the start of the season. But there is a lot of debate surrounding their potential to compete for a national championship, and whether or not they are as good as their record and rank might indicate. Notre Dame's opponents have not done much this season, and some doubters may think the Fighting Irish could falter once they face elite competition.
Notre Dame began the season with a convincing win over Texas, and the Longhorns proceeded to beat Rice but lose to Cal and Oklahoma State. The Fighting Irish were able to hold off Virginia in Charlottesville despite their starting quarterback out, but even that 34-27 victory seems unimportant considering the Cavs were clobbered by Boise State and already have three losses. In Week 3, it looked like Notre Dame might have picked up a big home win when they beat No. 14 Georgia Tech, 30-22, but the victory looked far less impressive with the Yellow Jackets following up the loss with a two-touchdown defeat at Duke.
Clemson will clearly provide Notre Dame with the toughest test of the young season, and a chance to put an impressive victory on their resume. It's been an easy road so far for the Tigers, with one-sided wins against Wofford and Appalachian State. Clemson's best win came at Louisville in a conference game, but the Cardinals have already faltered, losing three of their four contests.
DeShone Kizer wasn’t expected to have an impact on Notre Dame’s playoff chances just a few weeks ago, but he’s become an integral part of their offense. He helped the Irish score 62 points in their latest win, completing 15-of-22 passes for two touchdowns and one interception. The quarterback has been as good as Kelly could have asked for since he replaced the injured Malik Zaire against Virginia.
“Just ice water in his veins kind of guy,” Swinney told reporters about Kizer. “You are talking about a guy that just strolls out there at Virginia and boom, next thing you know he’s throwing a game-winning touchdown pass like it ain’t nothing. Just really never flinched. You can tell that the young man is very well prepared and ready for his opportunity. Since that game, you look at the past two games, they haven’t missed a beat.”
Clemson will turn to their sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has completed more than 74 percent of his passes this season. He was intercepted twice when Clemson almost lost at Louisville, but should be able to bounce back after facing tough competition in his freshman year. He nearly guided the Tigers to a shock win over Florida State in Tallahassee last season, and has competed against Georgia, NC State, Georgia Tech and South Carolina.
It’s been nearly two years since Clemson lost at home, and it won’t be easy for Notre Dame to break the Tigers’ current streak. The Tigers have an 11-game win streak in Death Valley.
"It's going to be crazy and the energy level is going to be up, so that's going to help us out. Just having that motivation to get out there and show the world that Clemson is one of the top teams in the country," Watson told reporters on Monday.
Notre Dame is ranked higher in the polls, but Clemson has the edge at home, and the Tigers are slight favorites at some sportsbooks. Clemson is a one-point favorite at some Las Vegas casinos, while other sportsbooks have the game listed as a pick’em, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under is 53 points.
Notre Dame has played very well in 2015, considering the circumstances, but sooner or later all of their season-ending injuries will likely catch up to them. Kizer was impressive in leading the Irish to a come-from-behind victory in Virginia, but playing in Death Valley against a top team is much different. As long as Watson limits his turnovers, Clemson has a good chance to get the win and launch themselves into the top 10.
Clemson over Notre Dame, 28-24