Cotton Bowl Pick – Notre Dame vs. Clemson

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12/29/18

 

The College Football Playoff opens with a battle between two undefeated teams in the Cotton Bowl played in Arlington, Texas. Notre Dame has a chance to show everyone it’s for real, but it may take its best Game of the season. Clemson was a -14 point favorite with an over/under of 55 a week before the Game at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

Playing in the down ACC, Clemson (7-6 ATS) was rarely challenged this season with its closest Games early in the season against Texas A&M and Syracuse when it still had quarterback questions. Once Trevor LAwrence fully won the job, the Tigers were dominant, winning their final eight Games by 20 points or more.

Notre Dame (7-4-1 ATS) also had a fairly easy Schedule with the Game against Michigan standing out as most of the others came against solid, but not great teams. In addition to that, the Irish had numerous close Games, beating Vanderbilt and Pitt by five points each, and USC by seven in the finale. Still, in like opponents, there wasn’t much of a difference between the two teams as they both easily beat Wake and FSU, while ND ran through Syracuse (without its top QB).

This is the second time this season Notre Dame faces an elite defense and the first time against Michigan, Ian Book wasn’t even the quarterback. Clemson has one of the best defensive lines in the country and allowed just 13.7 points per Game, but its secondary had some issues giving up big performances to Kellen Mond and Jake Bentley.

The Irish don’t have an overwhelming offense, but it’s balanced and consistent. Ian Book has been solid completing 70.4% of his passes for 19 touchdowns, six interceptions and 8.81 yards per attempt. He also got plenty of help from the ground Game with Dexter Williams leading the way with 941 yards and 12 touchdowns on 6.6 yards per carry. The question is how the offense will look if Williams and company can’t find room rushing the ball. If the holes aren’t there, Book will be asked to air it out to Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and the rest and that’s not something he’s needed to do. While Book has solid numbers, he was rarely the entire offense. His mobility has been a factor at times, but it’s hard to see that working against this front.

Notre Dame also has solid defensive numbers only allowing 17.3 points per Game, but it’s a wonder how much that has to do with competition. It gave up just seven passing touchdowns and 5.4 yards per pass attempt, but didn’t face many top passing offenses. ACCording to the numbers, the best passer that ND faced was K.J. Costello and that’s not saying much, though it was his worst performance of the season.

Clemson has run through almost every defense and that’s how it will gain an edge in this Game. Travis Etienne has rarely been stopped with 1,463 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 8.3 yards per carry. Still, it’s worth noting ND has similar rush defense numbers (3.7 ypc allowed) to FSU and BC, two teams that limited Clemson to 4.3 ypc or less. Of course, that’s when LAwrence stepped up with 24 touchdowns and only Four interceptions on 7.99 yards per attempt. Just like Notre Dame, this offense can beat you through the ground and air and with a top defense, there’s a reason they haven’t lost.

Notre Dame hasn’t played a team like Clemson this season, but with the spread at 14 points, it feels kind of high because going undefeated isn’t easy, no matter what the Schedule was. The Fighting Irish are 4-0-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record and have covered in their last Four on a neutral site. The Tigers are 7-1 ATS in their last eight bowl Games and 11-2 ATS in their last 13 on a neutral site.

Our Pick – How good is Clemson? Great question huh? Really difficult to tell by looking at their dance card. They played only two teams ranked in the top 20 and just squeaked by both times, beating Texas AM  28-26 and Syracuse 27-23.

Notre Dame was a similar story, but they did knock off #7 Michigan by a TD and handled Syracuse with ease, though the Orange were without QB Dungee for most of the Game.

But those Games by both teams against Top 20 teams, one being a common opponent, are enough evidence to say yeah, The Irish have a shot here.

Our model has Clemson by anywhere from 10 to 14 points.

However, since both teams have played a Schedule similar in strength we can also use yards per point to make a line.

Clemson ypp numbers  =  11.7 on offense and 20.1 on defense for a +8.4 differential.

Notre Dame ypp numbers  = 13.5 on offense and 19.2 on defense for a +5.7.

The ypp line would be Clemson -2.7.

Those ypp numbers for both teams are very good, especially defensively where Clemson ranks 4th in the nation and Notre Dame 6th.

In a Game between two teams with similar Schedule strength and those ypp numbers, historically we’d expect a line to be a TD or less. So, we can conclude that there’s some value in the line with the Irish.

Futhermore, as mentioned above, when you go undefeated over the course of a college football season, that’s an accomplishment. It’s no accident. It’s no easy task. Only 4 teams did it this year. These two, Alabama and Central Florida.

So can Notre Dame cover this spot? Yes.

Can Notre Dame win outright? Yes.

Do we have a good bet when the underdog is getting 13 points or more yet could potentially and very realistically win outright? Yes.

When the above conditions are met, we play and expect to win anywhere from 55% to 60% of the time.

Of course, +14 was on the board a few days ago. Ultimately, you would watch the board and hope to grab that +14 if and when it retuns. But as of this writing on Wednesday, it’s +13.

Notre Dame +13