The Notre Dame Fighting Irish acquired their first ever bid to the College Football Playoff after an impressive undefeated season. On Dec. 29, the #3 Irish battle a CFP veteran, #2 Clemson in the 2018 Cotton Bowl betting classic at AT&T Stadium.

Since the CFP’s inaugural year in 2015, many wondered when or if Notre Dame would garner an invitation. This year they flat out earned it by beating teams like Michigan, USC, Syracuse, and Northwestern. Plenty of college football handicappers still question whether the Irish are deserving of their bid, though. Because Notre Dame’s an independent, they failed to even play in a conference championship, much less win one.

Conversely, Clemson won the ACC by dominating the conference during the regular season and putting a massive 42-10 beat down on Pittsburgh in the championship. The Tigers are favored by -12.5 to beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29th.

CFP SEMIFINAL – 2018 COTTON BOWL BETTING
#3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs #2 Clemson Tigers
Saturday, December 29th – AT&T Stadium – 4:00pm ET
Odds: Clemson -12.5 (55)

To do so, Clemson must square off against the best team they’ve seen since battling Texas A&M in Week 2. The Tigers know the Atlantic Coast Conference failed to produce quality teams like the ones Notre Dame faced. Although odds makers expect the Tigers to have the same success against the Irish that they did versus their ACC opponents, Dabo Sweeney knows better.

Winning and covering will require a massive effort on the part of the Clemson Tigers. Check out a deeper dive into the first College Football Playoff Semifinal.

Irish Get Their Acid-Test in the CFP

Although Notre Dame went undefeated during the regular season, some felt they didn’t beat enough good teams to gain a spot in the College Football Playoff. That’s why the line has gone up a full point from Fighting Irish +11.5 to +12.5 in 2018 Cotton Bowl betting.

After a quick scan of Notre Dame’s record, the argument makes sense. Stanford, Florida State, and USC weren’t close to the power college programs this season they often are. Michigan bombed against Ohio State and failed to even make the Big Ten Championship while the road games were close to pathetic with only a win over Northwestern impressing most college football handicappers.

But, Notre Dame did go undefeated, and they did so by playing solid football in every game. Unflashy, the Irish just do things correctly on both sides of the football. They follow coach Brian Kelly’s game plan, rarely mistakes, and take the long game approach. That’s how they’ve managed to accomplish an undefeated season even though a great offensive tackle like Anthony Barr went down for the season way back on Sep. 30.

Notre Dame’s got a shot because they won’t panic if things don’t go their way early. After the early emotions wear off, you just play football. The Irish will do that.

Clemson Quarterback Trevor Lawrence Might be Difference

During the offseason, most college football fans thought there would come a point where Dabo Sweeney would go with the top recruited quarterback in the nation, Trevor Lawrence. Everyone knew Lawrence was the top signal-caller on the team. It took a couple of games into the regular season, but Sweeney did get behind Lawrence eventually. It helped that Kelly Bryant, the former starter, was unremarkable during his first few games. What’s interesting is that Lawrence didn’t immediately become one of he top college quarterbacks in the nation right off the bat. There were definitive growing pains, especially when he was flat (and then injured) against Syracuse in his debut as the starter.

That’s what makes backing Clemson to cover like throwing dice. Lawrence might make the difference against a mammoth 2018 Cotton Bowl betting line, but there’s no guarantee that he’s that much of a positive impact on Clemson facing a huge number. Lawrence hasn’t thrown a lot of interceptions, but sometimes his accuracy suffers. Against Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship, Lawrence failed to complete more than 50%. He faces a much better defense on Saturday.

Coach Kelly will challenge the freshman quarterback. The Irish will force Lawrence to make decisions and passes he hasn’t yet had to make at the college level. Whether or not he comes through will determine if Clemson wins and covers.

2018 Cotton Bowl Betting Classic Trends & Pick

The public jumped all over Clemson at -11.5, but sentiment’s going the other way at Tigers -12.5. College football handicappers are looking beyond meaningless stats and to whether the Tigers are good enough to beat a quality undefeated team by 13 points.

Based on trends, that’s a real question. Plenty of positive trends follow Clemson into this game, but one trends stands out as having an impact, the Tigers are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 non-conference games. Notre Dame is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 versus the ACC, 4-0 ATS in their last 4 at a neutral site, and 4-0-1 ATS versus a team with a winning record.

The Tigers are formidable, no doubt, but they start a freshman quarterback against a disciplined unit coached by one of the masters in Brian Kelly. This game should be much closer than the spread. I’m still no entirely sure he earns a berth in to the championship game, but all signs point to Notre Dame covering.

CFP Semifinal 2018 Cotton Bowl Betting Free Pick: Notre Dame +12.5