2018 Cotton Bowl Breakdown - #2 Clemson vs. #3 Notre Dame
2018 Cotton Bowl No. 2 Clemson Tigers (13-0) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0) Saturday, December 29th – Arlington, TX – 4:00pm ET (ESPN) Betting Line: Clemson -12.5 (56.5)Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly made a quarterback change early in the season and expected more from the Irish offense after scoring 24, 24 and 22 points in their opening three victories, including the season opener against Michigan. He got it when QB Ian Book took over for Brandon Wimbush and led the Irish offense to 56, 38 and 45 points over the next three games with two on the ACC road. Notre Dame’s offense is top-25 in the country averaging 454.4 yards per game and 6.1 yards per play.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney also made a quarterback change as freshman Trevor Lawrence replaced Kelly Bryant in late September and added a spark to the Tigers offense. Clemson’s offense is strong and balanced, averaging 260.7 rushing yards per game against FBS opponents and a nation-best 6.7 yards per rush. The Tigers passing attack averages 269.1 yards per game, and that balance combined with Clemson’s dominating defense makes them a most formidable foe.
There's no skirting around the fact that Clemson is one of the best defenses in the country, allowing a nation-best 4.0 yards per play. Notre Dame will struggle to move the ball against the Tigers defensive front which has NFL caliber players. Clemson allows a nation-best 2.4 yards per rush and 91 rushing yards per game. However, the big news as the 2018 Cotton Bowl game arrives is that Clemson will likely play without star defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, a projected first round NFL draft pick who has been suspended for failing NCAA drug tests. Final results and a decision will be made a day before the 2018 Cotton Bowl kickoff, and the line may drop slightly with the news. But Clemson has a capable replacement in senior Albert Huggins, who will join All-American Christian Wilkins along the defensive front. Huggins played well in two games last year when Lawrence was out with a foot injury.
Clemson played an FBS schedule of opponents with a combined win percentage of .577. The Tigers played 10 bowl teams and out-gained nine of them by an average of 236 yards per game while going 5-4-1 ATS.
Notre Dame’s defense counters with the nation’s No. 4 efficiency pass defense. However, the Irish did not play any team that runs the ball as effectively, nor balances the attack, as well as Clemson. Navy’s option attack rushed for 292 yards against Notre Dame. The Irish offense relies a little more on Book to carry the team through the air, but the Irish do rush for 190.8 yards per game.
Notre Dame played a schedule of opponents with a combined win percentage of .527. The Irish went 8-2 SU and 5-2-1 ATS against bowl teams and out-gained them by an average of 127 yards per game.
People may counter with the idea that the ACC was not nearly as competitive as it should've been, and that Clemson faced an equally soft schedule. I will counter that by adding that the 2018 Cotton Bowl line is this big for a reason.
ATS Notes: Favorites of 8 points or more in the College Football Playoff are 3-0 ATS outscoring opponents 161-27. But undefeated Bowl underdogs of 7 points or more are 12-4-1 ATS.
2018 Cotton Bowl Betting Pick – Clemson Tigers -12.5
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.