Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM
Cotton Bowl Preview
Editor’s Note: Brian Edwards is on a 10-6 run in college football since the Army-Navy game. Don’t miss out on the rest of bowl selections through the CFP finals!
Orange Bowl Preview
Clemson and Notre Dame will square off at Jerry World in Arlington, TX., in the first College Football Playoff semifinal game Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. As of early Friday, most books had the Tigers listed as 12.5-point favorites with a total of 56.5. The Fighting Irish were +350 on the money line (risk $100 to win $350).
For first-half wagers, Clemson is favored by seven and the total is 28 points. Notre Dame is available on the money line for a +270 payout.
Clemson (13-0 straight up, 7-6 against the spread) has been favored by 16 points or more in 12 of its 13 games. The lowest spread for the Tigers this year was -12 in a Week 2 showdown at Texas A&M. They survived the trip to College Station by winning 28-26.
Dabo Swinney’s squad was tested only one other time in a 27-23 comeback win over Syracuse. Clemson won 11 of its 13 games by 20 points or more. The Tigers trailed the Orange 23-13 after Eric Dungey’s one-yard TD run gave The ‘Cuse a 23-13 advantage with 12:58 left.
Trevor Lawrence, the true freshman who had been named the starting QB that week, had been knocked out of the game in the second quarter. But Chase Brice, a redshirt freshman QB, made some key plays, Travis Etienne ran like a beast and the defense got key stops to spark a critical rally.
Clemson pulled to within three on Etienne’s 26-yard TD run with 11:08 remaining. The sophomore RB found the end zone again with 41 ticks left to lift his team to victory. Etienne rushed for 203 yards and three TDs on 27 attempts.
Lawrence returned the next week and quickly went about establishing himself as one of the country’s premier signal callers. In his next three starts after being injured vs. Syracuse, Lawrence threw seven TDs without an interception in blowout wins at Wake Forest (63-3), vs. N.C. St. (41-7) and at FSU (59-10).
For the season, Lawrence has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards with a 24/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His favorite target is Tee Higgins, who has 52 receptions for 802 yards and 10 TDs. Justyn Ross has 34 catches for 699 yards and six TDs, and Amari Rodgers has 46 grabs for 514 yards and four TDs. There’s also ‘Mr. Reliable,’ senior Hunter Renfrow, who has 43 receptions for 472 yards and one TD.
Etienne garnered second-team All-American honors by rushing for 1,464 yards and 21 TDs while averaging 8.3 yards per carry. He also had 10 receptions for 65 yards and one TD. The Tigers are four-deep in the backfield with excellent reserves in Lyn-J Dixon, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster.
Dixon has rushed for 536 yards and five TDs with a 9.6 YPC average. Choice has 506 rushing yards, seven TDs and a 7.4 YPC average, while Feaster has run for 409 yards and six TDs with a 5.8 YPC average.
Clemson is fourth in the country in total offense, 27th in passing yards, ninth in rushing yards and fourth in scoring with its 45.4 points-per-game average. Senior OT Mitch Hyatt was a third-team All-ACC pick as a freshman in 2015, a first-team All-ACC selection in ’16, a second-team All-American in ’17 and a first-team All-American this season.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least 100 times: The best move of Swinney’s coaching career was hiring Brent Venables away from Oklahoma to become his defensive coordinator after Geno Smith and West Virginia hung a 70-spot on the Tigers at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5 of 2012. It was a coup to pull Venables away from Norman after serving as OU’s DC for 13 seasons under Bob Stoops.
Venables has delivered and then some. This year’s Clemson stop unit ranks fifth in the nation in total defense, 18th at defending the pass, third in run defense and second in scoring ‘D’ (13.7 PPG).
Three defensive linemen for Clemson earned first-team All-American honors, including Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Lawrence is ‘out’ for the rest of the season after testing positive for a trace amount of ostarine, an illegal muscle-growth supplement. Reserve TE Braden Galloway and reserve OL Zach Giella were also suspended for the same reason. All three players could be facing a one-year suspension, but that’s of no consequence to Lawrence, as the junior is expected to turn pro anyway.
Lawrence had produced 37 tackles, seven QB hurries, six tackles for loss, three passes broken up and one blocked kick. He was also used as a fullback in goal-line packages and had one two-yard TD run.
Wilkins has recorded 45 tackles, 8.5 TFL’s, five sacks, six QB hurries, two passes broken up, one forced fumble, one blocked kick and two fumble recoveries for 21 return yards. Like Lawrence, Wilkins is also used on some short-yardage situations. He has three carries for three rushing yards and a pair of TDs.
Ferrell has 46 tackles, 10.5 sacks, seven QB hurries, 6.5 TFL’s, three PBU and two forced fumbles. The Tigers are third in the nation in sacks with 46.
Notre Dame (12-0 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) scored only 24, 24 and 22 points in its first three games of the season. Brian Kelly’s club defeated Michigan (24-17), Ball St. (24-16) and Vanderbilt (22-17) in one-possession games at home. With the offense dragging a bit, Kelly decided to name sophomore Ian Book as his new starting QB replacing Brandon Wimbush, who had led the Irish to a 10-3 record in 2017 when he rushed for 14 TDs and had a 16/6 TD-INT ratio.
The move was a stroke of genius. The offense was parked immediately, producing 56, 38 and 45 points in its next three games. Notre Dame went to Winston Salem and blasted Wake Forest 56-27 in Book’s second career start. Then the Irish thumped Stanford 38-17 as a 4.5-point home favorite before going to Blacksburg and spanking Va. Tech by a 45-23 count.
Eight of Notre Dame’s opponents made the postseason. The Irish won 31-21 at Northwestern, 36-3 vs. Syracuse at Yankee Stadium and 24-17 at Southern Cal in the regular-season finale.
Kelly’s team has only been an underdog once this year, beating Michigan as a 2.5-point home underdog. Notre Dame has won three of its past four bowl games, including a pair of wins over LSU at the 2014 Music City Bowl and last year’s Citrus Bowl.
Book and senior RB Dexter Williams are the catalysts for an offense that averages 33.8 points per game. Book has completed 70.4 percent of his throws for 2,468 yards with a 19/6 TD-INT ratio. He has run for 250 yards and four TDs.
Williams has run for 941 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 6.6 YPC. Tony Jones Jr. has run for 392 yards and three TDs with a 4.7 YPC average, while Jafar Armstrong has 377 rushing yards, seven TDs and a 5.3 YPC average.
Miles Boykin has posted team-bests in receptions (54), receiving yards (803) and TD catches (eight). Chase Claypool has caught 48 balls for 631 yards and four TDs, while Chris Finke has 47 grabs for 547 yards and two TDs. Alize Mack has 34 receptions for 349 yards and three TDs.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 21 in the country in total defense, No. 35 at defending the pass, No. 31 in run defense and No. 10 in scoring ‘D’ (17.2 PPG). This unit is led by senior MLB Te’von Coney, who has produced 107 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, five QB hurries, four PBU, 3.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception.
These storied programs squared off at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 3 of 2015, with Clemson winning a 24-22 decision. However, the Irish covered the number as a three-point road underdog. Notre Dame mounted a furious rally after trailing 21-3 early in the fourth quarter. Torii Hunter Jr. one-yard TD receptions from DeShone Kizer with seven ticks left cut the deficit to 24-22, but the two-point conversation failed. The 46 combined points slithered ‘under’ the 48-point total.
Totals were a wash (6-6) overall for Notre Dame, but the ‘under’ cashed in its last two regular-season contests. The Irish’s games have average combined scores of 51.0 PPG.
The ‘under’ is 3-1 in Clemson’s past four games to improve to 7-6 overall. The Tigers have seen their games average combined scores of 59.1 PPG.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.