Clemson’s opponent in the College Football Playoff is not just another undefeated team in Notre Dame, but it is also a team that went through a similar quarterback change early in the 2018 season.
A week before Trevor Lawrence took over as Clemson’s starting quarterback on Sept. 29 against Syracuse, it was Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly who started Ian Book on Sept. 22 against Wake Forest.
Book played well that day against Wake Forest and never looked back, helping the Irish to a perfect 12-0 record and a No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame will face No. 2 seed Clemson (13-0) on Dec. 29, 2018 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The game will kickoff at 4 p.m.
“We were looking at the long term. We were looking at how many plays our defense was on the field. We were looking at November,” Kelly said during a teleconference Sunday evening. “So absolutely there was the vision of how can we get to the College Football Playoff? All of those had to be part of the decision-making process. It couldn’t be how could we just score more points? It was how could we find ourselves as a better football team in November?”
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Just as Lawrence replaced a veteran returning starter in senior Kelly Bryant, Book also replaced a veteran returning starter in senior Brandon Wimbush. Bryant and Wimbush had both led their teams to undefeated records in 2018 when they were replaced.
“It’s never easy when you’re pulling a guy out and he was undefeated at the time,” Kelly said. “They’re difficult decisions because they affect people. And that was hard on Brandon Wimbush, and it was difficult because I love him. But it was the right decision to make.”
Swinney added that he also felt like the move to Lawrence was the best one for the Tigers at the time, and he has no regrets. Clemson’s freshman quarterback was named the ACC Freshman of the Year last week.
Lawrence leads the ACC in passer rating and is tied with N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley for the lead in touchdown passes with 24. He has thrown only four interceptions this season.
“After four games, after that Georgia Tech game, it was obvious that Trevor was the better player. And it’s hard, but that’s our job. At the end of the day, it’s to position our team to have the best possible chance to win,” Swinney said. “Trevor has done an amazing job. We’ve scored more touchdowns than ever in school history, and he’s been a big reason for that. So all we can do is play the best player. And sometimes that’s tough because you have personal feelings for a lot of these guys as individuals, and they all work so hard. But, at the end of the day, you got to do what’s best for the team.”
College Football Playoff schedule
The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) will face No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in the Orange Bowl at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 in Miami in a matchup of Heisman Trophy front-runner quarterbacks — Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and the Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa.
The No. 2 ACC champion Clemson Tigers (13-0) will play No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl at 4 p.m. Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.