Clemson is in a rare position entering the Cotton Bowl as the Tigers are favored in a postseason game for the first time since the 2011 season.
Clemson is currently favored by 13 points against Notre Dame after being underdogs in each of its previous eight postseason games.
The Tigers won six of those eight games, despite being the underdog. This is the first time Clemson has been favored in a bowl game since suffering a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, 2012.
While Clemson has typically thrived in the underdog role, it is now Notre Dame that is embracing the challenge. Irish quarterback Ian Book was not surprised when the line came out and Clemson was a heavy favorite.
“Just because I know the haters that hate Notre Dame and kind of discount (us), a lot of people do,” Book said. “This whole season a lot of people haven’t expected us to do what we’ve done. It’s just outside noise that really fuels us more so it’s nothing new... There’s a lot of Notre Dame haters and a lot of doubters and it’s just a chip on your shoulder.”
Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman added that the Irish have used being doubted as motivation all year.
“A lot of people picked us to lose specific games throughout the year so I’m not surprised. I like being in this position. We as a team like being in this position where we’re the underdogs. We’re ready to just go out and show everyone what we’re about,” Gilman said. “It definitely gives us a chip on our shoulder. When game time comes we’ll see what happens.”
Book, who has completed more than 70 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions, said Notre Dame is confident entering the College Football Playoff semifinal.
“We know what we can do as a team. We’re not worried,” Book said. “We’ve prepared well. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve done throughout the season.”
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott is impressed by the job Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea has done in his first season as the leader of Notre Dame’s defense.
One area in particular that sticks out to Scott is how well Notre Dame has defended big plays. The Tigers offense is No. 3 nationally in plays of 30 or more yards with 50, but Notre Dame’s defense has allowed only 12 play of 30 or more yards all year, good for No. 4 in the nation.
“One thing that I break down every week on Sunday is the big play cut-up. That would be runs over 12 yards or passes over 16 yards. And one thing I noticed about their defense this year at Notre Dame, just not a lot of big plays,” Scott said. “Guys are where they’re supposed to be. Very sound. Not a lot of guys running free and every play is contested, the running game and in the passing game. So I have a lot of respect for the excellent job that he’s done this year.”