It is a savory Cotton Bowl matchup (Dec. 29, ESPN) for college football betting fans, featuring two undefeated A-list programs with the winner advancing to the College Football Playoff championship game to play the winner of the Orange Bowl.
This is familiar territory for a Clemson program that is in its fourth consecutive semifinal, while Notre Dame is in the Playoff for the first time. This marks only the fourth meeting between the Tigers and Fighting Irish, and first in a bowl game.
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Against the Spread
Clemson is listed as an 11-point favorite over Notre Dame on SugarHouse. Neither team is terrific against the spread this season, with the Tigers 7-6 and the Fighting Irish 6-4-2.
SugarHouse has the over-under at 55 points, a reasonable number considering both teams have outstanding defenses. Clemson has hit the over in six of 13 games, with Notre Dame topping the mark in six of 12 games.
2018 Cotton Bowl Betting Tips
The QB Battle
There are parallels in how Clemson and Notre Dame each earned a spot in the semifinal. Both teams feature offenses based around strong rushing attacks and a physical defense that concedes few points.
And both the Tigers and Fighting Irish made midseason changes at quarterback, which in both instances jump-started their seasons. Clemson swapped out senior Kelly Bryant for heralded freshman Trevor Lawrence, with Notre Dame replacing Brandon Wimbush for junior Ian Book.
Book effectively guided Notre Dame in narrow wins over Pittsburgh (19-14) and Northwestern (31-21). That experience could prove beneficial against Clemson, with the Tigers rarely tested throughout the season.
Clemson’s most recent close game was in Week 5 at home versus Syracuse where the Tigers trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter before rallying to win 27-23. But in that game Lawrence saw minimal action with the freshman getting hurt in the second quarter and not returning.
Defense, Defense, Defense
How Lawrence handles the pressure will be a key factor in whether Clemson makes the championship game for the third time in four years. Lawrence has done a good job not committing turnovers -- just four interceptions in 327 pass attempts -- though he has not faced a defense like Notre Dame’s.
The Fighting Irish are allowing the ninth-fewest points per game (17.3) and ranked 22nd nationally in yards per game (331.5).
Clemson’s defense is just as formidable and presents a bad matchup for a Notre Dame offense that is at its best when it can run the ball successfully. The imposing Tigers have a defensive line with four potential high picks in April’s NFL draft and are only conceding 99.5 rushing yards per game this season, fourth-best in the country.
2018 Cotton Bowl Best Bet
The Fighting Irish need Book to soften up Clemson’s front seven by taking advantage of a Tigers secondary that is susceptible to giving up big gains. Book creating plays down the field will create openings for running back Dexter Williams.
Williams was suspended for the first four games of the season, but since returning has rushed for 941 yards and touchdowns in eight games (117.62 yards per game).
Clemson has outscored its previous eight opponents 400-94 and is easily the most balanced team Notre Dame has encountered all season. That, however, doesn’t mean the Fighting Irish cannot win.
If Lawrence struggles and Williams can have a banner game, Notre Dame should not only be able to cover the +11 but win outright as the spread isn’t giving the Fighting Irish the respect it deserves.
Take the Tigers to win but Notre Dame to cover.