Originally found on CBS Sports:
Clemson isn’t just looking to avenge a loss to No. 15 Notre Dame from a year ago — the Tigers, now 4-4, are also trying to turn around a season that is spiraling in the wrong direction. And a high-profile showdown against the Fighting Irish in Death Valley is the perfect opportunity.
The Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the country before a trip to South Bend in 2022 ended in a 35-14 defeat, and though Clemson went on to claim its seventh ACC championship in an eight-year span, the loss contributed to a campaign that had the Tigers omitted from the conversation of serious College Football Playoff contenders.
As these two teams meet for the return trip in 2023, neither is a serious playoff contender but Notre Dame has far more momentum with its 7-2 record and quality wins against the likes of USC and Duke. The Fighting Irish also recorded a victory earlier in the season against NC State, which is the team responsible for handing Clemson its fourth loss of the season just last week.
With two overtime losses preceding the 24-17 defeat at NC State, Clemson believes its not that far off from its program standard, but the absence of results have the Tigers far from where they expected to be for this showdown of modern college football powers. Notre Dame and Clemson are, after all, two of only seven programs to record multiple CFP appearance since the four-team format began in 2014.
Notre Dame vs. Clemson: Need to know
Sam Hartman continues to add to his legacy: With 288 yards passing in a 58-7 win against Pitt last week, graduate transfer Sam Hartman became the sixth FBS player to throw for more than 15,000 yards in a career. Hartman passed Ty Detmer on the all-time passing yardage list with his current 15,093 total, and his 128 career touchdown passes not only leads all active FBS quarterbacks but ranks seventh on the all-time list. Another wrinkle to Saturday’s matchup is that Hartman’s excellence is well-known to Clemson; he played against the Tigers four times during his time at Wake Forest with the Demon Deacons going 0-4 in those matchups.
The official end of Clemson’s 10-win run: Now at 4-4, Clemson is officially incapable of recording a 10-win season in 2023, which marks the end of a 12-year run of double-digit win seasons. In that span, the Tigers won two national championships (2016, 2018), reached the CFP six consecutive times (2015-20), twice finished as the national runner-up (2015, 2019) and won eight ACC championships. The drop off from the top of the sport to battling for bowl games has been difficult to comprehend for some Clemson fans, leading to a testy exchange between coach Dabo Swinney and a fan during this week’s call-in show. While Tyler from Spartanburg and Swinney both made fair points in their passionate monologues, much of the frustration could be calmed with a statement win against Notre Dame.
Two excellent defenses highlight the matchup: Fans of hard-hitting football will love what’s on display in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon. Both of these defenses rank among the nation’s best in multiple categories, including top-10 rankings among all FBS teams in yards per play allowed with Clemson at No. 8 (4.31) and Notre Dame at No. 10 (4.45). Both teams also rank in the top 11 in yards per game allowed and in the top 17 nationally in limiting opponents plays of 10-plus yards. With the way both teams limit explosive plays, hitting on those deep shots or turning a broken tackle into a big chunk play could be the difference in the game.
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Notre Dame vs. Clemson prediction, picks
Odds via SportsLine consensus
There’s a scenario in which Clemson’s fumble luck starts to break the other way, and this big-time opponent brings out the best from everyone packed into Death Valley looking for a rebound win. That’s just not the scenario I’m predicting when Notre Dame has been operating at a high level for most of the season and can pour it out with an off week coming on the other side of this matchup. Pick: Notre Dame -3
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