CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers (3-0) will have the opportunity Saturday to tell the nation that they have arrived, that they are worthy of discussion for the College Football Playoff. So will Notre Dame (4-0).
Both teams are consistently well regarded and both, at least to many fans, consistently fall just short of expectations.
Clemson fans expect the Tigers to compete for the ACC Championship each and every year. While they certainly do “compete,” they haven’t played for the conference championship since 2011 and have only the one banner in 20 years. Notre Dame still considers itself a national title contender each year, at least until week four or five when they lose to either a quality opponent or a team like Pitt.
This year has been no different for expectations. Clemson has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and a defense that doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. Notre Dame had a high quality quarterback in Malik Zaire and his understudy, DeShone Kizer, has looked very good in his absence. The Irish may very well be the best offense Clemson sees in 2015, and that is why this match-up is so intriguing.
Much of the hype surrounding Clemson in the preseason revolved around Deshaun Watson and the talent Clemson has at skill positions. Through three games, the offense hasn’t wowed anybody and has, outside of Wayne Gallman, looked spectacularly average.
The defense, expected to see a significant drop in production, is right back where it was last year: ranked #1 by ESPN in defensive efficiency. That #1 defense will be key against Notre Dame. The Tigers are not going to be able to keep up in a shootout, but a defensive match will probably favor Clemson.
Notre Dame looks an awful lot like Clemson’s evil twin, boasting a top-10 offense but an average defense. The Irish are averaging 41 points per game against decent competition, but are struggling against opposing offenses.
While they did a good job of slowing down Georgia Tech’s spread option, they gave up 27 points each to Virginia and UMass, neither of which is known for their offensive prowess.
Senior C.J. Prosise might be the best running back you haven’t heard of this year. He’s already piled up 600 yards just four games into the season. The Tiger defense will have their hands full between containing Prosise and covering one of the best groups of receivers in college.
This game has all the makings of a classic match that fans will be talking about for decades.
Clemson and Notre Dame kick off at 8 p.m. Saturday in Death Valley.
Reach James Inabinet at 803-635-4016.