Clemson-Notre Dame Betting Guide: Can Irish Exploit Tigers’ One Flaw in College Football Playoff?
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book and Clemson running back Travis Etienne
2018 College Football Playoff Betting Odds, Pick: Clemson-Notre Dame
- Odds: Clemson -10.5
- Over/Under: 57.5
- Date: Saturday, Dec. 29
- Location: Arlington, Texas
- Time: 4 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
>> All odds as of Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time bowl odds and win probabilities on your bets
Clemson is exactly where we expected it to be — in the College Football Playoff after rolling through most of its ACC schedule behind an elite defense and running game. It did make a quarterback change to the more explosive passer in Trevor Lawrence, hoping to avoid the same fate it did against Alabama in last year’s CFP.
Notre Dame surprised some folks by running the table and also made a much needed change at quarterback as well, going away from run-first Brandon Wimbush to a more dynamic passer in Ian Book.
Both teams are balanced — Clemson has a top-10 offense and defense, per S&P+, while Notre Dame’s defense is No. 4 and offense is No. 26.
Are the Irish being disrespected by this point spread, or is it about right? Let’s dive in.
How Odds Moved for Notre Dame-Clemson
By Danny Donahue
Clemson is in unfamiliar territory this Saturday, currently drawing just 29% of bettors to its double-digit spread. Despite the lack of support, however, this margin has widened since opening at -10.5.
Up to as much as -13.5 for a significant period of time, the line’s latest fall to -12.5 seems to have been correlated with the suspension of Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
As for the total, it has risen from 55 to 56.5 thanks to 93% of money landing on the over from 76% of bets.
Trends to Know
By John Ewing
— Since 2005, Notre Dame is 8-5 against the spread (ATS) when getting 10 or more points but 0-1 ATS in bowl games.
— Dabo Swinney is 71-3 straight up (SU) when favored by double-digits but only 37-36-1 ATS in those games.
— Against top 10 teams, Swinney is 12-4 ATS.
Did You Know?
By Evan Abrams
— AT&T Stadium has presented us with some thrilling college football bowl games. But since 2005, 32 games have been played at AT&T Stadium with an over/under of 50 or more, and the under is 20-12 (62.5%). The under is 6-2 in the last two bowl seasons in this spot.
— Clemson and Notre Dame face off in the CFP semifinal both undefeated with a chance to go to the national title game. Since 2005, this will be the sixth showdown in December or later of two undefeated FBS teams and the first since the Auburn-Oregon 2011 national title game.
In the previous five games, the underdog is 4-1 SU and ATS, covering by 7.9 PPG with the largest three underdogs winning outright.
Lawrence Suspension Not Worth Much
By Steve Petrella
Both teams are relatively healthy for this game, but Clemson will be without one of its best defensive lineman because of a failed drug test.
Dexter Lawrence is among the Tigers’ best run stuffers, with 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season. He’s a projected first-round pick.
But Clemson has depth on the defensive line, including senior Albert Huggins (2.5 sacks on 20% of Lawrence’s snaps) and Xavier Thomas, a top-five recruit from last year’s class.
If you already like Clemson, don’t let this suspension scare you.
Clemson Has Historically Great Run Defense
Clemson averages an NCAA-best 6.8 yards per rush. Notre Dame is at only 4.5 yards per rush, which is 55th in the country. Amazingly, Clemson also leads the nation in yards per rush allowed at 2.4, while Notre Dame is a respectable 34th (3.7).
Just how good is 2.4 yards per rush? Here are the teams that allowed fewer than 2.4 yards over the course of a season in the past 10 years:
- 2016 Alabama (2.0)
- 2009 Texas (2.2)
Yup, that’s it. Clemson’s rush defense ranks in the top three in overall S&P+ Defense (1), Rush Efficiency (3), Rush Explosiveness (1), Opportunity Rate (1) and Stuff Rate (3). That spells potential disaster against a Notre Dame offense that ranks 116th in Opportunity Rate and 118th in Stuff Rate.
I don’t expect Notre Dame to do much on the ground, other than utilize it to keep the Clemson defense honest and setup play action. This game will be up to Ian Book and the passing game.
The good news is Notre Dame can protect the quarterback (No. 12 in Adjusted Sack Rate on Passing Downs), which is critical against an elite Clemson pass rush that ranks No. 9 in that same category.
Book Has Been Among Nation’s Best
By Steve Petrella
A sloppy effort against USC to end the season might be sticking in your mind, but don’t forget how good Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has been this season.
- 4th nationally in completion percentage
- 11th in yards per attempt
- 8th in QB Rating
The Irish offense averaged one yard per play more with Book under center than Brandon Wimbush, who started the first three games and a November contest against Florida State.
Clemson’s defense is elite in a lot of ways, but as Stuckey details below, the Tigers might be susceptible to a quality passing attack.
Notre Dame Has Kicking Edge
Notre Dame has a modest special teams edge (62nd vs. Clemson’s 99th, per S&P+) in this game, especially on field goals.
Clemson’s Greg Huegel doesn’t have a reliable leg, as the senior went nine of 13 on the year. He has attempted at least one field goal in each of his four seasons at Clemson, and he has gone 52-68 (76.5%) with eight missed extra points. He is also just 14 of 24 between 40-49 yards and has never attempted a field goal of more than 50 yards.
Notre Dame has a senior kicker of its own in Justin Yoon, who has a much bigger and reliable leg. Yoon has gone 58 of 72 (80.5%) and has only missed six XPs. He has a higher percentage between 40-49 and is actually capable from 50-plus.
Expect Clemson to have to go for it much more around the 30, which will give the ND defense a shot to swing the momentum with a turnover on downs. And the Irish are also much more likely to hit a long field goal at the end of the half or game, which might not win them the game, but it certainly could help them cover.
Stuckey: Why I’m Betting Notre Dame
I already mentioned the special teams woes for Clemson this year and I really think it’s an angle being slept on since the Tigers have really blown out everyone on the 76th-toughest schedule in the nation.
And while its run defense is historically elite without a doubt, I still have questions about the secondary (which were the only questions I had about this defense coming into the season) — especially if you can protect the quarterback.
I think Ian Book can exploit some holes in the Clemson secondary that has rarely been tested by elite passing offenses this year. The Tigers failed two of their three tests, passing against only N.C. State.
Just look at the numbers Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley put up:
- Mond: 23 of 40,430 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
- Bentley: 32 of 50, 510 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT
Even Syracuse’s Eric Dungey did a few things in a close game behind a subpar offensive line with a very average passing attack. Just look at some of the other opponents Clemson played. An FCS school and some of the purest running teams in the nation:
- Georgia Southern (129th in passing yards this season)
- Georgia Tech (127th)
- Pitt (121st)
- Louisville (92nd)
- Boston College (86th)
- Duke (73rd)
- Wake (horrible OL)
- FSU (horrible OL)
And while the Clemson defensive line is one of the best ever and has depth for days, it won’t hurt Notre Dame to not have to deal with one of the best in the country in Lawrence. I think Clemson wins this game (and is the best team in the country), but anything over +10 is just too many points.
Stuckey’s Pick: Notre Dame +12.5
By Collin Wilson
My initial reaction to the line was that the point spread had disrespected Notre Dame, and that this number should be closer to the power rating of Clemson -10 than the key number of -14. With plenty of wagering on the preseason Clemson +750 for the national championship in mind, I played a unit on the Action App with Notre Dame +12 when lines were first opened.
After further investigation, I am not worried about my Clemson futures. I am worried about my one unit position on Notre Dame at +12, and I expect there will be a buyback or an even bigger position on Clemson to cover. Taking a deep dive into the advanced statistics sheds a bit of light as to why the Tigers should be the side to get behind. You can read about that in detail here.
The biggest factor for me is Notre Dame being one-dimensional on offense. Its rush offense ranks outside the top 100 in opportunity rate and stuff rate, leaving the scoring attack all on Book’s shoulders.
That is a Clemson defensive specialty — to make an offense one dimensional. If Book can’t get time to throw, this game could resemble something closer to a previous Clemson semifinal from 2016, in which the Ohio State Buckeyes were blanked.
Collin’s Picks: Clemson -12.5, Under 56.5