In the first semifinal matchup of the 2018 college football playoffs, the No. 2 ranked Clemson Tigers (13-0) will face off against the No. 3 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Kickoff is set for 4:00 EST on Saturday, December 29th at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Oddsmakers opened up this matchup at Clemson -11, but early money has driven the line up and the Tigers are currently sitting at -12.5 or -13, depending on where you shop. The total is at 56.5 points.

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Cotton Bowl Vegas Betting Preview: Notre Dame vs Clemson

Notre Dame finished the regular season a perfect 12-0. The first time since they met up with Alabama in the 2012 BCS Championship (lost 42-14). It all started with a 24-17 home win over Michigan in Week 1. They would knock off 3 more ranked teams along the way, all by double-digits. A big reason that the Irish were able to post a perfect record, is the decision by head coach Brian Kelly to bench incumbent starter Brandon Wimbush in favor of sophomore Ian Book.

This will be the 8th bowl appearance in the 9 seasons under Kelly (missed 2016). The Irish won 21-17 as a 3-point dog to LSU in last year’s Citrus Bowl to improve to 4-3 in bowl games under Kelly.

Clemson was expected by a lot of people to run the table and get back to the playoffs for a 4th straight year. They didn’t disappoint. The Tigers had a couple of close calls early at Texas A&M and at home against Syracuse, but were as dominant as team in the country down the stretch. Clemson won their 8 games all by at least 20 points, including a 42-10 blowout win over Pitt in the ACC title game. Like Notre Dame, the 2nd half surge came via a quarterback change, as the Tigers benched Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman Travor Lawrence.

Last year the Tigers had by far their worst showing in a playoff game, as they managed just 188 total yards in a 24-6 loss to the Crimson Tide. Overall, Clemson is 7-5 in bowl games under head coach Dabo Swinney with a 3-2 record in playoff games (both losses to Alabama).

2018 Cotton Bowl Free Pick & Predictions: Clemson -12.5

My early lean here would be to lay the big number with Clemson. As much as the betting public loves to back the Tigers, most will convince themselves that this is too many points to pass up with Notre Dame. I could be completely wrong here, but I don’t think the Irish are anywhere close to being on the same level as Clemson, who I feel is right there with Alabama in terms of being in another class compared to the rest of college football.

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Sure, the Fighting Irish played 10 teams from a Power 5 conference this year and coming into the season it looked like a pretty difficult schedule. Unfortunately the likes of Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC were not as good as we thought. The win over Michigan looks great, but it’s not nearly as impressive as it was before we watched the Wolverines get annihilated by Ohio State in their regular-season finale.

Haven’t we seen this story before. Everyone was saying that 2012 was different and Notre Dame was going to knock off Alabama. It only took a couple series before we knew the Irish were frauds. Same thing last year when they were No. 3 and favorite at Miami. The Irish didn’t just lose, they got annihilated 41-8.

I’m not saying they are a bad team. There’s a lot of talent on this Notre Dame team. I just don’t think they have enough to hang with the juggernaut that is Clemson. The Tigers just aren’t an elite offensive team, they got some absolute studs on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front on the defensive line. There is a possibility they might be without star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who failed a test, but there is a chance it was a false-positive and he will play.

Lawrence is an amazing player and it certainly will be easier on Notre Dame if he doesn’t play, but they got 3 other NFL draft picks that are going to be on the field and chances are they probably got a young backup or two that will be playing on Sunday’s down the road. I just don’t think the Irish offensive line is going to know what hit them. I just don’t think they will be able to score enough to keep this thing close. Give me the Tigers -12.5!