Looking at the three other possible opponents, it appears that Notre Dame football got the best possible draw it could have asked for.
It is hard to deny Clemson’s dominance this year. The Tigers are a great football team with a lot of strengths. However, as far as possible opponents go, I think Notre Dame football got the best draw in the College Football Playoff when it was announced that they would be playing Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.
While Clemson is fairly complete as a team, Alabama and Oklahoma feature some specific elements that would prove to be even more problematic for the Irish considering who the Irish have played to date — namely two dynamic quarterbacks.
Notre Dame has yet to play an elite quarterback this season. They have played against some decent quarterback competition, but that’s about it. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey was perhaps the biggest threat at quarterback, and he was knocked out of the game too early to even make a valid assessment as to how the Irish defense responded to a good quarterback who could throw and run.
Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa, and Jalen Hurts would test the Irish defense in a way they have not been tested this year. Simply put, these three quarterbacks are studs. Not only are they talented, but they have proven that they know how to win, particularly against good competition in big moments. Two of them are Heisman Trophy candidates. Enough said.
Of course, this is not to say that Trevor Lawrence is a schmuck. He too is an extremely talented quarterback, and he might find himself in the Heisman conversation as he gets older. While he is good, he is not as good at the three quarterbacks listed above. And as a freshman, he has not had the experience in big games that these other quarterbacks have had, nor has he been tested in the way that these quarterbacks have been tested.
This brings me to my next point: Clemson has not been tested as a football team. The Tigers played a generally weak schedule. Early in the season, they escaped a decent Texas A&M team. After this, one could argue that their toughest tests were against Syracuse (another escape) and Boston College.
Sure, Clemson has a phenomenal defensive line that features multiple NFL talents. But what opponent has tested this crew? What team has been able to put pressure on Trevor Lawrence? Again, the kid is good. But it is a lot easier to look good when you have all day to throw the ball.
This doesn’t take into account the Clemson secondary, which has had obvious struggles throughout the course of the season.
The fact of the matter is that Notre Dame is will be the best team that Clemson has faced this year by a large margin. The Irish defensive front could very easily make freshman Trevor Lawrence look mediocre, something I am not sure they could do so easily against Murray, Tagovailoa, or Hurts. Ian Book will be the best quarterback Clemson has faced all year as well. And for a secondary that has struggled against weaker competition, I expect the the dynamic Irish offense to have success in open space.
Look, I am not saying that Clemson is a bad team. They are a very good team. The Tigers undoubtedly provide match ups that could give Notre Dame some problems. One prime example is a Notre Dame offensive line that has struggled against much less talented defensive fronts than the ubertalented defensive front they will battle against Clemson.
But considering what the rest of the playoff field has to offer, I think the Irish are taking on the lesser of the three evils.