WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13-0)
WHAT: The 83rd Cotton Bowl Classic (and the game’s second College Football Playoff Semifinal)
WHEN: 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
THE SKINNY: The Echoes. The Guts. The Playoff.
Clemson finds themselves right back in another semifinal to nobody’s surprise after dominating from just about start to finish this season. The Tigers check off just about every box you’re looking for, ranking in the top five in both scoring offense and scoring defense in 2018 and winning all but two of their games by 20 or more points. You can pick your poison on offense as tailback Travis Etienne averages over eight yards a carry while wideouts like Tee Higgins can stretch the field with big play after big play. Old reliable Hunter Renfrow is also a frequent target for freshman QB Trevor Lawrence, who has been stellar since taking over for Kelly Bryant four games into the season and has more than lived up to his billing as the top player in the class of 2018.
Dabo Swinney’s squad is pretty impressive on defense too. While most of the conversation leading up to the game has surrounded the suspension of defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence due to a failed drug test, Clemson is still loaded up front with potential first rounders like Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins. The Tigers only give up 13.7 points per game and sport quite the rotation at every level of their defense, from sideline-to-sideline guys like linebacker Tre Lamar to a lockdown defender in corner Trayvon Mullen.
Going up against all that is yet another undefeated Notre Dame squad who has passed every test this year with flying colors. While some might have visions of the 2012 group getting blasted by Alabama in the BCS title game, head coach Brian Kelly will be the first to tell you that this year’s edition of the Irish is a lot better on both sides of the ball and more than capable of going toe-to-toe with anybody. One reason why has been the play of quarterback Ian Book, himself a signal-caller who took over mid-year and somebody who can beat you over the top with his arm or on the ground scrambling if needed. Playing behind an excellent offensive line, he forms a pretty good tandem in the backfield with either running back Dexter Williams or Jafar Armstrong, both of whom can turn a little space into a huge gain.
ND’s defense is no slouch either, ranking No. 4 in S&P+ and rolling out veterans like DT Jerry Tillery in the middle and Thorpe Award finalist Julian Love on the back end. The entire group doesn’t give up many big plays and have a good enough two-deep to throw a lot of different looks, players and coverages out there to stymie just about any attack.
Bottle it all up and you have the ingredients for a potentially epic semifinal matchup between two programs who are all too familiar with each other. The biggest key to the ball game will be which offense can more consistently move the chains and convert scoring opportunities, which has typically been the Tigers this season. The Irish will certainly be able to make things interesting and keep it close but eventually the ACC champs pull away and book their ticket to yet another title game.
THE PICK: Clemson 27, Notre Dame 17
In what has seemingly been an annual tradition in Madison, Wisconsin has renewed the contract of head football coach Paul Chryst by tacking on another year. Chryst is now under contract through Jan. 31, 2024 with his latest renewal following approval from the University of Wisconsin Athletic Board.
Wisconsin renewed Chryst’s contract a year ago, extending his contract through the end of Jan. 2023. Wisconsin and Chryst originally agreed on a contract that was set to expire on Jan. 31, 2020 with a written agreement that the contract may be extended with a positive annual review beginning after the 2015 football season.
The Badgers may be coming off a relatively disappointing season with a record of 8-5, but Chryst has gone 42-12 in his first four seasons as head coach of the Badgers and it is expected Wisconsin will remain a consistent contender in the Big Ten West Division with a shot to play for and win the Big Ten championship in the years to come.
According to the USA Today coaching salary database for the 2018 season, Chryst was paid $3.75 million last season. Specific details of how much Chryst will be paid now were not announced by Wisconsin.
Wisconsin also renewed the contracts of volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield, women’s soccer coach Paula Wilkins, and men’s soccer coach John Trask.
One MAC school will head into the spring with a little less depth in its offensive backfield than they had at the end of the 2018 regular season.
On Twitter this week, Nevone McCrimmon announced that he has decided to transfer from Toledo and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere. In his social-media missive, the running back described leaving UT as “being the hardest decision of my life,” albeit one that he “and my family feels like… is the best decision to make.”
After redshirting as a true freshman, McCrimmon carried the ball nine times for 80 yards in 2017. He totaled 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 carries this past season.
Thursday was potentially a good day on the personnel front for the Kent State football program.
The school confirmed in a release that it has added a pair of Power Five conference transfers — offensive lineman Bill Kuduk and defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight (pictured). Kuduk, a redshirt freshman, began his collegiate playing career at Kansas State, Knight, a redshirt sophomore, at Maryland.
Neither player is expected to be eligible to play in 2019 as they will be forced to sit out a transfer year as mandated by the NCAA.
“We are excited to add an exceptional person in Bill to our FlashFAST Family,” second-year head coach Sean Lewis said in a statement. “He comes from a great high school on the south side of Chicago and knows what it takes to win. His athletic ability and size will be a great addition to our O-line room. …
“Q is another high character individual who is going to be a great member of our family. He brings collegiate game experience with him and will add a lot of position versatility to our back-end.”
Knight played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2016 and a dozen the following season. He saw action in just four games this past season before deciding to transfer in November of last year.
Kuduk didn’t see the field during his brief time with the Wildcats.
After spending the last month as the poachee, Nick Saban has turned into the poacher as he looks to retool an Alabama coaching staff ravaged by attrition.
While it’s not yet been confirmed by the football program, multiple media outlets, including al.com, are reporting that Saban will hire Kyle Flood and Sal Sunseri as Crimson Tide assistants. Flood would take over as offensive line coach for Brent Key, who left for the same job at Georgia Tech, while Sunseri will be taking an unspecified position on the defensive side of the ball.
Flood, the former head coach at Rutgers whose show-cause from the NCAA expired last September, would come to Tuscaloosa from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, where he spent the past two seasons. The offensive coordinator of the Falcons during that time, Steve Sarkisian, is expected to return in the same role with the Tide.
Speaking of returns, Sunseri spent the 2009-11 seasons as Saban’s linebacker’s coach and assistant head coach before leaving to take over as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Sunseri just completed his first season as the defensive line coach at Florida.