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How Did Clemson and Notre Dame Perform Against Common Opponents

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As a partial-member of the ACC, Notre Dame plays an abbreviated conference schedule and thus shared four opponents with the Tigers.

Notre Dame v Syracuse Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

After Clemson’s matchup against Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship game, the Tigers and the Fighting Irish share four common opponents: Syracuse, Wake Forest, Florida State, and now Pittsburgh. Despite sometimes being played in different venues, each team’s performances in these games actually paints a meaningful picture of how they compare heading into their Cotton Bowl matchup.

CU/ND Scores Against Common Opponents

Common Opponents Clemson Win Margin Notre Dame Win Margin Difference
Common Opponents Clemson Win Margin Notre Dame Win Margin Difference
Syracuse 4 33 ND +29
Wake Forest 60 29 CU +31
Florida State 49 29 CU +20
Pittsburgh 32 5 CU +27
Average: CU +12

The first thing that stands out is that Notre Dame blew out Syracuse, while Clemson needed some Chase Brice heroics to salvage a victory, but after that you see Clemson won by 78 more total points over the other three games. When you dig into it a bit more, what’s really interesting is where those differences come from:

The defensive performances were relatively similar as Clemson has allowed 11 fewer points (2.8 fewer points allowed per game) than Notre Dame against their four common opponents. The Tiger offense however has posted 38 more points (9.5 more points per game!) in these four games than the Irish.

Both teams have had mid-season QB changes, which means season-long statistics can somewhat underrate the offenses, which improved once turning to more pass-oriented QBs. That said, Trevor Lawrence started all three of these games (though he left just before halftime of the Syracuse game), while Ian Book started three of the four (Wimbush started against Florida State).

It’s challenging to assess Notre Dame’s offense because of the QB change a quarter way through the year and RB Dexter Williams being suspended for the first four games. On the year, S&P+ ranks it 26th. After scoring just 23 points per game in their first three contests, they switched to QB Ian Book and blew up for 56 points in their next game. It was against Wake Forest though, so that’s only so impressive. From that point forward, they played 7 games in which they had both QB Ian Book and RB Dexter Williams. In those games they averaged a very solid 34 points per games. Clemson averaged 45 points per game (42 if you exclude the ridiculousness against Louisville).

This is the Trevor Lawrence effect. With an elite passing attack that fully leverages our WRs in the 9-spot - Higgins and Ross - the Tigers offense rates closer to Alabama’s vaunted 2018 attack than Notre Dame’s solid, but hardly lauded offense. (Interesting side note: OU’s #1 offense has such a big lead over everyone else that Clemson is closer to Notre Dame and OU.)

The Tigers defense may be somewhat stronger than Notre Dame’s, but it’s the Tiger offense that gives them a major advantage and makes them worthy of the double-digit spread the oddsmakers have given them.

The one worry that jumps out about Notre Dame’s offense comes from their WR Miles Boykin. Boykin has 803 yards and 8 TDs. Clemson shut down NC State’s star WR Kelvin Harmon (2 catches, 13 yards), but got burned by South Carolina’s star WR Deebo Samuel (10 catches, 210 yards, 3 TDs). If the Tigers can hold Boykin to a pedestrian performance, the Fighting Irish may not be able to score enough to best the Tigers.