If the 2020 football season is played as scheduled, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s their first regular season meeting since 2015, and their first clash since the 2018 CFP. Going back to that 2015 game, many regard that Tigers-Irish battle as the starting point of the Clemson dynasty. Off to a 3-0 start, Clemson welcomed #6 Notre Dame to Death Valley. Dabo Swinney infamously called it a BYOG game – “Bring Your Own Guts”. (If you want to get fired up, watch the video below). Clemson denied Notre Dame’s late two-point conversion and won a 24-22 thriller. They dominated the rest of their schedule and eventually lost in the national championship to conclude a 14-1 season. After such a painful finish in Death Valley, and a pretty embarrassing loss in the Playoff, the Irish are chomping off the bit to get another shot at Dabo Swinney and Co.
Early projections for that game give Clemson an 87% chance to win – their lowest chances of their regular season slate. However, amidst Notre Dame’s struggles against highly ranked opponents and Clemson’s recent dominance is hidden a fact that may be a little uneasy for Clemson fans to face. In all of their dominance since 2015, and their consistency for most of the past decade – Clemson has not won a true road game against a top 10 team since 2009. That’s not to take away from what Clemson has done or accomplished, but this is a task that Trevor Lawrence has never even had to size up – the last time Clemson even faced a top-10 team in the regular season was when they hosted #3 Louisville in 2016. That and the Notre Dame game are their only top-10 games since 2015. They lost in road games to #1 FSU in 2014, #10 South Carolina in 2013, and #4 FSU in 2012. Those games may have been before Clemson truly took off, but they went just 3-3 in regular season games against top-10 teams in this past year, and they were 0-3 on the road. Their last such victory on the road came at #8 Miami in 2009. They thrived in conference championships and the Playoff, but those true road games have been a rare and difficult task for Dabo’s Tigers.
But Notre Dame chokes right? Can’t win big games? Well, to some extent, that has been true. Notre Dame went 3-7 against top-10 teams in the 2010s, with two of those wins coming in 2012. The kicker? The Irish have had essentially the reverse set-up as Clemson, playing 9 of those 10 games away from Notre Dame stadium. They won their lone home contest, went 2-4 on the road, and 0-3 on a neutral field. They haven’t hosted a top-5 team since 2005. Facing one of the team’s from USC’s dynasty of the early 21st century, Notre Dame almost defeated the top-ranked Trojans, losing on the infamous and controversial “Bush Push”. 15 years later, and the Irish may have another shot at the #1 team in the country – if Clemson maintains their preseason ranking.
Notre Dame hasn’t lost at home since a one-point loss to Georgia in Week 2 of 2017. 87%? That’s a lot of confidence for a lot of things happening that haven’t happened in a long time? And with Clemson’s weak schedule, they’re not making the CFP with a loss in South Bend. I’m not saying an upset will happen.
But I’m not saying it’s not going to happen either.