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Clemson Football: 5 Reasons Why the Tigers Will Win the Cotton Bowl

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Clemson Football: 5 Reasons Why the Tigers Will Win the Cotton Bowl

Clemson Football: 5 Reasons Why the Tigers Will Win the Cotton Bowl

Alabama is the No. 1 team in America and the odds-on favorite to win the national title; but Clemson comes into the College Football Playoff on a roll and is as hot as any team in America, including the crew from Tuscaloosa.

Following the win over Syracuse on Sept. 29, a game where a fourth-quarter comeback proved to be a seminal moment for the rest of the season, the Tigers were never challenged at any point. Clemson won each of the remaining eight games by at least three scores and never faced a situation where the game was in doubt entering the fourth quarter.

They now get Notre Dame and the Irish have won each of their games as well. No worries. Here are five reasons why Clemson will take care of business down at Jerry’s place on Dec. 29.

5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the Cotton Bowl

1. Clemson simply has better personnel

If you look at the two teams, they are similar in a lot of ways. They both took off when their senior, dual-threat quarterback was replaced by a younger, more accurate passer. They both have talented pass catchers that are led by a former walk-on slot receiver. They both have big-play tailbacks with productive reserves. And their outstanding defenses click because of exceptional defensive lines. But at each position grouping, with the possible exception of the secondary, Clemson is at least as good and in most cases better than Notre Dame. Travis Etienne is a little better than Dexter Williams. Clemson has more athletic receivers. The offensive line is slightly more consistent. And while Notre Dame has a very good defensive front, Clemson’s is on another level. This also comes into play from a depth perspective. The Irish have some very good, top-end talent. Clemson has top-end talent coming off the bench. As the game wears on, the Tigers’ overall skill level will be a factor.

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2. The defensive line will control play again

As David Pollack of ESPN has stated leading up to the playoff, Notre Dame is a team without a whole lot of weaknesses. But if there is one area that is not as strong as the rest, it’s the offensive line. If you go back and watch the Michigan game from week one, you will see that after a solid first half, the Irish had huge problems blocking the Wolverines’ Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich over the final 30 minutes. And that was with guard Alex Bars, a senior captain who was lost for the season in the Stanford game. The biggest issue has been along the right side where tackle Robert Hainsey has been rotated in and out because of inconsistent play. When blocking Clemson, you need all five guys playing at an All-American level because it doesn’t matter if it's on Clelin Ferrell’s side or Austin Bryant’s side or up the middle, the Tigers are going to bring the heat. Notre Dame’s line is pretty good. But pretty good isn’t good enough against this Clemson front.

3. Offensive versatility

The balance of Clemson’s offense is impressive. With Etienne, they ran for 260 yards per game as a team. And once Trevor Lawrence established himself as the quarterback, the passing game started humming and the Tigers ended the regular season 27th in passing offense. But the team’s versatility goes beyond just the run/pass options. If a defense wants to be aggressive, they can strike at any minute either running or throwing. But if the opponent lays back, they can move the ball in methodical fashion too. Etienne will stick his nose in the pile and get five yards when he needs to. Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers will catch eight-yard passes to keep drives alive. This is important against Notre Dame, a team that yields very few big plays. Clemson will stay patient and only take their shots when the time is right.

4. Special teams

It’s not that Clemson has a great special teams unit. They were okay this year, though hardly spectacular. But they do have spectacular athletes on those units and Notre Dame has struggled in this department, especially in kick coverage. Whether it’s Jonathan Doerer or Justin Yoon, Notre Dame’s kickers can’t be booting the ball out of bounds, giving the Tigers the ball at the 35-yard line. The Irish also have allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns this year and are 113th in kick coverage. Their punt coverage wasn’t exceptional either and Rodgers is a punt return weapon for Clemson. Rarely do underdogs win in this situation if they lose the special teams battle and Clemson has the advantage in this phase of the game.

5. They’ve been here before

This is the fourth year in a row that Clemson has been in the playoff and the Tigers know how to handle the moment. It is true that things didn’t go well last year in New Orleans, but many of this year's key contributors were part of the championship run in 2016. On the other hand, the only person on the Notre Dame team that has been in a game this big is Brian Kelly. And considering the Irish's performance against Alabama in January 2013, there are questions about the Irish head coach as the team preps for the Cotton Bowl. Clemson has the talent and the experience. That is a winning combination.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.