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Death Valley will be seriously hype Saturday night when the #12 Clemson Tigers rub Howard’s Rock and come storming down The Hill to face #6 Notre Dame in a battle of unbeatens – But thanks to College GameDay, the party will start much, much earlier.
The popular cast, the hilarious signs, the donning of the headgear and the all-day party will return to Clemson for the ninth time in school history. It will be the first visit since October 19, 2013, when #5 Florida State came to town and handed #3 Clemson a 51-14 beating that saw the most points scored at Clemson by a visiting team in 95 years.
The good news for the Tigers is they’re playing at home, where they are 2-1 all time in games graced by GameDay’s presence (with the aforementioned Florida State game being the only loss). When Lee Corso is pointing pencils on sets outside of Clemson’s campus, the Tigers have yet to win – losing all five of the games they have appeared in.
Not surprisingly, Notre Dame has far more experience being involved in College GameDay. Saturday marks the 26th time GameDay has originated from a Notre Dame game, the sixth most appearances by any school. It will also mark the 17th time the Irish have participated in GameDay festivities as a true road team – the most by any team in the country. In their previous 16 road games, the Irish are 7-9.
There’s a reason why one of ESPN’s crown jewels has chosen Death Valley for this week’s location, as the game has serious playoff implications. A win would be huge for both team’s playoff resume, with the majority of writers, analysts and fans believing Clemson has far more to lose than Notre Dame.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that they have far more to lose, but I agree that Clemson has more to prove on Saturday. Yes, the Tigers’ have a softer schedule. Yes, they’re only other ranked opponent is #11 Florida State. And yes, the ACC has a reputation as one of the softest of the “Power Five” conferences. So, yes, Clemson needs a trademark win. A win would set the Tigers up for a “win out and you’re in” scenario. A close loss would make the road very, very tough and a blowout home loss would almost certainly end Clemson’s playoff chances.
But to those that say a loss would end Clemson’s playoff dreams, but not Notre Dame’s, I say, “Not so fast!”
Notre Dame has played a tougher schedule to this point, but their wins against Texas, Virginia and Georgia Tech sound a lot better than they look. The Irish are 4-0 heading in to Saturday night and their four wins came against teams with a combined record of 4-11. After Saturday Notre Dame’s only chances to make a splash on their playoff resume are at home against #17 USC in two weeks and on the road at #18 Stanford as their final game of the regular season. A loss from either of those teams in the coming weeks could knock them both from the Top 25, meaning a bad loss at Clemson could hurt the Irish just as much as a home loss would hurt the Tigers.
One thing that is for sure is that ACC schools and fans should be rooting hard for Clemson. Aside from their personal feelings towards Notre Dame, the ACC needs a big win against a Top 10 team in front of a national audience to get some much needed recognition and have a shot at getting into the playoff. A Clemson win would do just that, while a loss would continue to add to the overwhelming perception of the ACC being the little brother of the Power Five football conferences.
But before the fireworks, music and kickoff, there’s one very important thing that must be decided – Lee Corso’s headgear pick. Corso is 9-5 when picking against Notre Dame, compared to 2-4 when he picks the Irish. He’s 4-1 when picking against Clemson, and 1-1 when going with the Tigers. So, maybe just before noon on Saturday shouldn’t be about who he picks, but who he picks against.