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No. 4 Clemson hits Notre Dame, finally at full strength

Oct 8, 2022; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney calls plays during the second half against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Dabo Swinney took his own measurement of Clemson this week ahead of the debut of the College Football Playoff rankings and determined the Tigers were as close to full strength as they’ve been all season.

Asked where he thought his team might be ranked before Tuesday night’s initial CFP rankings, Swinney had a quick response.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said.

The Tigers came in at No. 4, giving them a path to the CFP semifinals with the softest schedule among the top four. Saturday night’s trip to Notre Dame could be the biggest obstacle between now and January.

The Atlantic Coast Conference favorites are coming off a bye week after a 27-21 win on Oct. 22 at home against previously unbeaten Syracuse. They finish the year with three straight home games against Louisville, Miami and South Carolina, all of which they should be favored in by at least two touchdowns.

Clemson (8-0) would also be a solid favorite in a projected ACC title game against No. 17 North Carolina. Take care of business the next five weeks and it could earn a spot in the semifinals, but there will be many more prove-it moments available to the class of the SEC: Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

“It has no relevance at this point,” said Swinney of the rankings. “The only thing I’m interested in is trying to win in South Bend. That’s all that matters.”

The Tigers will probably want to get off to a cleaner, better start than they did against Syracuse. The Orange established a 21-10 third quarter lead before Clemson rallied behind backup quarterback Cade Klubnik to score the game’s final 17 points.

But according to Swinney, starter DJ Uiagaleiei’s job isn’t in danger.

“As far as DJ, DJ’s our starter, DJ’s our leader,” Swinney said minutes after the Syracuse game. “Nothing’s changed there.”

Uiagaleiei struggled through his worst game of the year against Syracuse, going 13 of 21 for 138 yards with two interceptions. He’s thrown for 1,803 yards with 17 touchdown passes and four interceptions while rushing for a career-high 350 yards.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish (5-3) appear to have found themselves after an 0-2 start. They’ve won five of six, including last week’s 41-24 rout at No. 16 Syracuse that saw them combine 246 rushing yards with a defense that collected four sacks and a game-opening pick-six.

Notre Dame got 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Audric Estime, plus another 85 yards and a score from Logan Diggs. Brandon Joseph sparked the defense with a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown on the game’s first play.

“Really, really proud of our guys,” said first-year coach Marcus Freeman. “That’s a big win. It was really good to see this team battle.”

Freeman has characterized this squad as a good team that doesn’t always play like it. Two Top 25 wins last month with a home loss to a 3-5 Stanford team that at one point lost 11 straight games to FBS foes over two seasons validate that claim.

Estime and Diggs have combined for 989 yards on the ground, but the Irish need more from quarterback Drew Pyne. He was just 9 of 19 at Syracuse for 116 yards.

Clemson owns a 4-2 advantage in the all-time series, with the teams splitting two games in 2020, when Notre Dame was an ACC member and reached the championship game before losing to the Tigers in Charlotte.

–Field Level Media