By Stephen Hawkins, AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Clemson is getting a playoff first-timer and an unfamiliar stadium for its fourth consecutive College Football Playoff appearance.
The ACC champion Tigers (13-0, No. 2 CFP) will play Notre Dame (12-0, No. 3 CFP) in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium.
“We’ve got an unbelievable amount of respect for Notre Dame here at Clemson, and obviously a couple of years ago we had an epic battle in a hurricane,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “We won’t have to worry about that. We’ll be in a great dry environment and it should be a lot of fun.”
While Notre Dame is the first independent team to make the playoff, the Irish went undefeated with 10 wins over Power Five teams. That included five ACC teams, four of them that Clemson also played this season.
Clemson has never played at the home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, which hosted the first national championship game in the CFP era in 2014. The bowl last served as a semifinal three years ago, when Alabama beat Michigan State 38-0. The Tigers’ only Cotton Bowl was on Jan. 1, 1940, a 6-3 win over Boston College.
Notre Dame last played in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day 1994, beating Texas A&M when the game was still in its namesake stadium about 20 miles away at the site of the State Fair of Texas. The Fighting Irish are 5-2 in Cotton Bowl games.
The Irish were off Saturday when Clemson was beating Pittsburgh 42-10 to win its fourth consecutive ACC championship game exactly 10 years after Swinney was hired as the Tigers coach.
“Dabo has done an incredible job of building a consistent, elite football team year-in, year-out,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We know what we’re going to get.”
This will be only the fourth meeting between Clemson and Notre Dame, the first in a bowl game. The Irish won the first meeting in 1977, while the Tigers won in 1979 and 2015.
In that last matchup, then-No. 12 Clemson beat No. 6 Notre Dame 24-22 in heavy rains from Hurricane Joaquin as it impacted the East Coast that October day. Deshaun Watson threw two TDs and ran for another score.
After not making the first playoff in 2014, Clemson has been in the final four every season since. The Tigers made it to the championship game in 2015 and 2016, losing to Alabama the first time before beating the Crimson Tide two years ago.
“Every year it’s a new journey, it’s a new team,” Swinney said. “Nothing carries over, it’s great what we’ve done in the past, but you’ve got to prove it, you’ve got to earn it each year.”
SEC champion Alabama (13-0, No. 1 CFP), the only team that has made the playoff every year, plays Oklahoma (12-1, No. 4 CFP) in the other semifinal game Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners won the Big 12 championship over Texas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
The semifinal winners play in the national championship game Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
The Fighting Irish have played at AT&T Stadium once, beating Arizona State 37-34 in October 2013.
Notre Dame has its first undefeated regular season since 2012when the Irish were 12-0 before losing 42-14 to Alabama in the BCS national championship game.
“We played in 2012 maybe arguably one of the most physical football teams in the last 20 years in that Alabama team,” Kelly said. “I haven’t seen a team that has mirrored that 2012 Alabama team, as well, so let’s give them a little credit.”
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