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ND v. Clemson: a Short History Long on National Titles

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

By Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview



Notre Dame and Clemson have combined to play 257 seasons of football and they have rarely played each other. But when they have matched up, they have made it count!


Six short weeks ago the Fighting Irish shrugged off the weight of years of frustration to finally bust their way back into College football's "club elite" with a 47-40 double overtime win over then number one ranked Clemson. Kyren Williams' 65 yard scamper to the end zone to start things off, the Ian Book engineered two minute drill to put the game in overtime, the two straight sacks in overtime by the Irish defense to seal the victory: all Notre Dame moments and all part of the excitement of what turned out to be an epic matchup against the Tigers, with national title implications.


The Irish and the Tigers have played just 5 times in 257 seasons, and that means means it is a quirk of history that the teams will be playing for the second time this season. And keep in mind that there is the potential for a THIRD match up this season on the CFP horizon!


And every match up has had national title implications.

In 1977 Joe Montana and company traveled to Clemson and escaped with a 21-17 victory. The Irish went on to win the national championship that year. Amazingly, 36 players that participated in that game from both sidelines went on to NFL careers.

In 1979 Clemson set a Notre Dame stadium record by running the ball 74 times and came from behind to defeat the Irish 16-10. The Clemson program, it is said, turned the corner that day under second year head coach Danny Ford and 2 years later the Tigers won their first ever national title.

In 2015 Clemson was led by Deshaun Watson, ND by Deshone Kiser and both teams were undefeated. The game was played as the outer rings of Hurricane Joaquin were drenching South Carolina. ND had fallen behind 21-3 going into the 4th quarter before a furious Fighting Irish comeback fell just short when Kiser was stopped short of the goal line on a 2-point conversion attempt with 7 seconds left. Clemson prevailed 24-22 and went on to a 14-1 season, their only loss came to Alabama by 5 in the national championship game. The Tigers went on to claim the national title the next season.

Prior to this year, the last time the two teams met was at "Jerry’s World" (AT&T Stadium), in Dallas in the College Football Playoff semifinal in 2018. After the first quarter of that game, the teams seemed evenly matched but an injury to Irish cornerback Julian Love in the second quarter was the opening sensational freshman Trevor Lawrence needed. Lawrence tossed 3 TD passes before the half and Clemson cruised to a 30-3 win. A week later the Tigers pounded Alabama 44-16 to win the national championship.


Clemson now leads the seldom played series 3 games to 2. Both teams stand in the top four nationally, so along with the ACC title being on the line this time, both teams are jockeying for position in college football's version of the "final four", and both could well make it. So the possibility of a third meeting this season is real.


And if that 3rd match up does come to pass, the 7th ever match up between the two powerhouse programs again will have "National Championship" written all over it, just like it always has.



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