An A-to-Z look at Notre Dame, the College Football Playoff and the road ahead

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Here’s an alphabetical guide to Notre Dame and its first venture into the world of playoff football. The No. 3 Irish (12-0) take on No. 2 Clemson (13-0) at 4 p.m. (EST) Dec. 29 in a CFP semifinal in Arlington Texas.

A is for All-American, and the tsunami of college football All-America teams has started. Irish linebacker Te’von Coney was named to the Pro Football Focus first team on Monday. Safety Alohi Gilman made the second team, and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and cornerback Julian Love were honorable-mention picks. The Associated Press All-America team drops next Monday.

B is for Bars, as in Alex, the player ND coach Brian Kelly said last summer would be the most likely to end up a coach someday. If that turns out to be the case, Bars has gotten a head start this season. He has been helping coach the Irish offensive line, in every practice but the one that was scheduled on the day of his surgery, after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Stanford on Sept. 29.

C is for Career, and for roughly two years (2001-03) Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s paycheck came from selling real estate. Born William Christopher Swinney, the Alabama gradate earned a degree in commerce and business administration, and later earned Master’s in business administration.

D is for Detour. And Irish coach Brian Kelly took a long one after the 24-17 victory at USC on Nov. 24 before returning home last weekend to put his patio furniture away for the winter. In between, he was able to do quite a bit of recruiting. And the reaction to ND’s 12-0 regular season while out recruiting? “I didn’t wait in line in the coaches’ offices,” he said with a laugh. “It was awesome. No, I guess if (Nick) Saban was there, I would probably have to wait for Saban.”

E is for Eleven. That’s the number of playoff wins Brian Kelly had at the Division II level at Grand Valley State. After three first-round losses, he won 11 of his next 12 playoff games, including national titles in 2002 and 2003.

F is for FormerNotre Dame defensive coordinators, and Clemson faced two of Brian Kelly’s former DCs this season with very mixed results. On Sept. 8, the Tigers edged Texas A&M and DC Mike Elko, 28-26. On Nov. 3, they opposite-of-edged Louisville and DC Brian VanGorder, 77-16. Elko’s Aggies allowed 115 rushing yards and 492 total. VanGorder’s Cardinals allowed 413 rushing yards and 661 total. Incidentally, VanGorder’s predecessor at ND, Bob Diaco, found his way into the College Football Playoff. He’s Oklahoma’s outside linebackers coach, having been promoted from defensive analyst when Sooners DC Mike Stoops was fired in early October.

G is for Garth Brooks, who staged a live concert in Notre Dame Stadium on ND’s bye week Saturday, Oct. 20. When asked for his coaching advice for Brian Kelly on Oct. 19, Brooks said, “My coaching advice for him is, ‘Don’t listen to anybody.’ He’s doing great. Don’t screw it up.”

H is for Home, and Notre Dame has as many players who call Texas home in its 2019 recruiting class (Nana Osafo-Mensah and Hunter Spears) as the Irish have current scholarship players who do so (Avery Davis and Brock Wright).

I is for Ian, as in Book, as in the only quarterback among the playoff QBs who wasn’t a four- or five-star prospect and/or a top 100 recruit coming out of high school. All four were in different recruiting classes. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence was the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2018 class. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa was No. 53 overall in the 2017 class and the No. 3 dual-threat QB prospect. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray was No. 71 overall in the 2015 class and the No. 5 dual-threat prospect behind Deondre Francois, Blake Barnett, Travis Waller and Brandon Wimbush. Book was a three-star, non-top 250 prospect per Rivals and was the No. 15 pro-style prospect in the 2016 class.

J is for the Joe Moore Award, given annually to the nation’s best offensive line. And to illustrate just how important offensive line play is, all four teams in the College Football Playoff are represented among the award’s 10 semifinalists this season. Notre Dame won the honor in 2017.

K is for Kevin McDougal, who was the quarterback for Notre Dame the last time the Irish played in the Cotton Bowl, at the end of the 1993 season. The Irish beat Texas A&M, 24-21, on Jan. 1, 1994. The last and only previous time Clemson has played in the Cotton Bowl was at the end of the 1939 season, with the Tigers edging Boston College, 6-3.

L is for Livin’ on a Prayer, and you’ve never seen a rendition of the vintage Bon Jovi tune quite like this one … unless you were around for the 2013 version. The last time ND played in AT&T Stadium for their 2013 Shamrock Series matchup with Arizona State, they did a little karaoke in the days leading up to the game:

M is for Mississippi State, which is the only FBS team that allowed fewer TD passes this season than Notre Dame’s seven. The Bulldogs yielded five.

N is for Notre Dame Stadium, which is where the next scheduled meeting between Notre Dame and Clemson will take place, after the Dec. 29 clash in the Cotton Bowl. Provided they don’t meet in the 2019 postseason as well, the Nov. 3, 2020 game in South Bend will be just the fifth ever between the two schools.

O is for Officials, and the Southeastern Conference will be supplying them for Notre Dame’s national semifinal matchup with Clemson.

P is for Pittsburgh, a 42-10 loser to Clemson in Saturday night’s ACC Championship Game but the only team this season to rush for more than 175 yards against the Tigers (191 on 48 carries).

Q is for Quantity, and ND’s quantity of allotted tickets for the Cotton Bowl is 13,000. The general ticket supply sold out Monday.

R is for Rimington Award, given annually to the college football’s best center. Notre Dame grad senior Sam Mustipher was named one of three finalists on Monday, as were Garrett Bradbury of NC State and Ross Pierschbacher of Alabama.

S is for Seventh, which is where ND running back Dexter Williams would have finished in the final regular-season rankings for rushing yards per game (117.6) if he had played in enough games (75 percent) to qualify for the NCAA statistics.

T is for Turnovers, and Notre Dame had four to Clemson’s one in the Tigers’ 24-22 home victory the last time those two teams met, on Oct. 3, 2015. The Irish outgained Clemson, 432-298.

U is for Unranked, and only Notre Dame’s 1979 team was unranked on either side of the ledger in the three previous meetings with Clemson.

V is for Vinyasa, the style of yoga that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly embraces and has a 22-3 record since doing so. His favorite pose? The Child’s Pose.

W is for Weishfest, an annual fundraiser to provide support and financial relief to families with young adults and adolescents battling cancer. The event was held this past Saturday in Merrionette Park, Ill. The inspiration is Andrew Weishar, the brother of Notre Dame tight end Nic Weishar, who died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 21. On Monday, Nic Weishar was named captain of the official 2018 AFCA Good Works Team for his commitment to community service and giving back off the field. To date, the Andrew Weishar Foundation has aided more than 100 families affected by cancer and granted more than $600,000 in financial assistance.

X is for X-ray, something Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill no longer needs for his left hand after being cleared last week to play and practice without a cast on it for the first time since suffering a broken bone in the hand Sept. 29 against Stanford.

Y is for Yards per play allowed, and Clemson heads into postseason play as the nation’s best team in that category (4.08), while Notre Dame is eighth in the FBS (4.53).

Z is for Zero. And that’s the number of teams in 18 combined career starts that Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and Ian Book have faced that are ranked in the top 50 in total defense. They’ll each face their first Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.

Notre Dame’s Te’von Coney (4) earned first-team All-America honors on Monday from Pro Football Focus.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who faces Notre Dame on Dec. 29, sold real estate during a two-year hiatus from coaching.
Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams (2) would rank seventh nationally in rushing yards per game if he had played in enough games to qualify.