In just over a week, No. 11 Clemson (3-0) will host No. 6 Notre Dame (3-0) on prime-time television.
While it would have been fun to see Malik Zaire square off against Deshaun Watson, one of the most electric quarterbacks in college football, this game still has the potential to be the best of that weekend, if not the entire season.
Yes, Zaire or no Zaire, this will be a clash of two first-rate programs.
“It doesn’t feel any different (despite the injuries),” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “A couple weeks ago, my mind was 100 percent on Appalachian State or Louisville – whoever we were getting ready for at the time. But in this business, that’s just the way it has to be. We only get 12 Saturdays and they’re all huge. They’re all kind of a season of their own. Certainly when the schedule came out, all of us coaches would start visualizing our journey that we’re going to have throughout the year. I was first of all excited to have an opportunity to play Notre Dame. I’ve never had a chance to play against Notre Dame or coach against them in all my years. So that’s a really cool thing. The winningest program in college football history, that’s kind of neat to be able to play a great brand like Notre Dame.”
Clemson, which is coming off a 20-17 win at Louisville, has a bye this weekend.
“I think the open date has come at a very good time for us,” Swinney said. “We’re a very young team and we got to get some guys healthy. They’ve lost some guys as well, but as far as the feel of this game (without Zaire) – no different. This is a huge game for them, a huge game for us. We both were hoping to be 3-0. They’re 3-0. We know they got to play on Saturday. But we’re looking forward to it.”
The game will almost certainly have enormous playoff implications. As of now, neither Clemson nor Notre Dame will face a higher-ranked team the rest of the way.
“This is a team that, as I look at them – and I know they’ve lost some good players, too – but they’ve recruited very well,” Swinney said. “They’re a legit top-10, top-5 type of team. They have not missed a beat. They’re very deep with talent. They’ve got really good experience, especially upfront on the offensive line. They are some men. The quarterback has played well, they got great skill. I really don’t see a weakness on this team. I really don’t – anywhere. And looking at them defensively, it looks like we’re getting ready to play Clemson. They play like we do. They play hard, they’re disciplined, they’re tough, these guys are physical upfront, they run well at linebacker and got guys that can cover in the secondary. So this is going to be one of those classics, I really believe. We got a lot of work to do getting ready for these boys.”
Kickoff for the Oct. 3 game is at 8 p.m. ET.