Clemson vs. Notre Dame, potential game of the year, faces huge plot twist without Trevor Lawrence

By | October 31, 2020

We had a feeling Clemson at Notre Dame would have game of the- year potential. We just didn’t know Trevor Lawrence’s status would be the twist.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney revealed Saturday that Lawrence, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, will not be available for the Nov. 7 matchup at Notre Dame Stadium.

That puts a serious damper on No. 1 Clemson’s matchup with No. 4 Notre Dame, and it brings into question what the game means for each side. Do the Tigers (7-0, 7-0 ACC) need it more, or is it a mulligan situation without Lawrence? Could this potentially eliminate the Irish (6-0, 6-0 ACC) from the College Football Playoff discussion?

A look at the biggest storylines from the game:

What if D.J. Uiagalelei beats the Irish?

D.J. Uiagalelei, a five-star freshman, passed for 342 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns while leading Clemson to a 34-28 comeback victory against Boston College.

Uiagalelei settled in by the second half, but doesn’t have Lawrence’s experience. That said, he could develop into a similar first-round talent. The first road start at Notre Dame will be made easier without fans, and a full week of preparation should help.

The worst-case scenario for Notre Dame would be getting lit up by Uiagalelei in Lawrence’s absence — especially at home. Lawrence beat the Irish 30-3 as a freshman in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 29, 2018.

Can Brian Kelly, Ian Book lead a signature win?

The Irish are 3-8 against top-10 teams under Brian Kelly since 2010, and this is another chance to legitimize the program on the national stage. Two of those top-10 victories came in 2012.

Ian Book is 26-3 as a starter with Notre Dame, but he also started two of those losses to top-10 teams, against Clemson and Georgia on the road. This is Book’s chance to put a signature victory on an under-appreciated career at Notre Dame Stadium.

What are the ACC, Playoff stakes?

Clemson has made the College Football Playoff each of the last five seasons, so a loss without Lawrence wouldn’t be fatal to their Playoff hopes as long as they won the ACC championship game in December.

The Tigers’ last three games are against Pitt, Florida State and Virginia Tech, so another trip to the conference championship game is likely.

Another unforeseen twist is Notre Dame could be the repeat opponent. The Irish joined the ACC on a one-year basis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Irish would still be a decent bet to make the conference championship game, even with a loss.

Notre Dame plays at Boston College and North Carolina — a game that should be huge for that ACC title game berth — before a season finale against Syracuse.

Is there a chance that Notre Dame and Clemson split two matchups and both end up making the Playoff?

Will there be South Bend magic?

This goes back to what we thought might happen in August: Notre Dame is 2-5 when the No. 1 team in the nation visits Notre Dame Stadium.

Those last four games, however, have been instant classics.

Notre Dame beat Miami 31-30 in 1988 in the “Catholics vs. Convicts” game and upset Florida State 31-24 in the “Game of the Century” in 1993. Notre Dame lost a 27-24 thriller to Nebraska in 2000, and USC beat Notre Dame 34-31 in the “Bush Push” game in 2005.

Those four games were decided by a combined 10 points. That’s the kind of game that could happen in Notre Dame on Saturday, especially with Lawrence out. Uiagalelei has a chance to make an early statement in his career in one of college football’s most hallowed cathedrals. Book can continue writing Notre Dame’s most unlikely script toward its first national championship since 1988.

It’s still the best game of the year, to this point on the schedule.

We can’t wait to see the next plot twist.