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Pregame Pep Talk: Fighting words, plus picks and X-Factors

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Pregame Pep Talk: Fighting words, plus picks and X-Factors

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly yells from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Georgia Tech in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney drove up in his golf cart, walked over toward the bench where he sits for Wednesday post-practice interviews, and had a question for the media before the media could ask him questions for the fourth time in four days.

“What else do y’all need to know?” Swinney said, playfully, with a big smile. “I got nothing else for you guys. There is nothing else to say.”

Other than announcing Ammon Lakip would handle kickoffs, he’s right. There really is nothing else to say other than play ball. (And rain, rain, go away. Please?)

PODCAST: Breaking down the Notre Dame-Clemson matchups

Before we get to the picks and X-Factors, here are some empty-the-quotebook remarks from the players set to do battle when No. 6 Notre Dame visits No. 12 Clemson on Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ABC, weather pending:

“I never really had too big of an issue when it came to rain. I have pretty good-sized hands where I can grip the ball pretty well. Some of my best games in high school came in the rain. So it doesn’t necessarily worry me. It’s definitely something that I haven’t experienced lately, but we’ll definitely prepare for that with using wet balls in our practice and understanding that the wind is going to come into play and things like that.” – Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer

“We’re going to need to get pressure on the quarterback because he likes to stand in the pocket. But we trust our DBs, one of the best secondaries in the nation. I feel like they’re going to hold their job down, and we’re going to do our job up front.” – Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson

“(Deshaun Watson) is a true dual-threat quarterback. He has a great arm, accurate passes. Puts the ball where his receivers can get to it and gives his receivers opportunities to go make plays. And then also, he will stand in the pocket. It’s not like he’s going to look to run and just get out of there at the first sign of pressure. He’s going to stay poised, and he’s a very calm quarterback, which I think manifests itself in the way he plays and also the way his teammates respond to him.” – Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley

“You know, I think everybody judges (Watson) off of that first throw when he came in vs. Georgia. He’s made good decisions, he’s managed the game. If he makes the play up at Louisville for a big play, everyone’s going to say he played great. But he’s played solid. He hasn’t played bad. He’s made the plays that are there, he ran the ball very well the last game. He hasn’t made many bad decisions. I think everyone has such high expectations for him, and he has such high expectations for himself, that you’re just not seeing the miraculous play. But he’s making all the plays we need him to make.” – Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott

“Just make sure (younger players) don’t focus on the outside noise. It’s so easy to get caught up in Twitter and what people say and things like that. But it’s all about what’s happening in this building and what you can control.” – Notre Dame defensive tackle Sheldon Day

“There’s not much to say. GameDay’s gonna be here, it’s a top-15 matchup. If you’re not pumped up for this game, then I don’t know why you’re playing college football. This is just the type of thing we came here for, to be that premier school to have these big matchups against other top schools in the nation.” – Clemson safety Jayron Kearse

“Yeah, well, I’m excited. Sheesh, you know, this is a fun game. These are matchups you want to play in, and this is why you play the game of football. This is what you dream of as a little kid.” – Notre Dame linebacker Joe Schmidt

****

#14 DeShone Kizer, 6-4, 230, r-fr., QB, Notre Dame. He’s probably not as advanced as Jameis Winston at this age. But a) we’re not sure of that yet, b) he doesn’t have to be, and c) he sounds like Winston in midweek interviews in terms of his eloquence and confidence.

#20 C.J. Prosise, 6-1, 220, jr., RB, Notre Dame. 100-yard rushers don’t often emerge from a date with Clemson’s defense. Prosise must be excellent Saturday night to help take the pressure off his team’s passing game.

#78 Ronnie Stanley, 6-6, 315, jr., LT, Notre Dame. Versus Shaq Lawson all night long. Oooooooooh boy, this’ll be fun.

#11 Travis Blanks, 6-1, 210, jr., NB, Clemson. Up front and on the back end, this is Blanks’ night to redeem himself for all that time spent on surgical tables and in rehabilitation rooms.

#2 Mackensie Alexander, 5-11, 195, soph., CB, Clemson. Best corner in the nation? And it’s not even close? Here, go play with Will Fuller for three and a half hours. Prove-it time.

#4 Deshaun Watson, 6-2, 210, soph., QB, Clemson. Anything less than a Heisman-like effort and Clemson’s in deep trouble Saturday night.

#78 Eric Mac Lain, 6-5, 315, sr., LG, Clemson. Wayne Gallman likes running around that left side, and Sheldon Day’s a load in the middle of Notre Dame’s defensive line. Big night for the bearded senior.

#3 Artavis Scott, 5-11, 190, soph., WR, Clemson. Whether it’s on those patented tap plays, or making plays deep since Clemson’s a bit shy on deep threats, Scott needs to go bonkers in these types of games like he did late last November.

#9 Jaylon Smith, 6-2, 240, jr., LB, Notre Dame. Built like Stephone Anthony. Plays a bit like him, too. 29 tackles, 4.5 for a loss through four games.

#41 Matthias Farley, 5-11, 210, sr., S, Notre Dame. Sounds like he’s the calming presence for the Irish, as someone who was around to remember Notre Dame leaving East Lansing and Norman with big wins on its way to the 2012 title game.

#15 Zack Sanchez, 5-11, 179, jr., CB, Oklahoma. Tough test for the Sooners corner, shadowing the next great West Virginia receiver, sophomore Shelton Gibson.

#14 Jake Coker, 6-5, 232, sr., QB, Alabama. 55 percent completions is not going to cut it, young man. Neither will this stat from Pro Football Focus.

#27 Nick Chubb, 5-10, 220, soph., RB, Georgia. But really, the matchup to watch is Georgia’s offensive line against Alabama’s front seven.

#5 Robert Nkemdiche, 6-4, 296, jr., DT, Ole Miss. Grown. Man.

#15 Dak Prescott, 6-2, 230, sr., QB, Mississippi State. Time to quietly re-mount the Heisman campaign.

No. 23 West Virginia at No. 15 Oklahoma ~ 12 p.m. Fox Sports 1

Two weeks to prepare, Bob Stoops has had. Samaje Perine, Bob Stoops has. Brenner picks: Sooners 36, Mountaineers 27

No. 13 Alabama at No. 8 Georgia ~ 3:30 p.m. CBS

There’s an extremely real chance Alabama’s just not that good, and its head coach is just not that invested, for the first time in forever. Brenner picks: Bulldogs 28, Crimson Tide 21

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 25 Florida ~ 7 p.m. ESPN

The Gators are ranked? Wait, they’re 2-0 in SEC games? They haven’t dealt with Swag, though. Brenner picks: Rebels 22, Gators 11

No. 21 Mississippi State at No. 14 Texas A&M ~ 7:30 p.m. SEC Network

If this one comes down to the quarterbacks, I back Dak. Brenner picks: Bulldogs 35, Aggies 34

@Missouri 21, South Carolina 13. Sounds like Maty Mauk’s suspension might actually hurt the Gamecocks’ cause. By the way, South Carolina’s 3-5 in its last eight road games, including two overtime victories (one at then-No. 5 Mizzou in 2013) and a win at Vanderbilt.

@No. 19 Wisconsin 23, Iowa 20. Have a brat for me, Steve Levy. And let me know who, with Corey Clement out, is the next great Badgers back.

@Virginia Tech 24, Pittsburgh 21. I have absolutely no idea who’s going to win this game.

@No. 4 TCU 53, Texas 20. Cupcake game on TCU’s schedule, apparently.

@No. 2 Michigan State 17, Purdue 6. Spartans have been rather unimpressive so far. Maybe they’re just biding their time until Nov. 21.

@No. 16 Northwestern 14, Minnesota 10. Nerds will knock your block off. Good slobber-knocker matchup here.

No. 22 Michigan 30, @Maryland 14. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like playing teams against teams from this state. At least this time, his brother will be supporting him.

Louisville 23, @N.C. State 17. Refuse to believe Louisville is this bad. Not yet sure how good N.C. State is, and losing Shadrach Thornton doesn’t help matters.

No. 1 Ohio State 45, @Indiana 14. Good try, good effort, Dan Dakich. (It’s past due time for the Buckeyes to flex some muscle.)

Boston College 20, @Duke 16. Eagles went from hanging 76 on Howard to 0 on Florida State. Scheduling’s funky sometimes. Duke’s been a yo-yo itself.

No. 11 Florida State 56, @Wake Forest 0. This is the part when the Seminoles remind everybody, “Uh, guys? We’re here too.”

North Carolina 40, @Georgia Tech 37. The ACC Coastal Division: the land where nothing makes an ounce of sense.

Kansas State 34, @No. 20 Oklahoma State 30. K-State beat O-State by 34 last year. Wildcats are pretty solid on the road, and have had two weeks to prepare.

@Tennessee 24, Arkansas 17. The Factory of Sadness Bowl (apologies, Cleveland Browns.) Bret Bielema might not be the right fit for the Hogs.

Arizona State 38, @No. 7 UCLA 34. Both Arizona schools are 13.5-point underdogs on the road. What if the Pac-12 turned on its heel this week?

Arizona 38, @No. 18 Stanford 34. See above.

No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 12 Clemson ~ 8 p.m., ABC

Ask a piece of paper to pick this winner, and it’s pretty simple. Clemson is 28-2 at home since the start of 2011; Notre Dame is 2-10 on the road at ranked opponents since the start of 2006. Under Dabo Swinney, Clemson is 7-4 against top-11 teams and 7-2 with more than 10 days to prepare. Clemson has had 16 days to prep for this; Florida State had two full weeks to prepare for what was a 51-14 win two years ago. Notre Dame, which struggled Saturday vs. UMass, nearly lost to Virginia in its only other road game thus far, and Charlottesville is not Death Valley.

As lousy as Notre Dame has been at beating top-25 teams in their own stadium the past decade, that won’t help the Tigers Saturday night. The Fighting Irish have shaken off all these season-ending injuries, mainly because they’re one of the very few teams on Clemson’s schedule who can recruit a full 85-man roster like Clemson. You’d think the loss of Malik Zaire would have crushed the Irish; Kizer has proven to be more than serviceable – and when you listen to him speak during the week, he’s mature beyond his playing experience. (Yes, these things matter.)

The entire Irish offense should be more effective than Wofford, Appalachian State and Louisville, which means Clemson’s offense has to be more than decent. On most nights, that’d be no issue, but Deshaun Watson has been merely good instead of great, and he’s got to have a Heisman-type night to win the ballgame. With his starting center and best deep threat out due to injuries, and a sloppy night of rain expected in the forecast, that’s far from a certainty.

Brenner picks: Fighting Irish 34, Tigers 28

Two weeks ago: 8-7

Best Calls: Stop ranking Auburn. I did weeks ago. And I almost specifically nailed the Clemson-Louisville, Miami-Nebraska and TCU-SMU scores.

Worst Calls: There were a bunch of ‘em. I more than doubled my loss column by believing in Wofford, Boston College, Rutgers, Kentucky and Colorado State.

Track record: 30-13

That’s it for the Pep Talk. Stay dry, and prepare for what could be an extremely memorable night of college football in upstate South Carolina.

-AB

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