Trends favor Clemson, taking rankings and Notre Dame’s road trips into account

Clemson senior Charone Peake has 110 receiving yards and two touchdowns this season.

Call Charone Peake a perfectionist.

Two stats puffing the chests of Clemson fans were presented to the Tigers’ fifth-year senior receiver: 32 straight wins over teams not ranked in the Associated Press top 25, and a 5-4 mark under head coach Dabo Swinney against foes ranked in the AP top 10.

Neither impressed Peake.

“I’d rather be undefeated (against) the AP top 10. That’s how I look at it,” he said. “If we’re not undefeated, I’m not really happy about it.”

The first stat, which dates to the 2011 season, is the reason No. 12 Clemson (3-0) is consistently ranked, but it won’t help the Tigers on Saturday night when No. 6 Notre Dame (4-0) invades Memorial Stadium.

The second stat, extending to October 2009, gives Clemson confidence that Saturday night might go well. Throw in wins over Florida State and Virginia Tech, each ranked No. 11 in consecutive weeks, during their last ACC championship year of 2011, and that’s a 7-4 mark against top-11 foes, knocking off teams like LSU, Georgia and Ohio State at their peak.

“When I got the job,” Swinney said, “it was like well, we win some games but we can’t beat a good team. Well, we’re (7-4) against the best of the best in those matchups. That’s pretty good. Haven’t won ’em all, but we’ve won our fair share of ’em. To win games like this, you’ve got to play well.”

If Notre Dame does leave Clemson with a victory Saturday, it portends great things for the Irish. All seven of the Tigers’ losses since the start of 2012 have been to teams that finished their season in the AP top 10.

“This is the best opponent we’ve played so far, but it’s a one-game season,” Swinney said. “When the game’s over, we move on to the next one. We don’t sit around and cry for three days if we lose. If we win, we don’t stick our chest out for three days.”

In 90 games at the helm of Clemson football, Swinney has faced 25 ranked opponents, with a 9-16 record. In 69 games leading Notre Dame, Brian Kelly is 10-9 against top 25 foes.

The point spread is currently a pick ‘em, but neither program has shirked from situations where they’re supposed to lose. Clemson is 6-6 outright as an underdog since 2011; Notre Dame is 6-7 since 2012 as an underdog.

However, there is one disturbing trend besmirching the Irish. Since All-American quarterback Brady Quinn left South Bend in 2006, Notre Dame has a 2-9 record on the road against a ranked opponent, with the only two wins coming at Michigan State and Oklahoma in Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season that concluded in the BCS National Championship game.

“Anytime we go on the road, it’s a challenging, hostile environment,” senior safety Matthias Farley said. “There’s a lot of guys who are real poised. That’s why you come to Notre Dame, to play in games like that.”

The Fighting Irish closed the 2014 regular season with five defeats in six games, but that began with a last-minute loss at then-No. 2 Florida State when Notre Dame was ranked fifth in the country. The Irish controlled much of that game before falling 31-27.

“I think our football team was well prepared for Florida State relative to being on the road and a loud crowd and all the things that go with that,” Kelly said. “I think in pregame, we had more media presence and cameras than we did in the National Championship Game — at least it appeared that way.

“I thought our kids handled that very well. Just didn’t make a play or two maybe at the end that we needed to. Most of these kids played in that game, so I think we’ll continue in that same vein and have a lot of carry-over.”

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Clemson this Saturday, and the Tigers having to wait 15 days between games for their crack at Notre Dame, tempering emotions is part of the process.

“They need to keep a level head. But they’re all excited,” Swinney said. “When you’re a competitor, I mean, how many people get to compete on a national stage? I’ve competed all my life, and I can’t ever remember a game from JV football or Little League baseball to the national championship where I didn’t step on the field and want to win.”