Recently, our friends at Irish Sports Daily asked me to participate in an interview to give Notre Dame fans a perspective on what Clemson fans might think of the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly.
On Thursday, ISD’s Matt Freeman, one of the best reporters on the Notre Dame beat, returned the favor and answered my questions on what he feels Notre Dame fans think about the Clemson program and head coach Brian Kelly.
This question-and-answer is the first of a three-part series with Freeman. There are definitely some interesting thoughts on how the Irish fans perceive the Clemson program.
What is the perception of the Clemson Football program from a Notre Dame perspective? How do the fans feel about the Tigers? Do they consider Clemson to be an elite college football program?
Freeman: “Notre Dame fans definitely consider the Tigers to be in College Football’s elite with Alabama and Ohio State. Notre Dame fans don’t have much love for Clemson as Will Shipley picked the Tigers. However, I do think Notre Dame fans view Clemson differently for the most part than Alabama and Ohio State. You still hear comments about boosters and Clemson as jokes, but not as much as Alabama and Ohio State. Notre Dame fans don’t follow Clemson closely as say Michigan, USC (the Southern Cal version), or even an Ohio State, but they can see Dabo [Swinney] is running his program differently than just about every other program in the country.”
How much respect did Clemson gain in Notre Dame fans’ eyes after their Cotton Bowl win in 2018?
Freeman: “I think 2015 gained more respect in Notre Dame’s eyes than the 2018 game combined with the run Clemson has had. It’s not as if Clemson walked into the Cotton Bowl without having played for a National Title in 30 years. I do think the majority of Notre Dame fans believe the gap between the programs is a little smaller than the 30-3 score much like I’m not sure many Clemson fans would consider the Tigers are 30 points better than Alabama. The respect was there prior to the game, so I’m not sure there was a ton of respect gained from a program perspective as Clemson had already proved they were a top program.”
What do Notre Dame fans think of Dabo Swinney?
Freeman: “It’s about 60-40 split. 60 percent like him and then the other 40 think his personality is fake. Most fans see he’s built a culture, but I believe some wonder if it’s sustainable over a period of time similar to PJ Fleck in terms of bringing that level of energy every day. I also think seeing so many college football coaches have skeletons in their closest, Notre Dame fans are almost waiting to see if there is one in Dabo’s. Not sure that’s exactly a reflection of what they think of Dabo, but rather just the world we currently live in and what has come out on other coaches.”
Do Notre Dame fans think Clemson is a product of the ACC and the reputation it plays an easy schedule?
Freeman: “Notre Dame fans definitely think Clemson plays an easy schedule. As someone who gets paid to show non-bias, I would say Clemson hasn’t played the best regular-season schedule, but it’s not their fault. The ACC is down and that’s the main issue. As a conference, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech being down hurt from a perception standpoint. Louisville and North Carolina seem to be the rising programs in the ACC, which I’m not sure how that will be viewed by Notre Dame fans or college football in general. Notre Dame is one of three FBS programs that has never scheduled an FCS team, so seeing The Citadel or Furman on the schedule rubs them the wrong way. I think most understand why those teams are on the schedule, but also feel like Clemson could schedule a lower-tier FBS program too.”
Has Clemson proven itself to Notre Dame fans that Clemson can beat anyone in the country, no matter what conference they come from?
Freeman: “No doubt. There are three programs at the top of the mountain and everyone is trying to catch them. Clemson is part of that group. Georgia and LSU have the respect of Notre Dame fans, but they are also viewed differently because those programs haven’t sustained success…yet. Clemson has been at the top of the mountain for five years. Notre Dame fans have seen Clemson win big game after big game, which is something the Fighting Irish haven’t done.”
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