ZeLO: Overlooking the college football landscape
Thomas Zwiller | Friday, September 30, 2022
Whoever, you are, wherever you are, breathe. Feel better?
After an insane four weeks of Notre Dame, there is a lull in the season courtesy of an early bye week. The Irish are at an unexpected 2-2 record, and with this bye comes a chance for both fans and the team to collect their breath and prepare for the following slate of games.
Moreover, with the collective pause comes time for ZeLO to look forward to the rest of the season — a bigger-picture view. But first, a minor update on the performance of ZeLO thus far.
In the past four weeks, ZeLO had fallen behind, trailing by FPI by 17 games. Granted, that is small in the scheme of nearly 300 games, but FPI is firmly in the lead. This weekend, however, that changed (a bit).
On Saturday, ZeLO beat ESPN in a head-to-head pick ’em competition. ZeLO picked 54-12 (.818) to FPI’s 51-15 (.773).
Is that a minor victory? Absolutely, FPI is currently 14 whole games ahead of ZeLO and has an incredible Brier Points margin. But it is a good sign. ZeLO is learning and reacting to stats and results as they come in, and this week’s result shows that.
And so, with that announcement, it is time to look at ZeLO’s projections for the rest of the season.
Last week I wrote that ZeLO had picked UNC to beat Notre Dame by a thin margin, primarily because of the high-powered Carolina offense. I did add that UNC looked like a paper ram because of their weak strength of schedule.
And that was precisely what happened: ND exploited a poor UNC defense and lit up the scoreboard on offense.
That data point was a massive change for Notre Dame, and it took the Fighting Irish from a team that was at best .500 to a solid 7-win team. It is probably not what you are looking for if you are among the Irish faithful, but it is at the very least good news. ND is 2-2, so they still have plenty of time to prove me wrong, but they need to show their growth against UNC is sustainable and not a flash in the pan against a poor defense.
In August, the four SEC East teams I highlighted were Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky, with the Wildcats more of a wildcard team with high upside. Kentucky seized on that upside and is now third in the SEC East as a high eight-win team and a few simulations where they even turn in nine wins. Tennessee has crossed the double-digit threshold, but Georgia is still expected to make it to the title game.
Not a ton has changed in the West, though it is worth noting that Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers are now a team to be reckoned with and are currently tracking as a high seven, low eight-win team. Otherwise, Roll Tide.
The B10 East has stayed relatively static, though Michigan has closed the gap with Ohio State and the two teams should decide who wins the division (and the conference) when they face off in November. Penn State is surging, though, and has an outside chance to be the East representative come conference championship week.
ZeLO had initially picked the Wisconsin Badgers to win the West. But that prediction seems less likely by the day. Now, the Golden Gophers seem like the strongest candidate, thanks to their thrashing of Michigan State.
In the preseason, the Clemson Tigers seemed like a lock to win the Atlantic. And while the Tigers are still favored, the NC State Wolf Pack certainly have a chance to take the throne from them. We will find out this weekend if they can. The FSU Seminoles are considered a strong team, too. But they have yet to enter the same tier as NC State and Clemson.
The Coastal, the less clear division, now has a clear favorite. Because of North Carolina’s atrocious defense and Miami’s … overall play, Pitt is now the clear favorite to win the division and has a projected two-game lead on Miami and UNC.
I will go ahead and throw out the unique prediction of Arizona State being a contender for the Pac-12. Just a perk of beta testing a brand-new model, I suppose. But do not worry, because ZeLO is back with an even hotter take. Washington and USC will face off for the Conference Crown. At least the Huskies are ranked (unlike Arizona State in the preseason).
As my colleague Joseph Tunney wrote earlier this week, Oklahoma State at Baylor has the potential to be one of the most critical games in the B12 conference schedule. Right now, ZeLO has Baylor and Oklahoma State as two of the three favorites to reach the conference championship, with the third being Oklahoma. This matchup can potentially shape the Conference Championship game later this season.
As of right now, the AAC Title game looks to be a showdown between Cincinnati and UCF. Though the Tulane Green Wave -— yes, Tulane -— has an outside chance to make it, too
I am sure everyone reading this loves the Sun Belt Conference. But why would you not? Do you not just love a group of spunky underdogs? In the Sun Belt, the two strong contenders to come out of the East are Coastal Carolina and James Madison, who was recently promoted to the FFCS. In the West, it’s South Alabama.
Conference USA has a handful of teams with the potential to make the conference title game. However, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the UAB Blazers are the leading contenders.
In the Mountain West, Air Force still looks like the team to win the Mountain Division, though Boise State has had quite the fallout. In the West division, it looks like it should be Fresno State or San Diego State (I have absolutely nothing on that one).
The only strong-seeming team in the MAC East is Miami (OH), so at least there should be one successful Miami team this season. Toledo seems like the surest bet in the West, with Central Michigan and NIU looking like potential outside threats.
Unlike last time, I am going to offer a CFP prediction (though it will be brief — covering ten conferences and ND is kind of tricky in 1,100 words).
Alabama beats Georgia
Ohio State beats Minnesota
Clemson beats Pitt
Washington beats USC (yes, this is real, what can I say)
Baylor beats Oklahoma
College Football Playoff
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Georgia
Contact Tom Zwiller at [email protected].