ZeLO previews conference championship weekend
Thomas Zwiller | Thursday, December 1, 2022
I would write a traditional intro, but I do not have the words! We have 10 conferences to cover and CFP scenarios to think about! Ready, set go!
To me, this feels like the most important conference championship game. By dominating their respective conferences and going undefeated, Michigan and Georgia feel like locks to make the CFP regardless of their conference championship status. USC does not have that same safety net.
From a narrative perspective, this is the perfect game for the Trojans. USC needed to be perfect in their last five games, and they have answered the bell with signature wins against UCLA and Notre Dame. With a trip to the CFP on the line, their last challenge is against the only team to beat them this season.
ZeLO is going to give the edge to Utah, however ZeLO has USC’s defense ranked 88th, which limits the Trojans to a 13th net ranking. Though Utah may have a worse offense, their defense (25th) is the difference maker.
Utah 53.4%, USC 46.6%
Like the Trojans, TCU needs this conference championship to secure a berth. According to 538, a loss would drop the Horned Frogs from a 71% chance of making the CFP to 32%, with Kansas State jumping to 46%.
I am skeptical that Kansas State would make the CFP as a three-loss conference champion. If LSU cannot make it with that resume, why would the Wildcats?
If TCU losses, the much more likely outcome (according to ZeLO) is Ohio State sneaking into the fourth seed. A very likely outcome, as this matchup is, at best, a coin flip.
TCU 54.1%, KSU 45.9%
After spending all season anticipating Ohio State would win the division, it feels odd to have Michigan sitting here. That is not a slight against the Wolverines. Michigan banished all doubt that they are one of the best teams in the nation last weekend.
Emerging from the royal rumble in the west are the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue is a solid team, but whatever team emerged from the East would automatically be a massive underdog.
ZeLO has Michigan with a dominant performance as they complete their Big 10 title defense.
Michigan 74.9%, Purdue 25.1%
This matchup lost a lot of its luster last weekend. There was an outside chance that if LSU upset Georgia, the Tigers could make the CFP. They would be conference champions and have the single-best win in the country. Texas A&M dashed those hopes with a stunning rush-the-field upset.
While LSU is, without a doubt, a quality team (ranking 22nd in ZeLO’s Net Ranking), this is Georgia’s title to lose. LSU’s offense has had its ups and downs this season, and Georgia’s top-ranked defense will likely give it one more down.
Hats off to Brian Kelly, however. Being an SEC runner-up in your first year is no small thing.
Georgia 67.1%, LSU 32.9%
After South Carolina’s upset of Clemson and UNC’s two-game losing streak, this matchup has become rather uninteresting. Clemson had a slight chance of making the CFP before last weekend. Now they have none.
Meanwhile, UNC had an outside chance to make it to the CFP if they had won and claimed the ACC crown. Now, the ACC championship does little to bolster either team’s resume.
I would rather see FSU in this game. The Seminoles had a three-game losing streak where they narrowly lost to NC State, Wake Forest and Clemson. Since then, FSU has been incredibly dominant (and better than UNC).
Clemson should win this matchup and earn a spot in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson 58.4%, UNC 41.6%
There is a lot on the line in the AAC Championship. Quite honestly, it might be more meaningful than the ACC Championship. Not only will Tulane or UCF become the conference champion, but the winner will also be the highest-ranked G5 team.
That means that either Tulane or UCF will be heading to the Cotton Bowl, which, based on current CBS projections, Tulane will take on Penn State.
Tulane 52.7%, UCF 47.3%
In my preseason college football article, ZeLO pegged Toledo as one of ZeLO’s diamond-in-the-rough teams. ZeLO had Toledo as a team that could hang with the best of the G5 squad and a team that should win its conference.
Toledo has underperformed, but it did make it to the conference championship. ZeLO is still faithful to the Rockets, giving them a slim chance to beat the upstart Ohio Bobcats.
Ohio 48.4%, Toledo 51.6%
These were the two most likely teams to make the Mountain West Championship in the preseason (unless you are ZeLO and really like Air Force for some reason).
As things currently stand, Fresno has the best offense in the Mountain West (40th), which ranks 14 spots better than Boise. The difference maker, though? Boise States’ defense ranks 7th in ZeLO’s unadjusted rankings.
Boise State 58.9%, Fresno State 41.1
That UTSA is not ranked heading into their game against North Texas on Saturday was one of the more disappointing outcomes from the CFP Rankings. The Committee loves North Carolina State; what can I say?
The Roadrunners have certainly earned the right to be ranked. They boasted a 10-2 record and ranked 22nd in ESPN’s Strength of Resume. Hopefully, a conference championship will sneak them into the CFP’s top 25.
UTSA 61.1%, North Texas 38.9%
Coastal Carolina had a legitimate shot at catching up to Tulane and UCF last weekend until they got blown out by the JMU Dukes. That loss bumped them from both the AP Poll and the Coaches poll. Having 44 points scored on you unanswered will do that to you.
ZeLO had seen the Chanticleers as the most likely team to win the Sun Belt Championship, but the loss was so bad that the Troy Trojans are now favored (albeit narrowly).
Coastal Carolina 45.7%, Troy 54.3%
If ZeLO’s predictions hold true, the CFP should look like this:
No. 1 Georgia vs No. 4 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan vs No. 3 TCU
Equally likely is TCU losing but USC winning
No. 1 Georgia vs No. 4 Ohio St and No. 2 Michigan vs No. 3 USC
But the fun chaos scenario is where both USC and TCU lose:
No. 1 Georgia vs No. 4 Kansas St and No. 2 Michigan vs No. 3 Ohio St
This scenario feels incredibly unlikely to me (it is 538’s simulation). 538 tends to weigh conference championships incredibly heavily, hence KSU becoming one of the likely CFP Contenders.
I think more likely is TCU making it in, if only because they split with KSU and went 12-0 in the regular season. I genuinely doubt a 9-3 team could make it into the playoffs.
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