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ZeLO predicts CFP, bowl games

Clap. (pause) Clap. (pause) Clap. That’s right. I am slow-clapping for myself. Well, not for myself, but ZeLO.

ZeLO’s prediction that the College Football Playoff (CFP) would result in Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State was spot on, largely because ZeLO favored Utah over USC in the Pac-12 championship.

And when the scenario played out exactly like ZeLO thought it would, Sunday at noon had very little drama.

ZeLO does have one gripe with the rankings that the CFP produced (albeit a fairly minor one). ZeLO’s Prestige Rankings ranked the top four Georgia (93.94), Michigan (93.63), Ohio State (92.83) and TCU (87.23).

I do think the CFP Committee got the seeding right. ZeLO’s disagreement lies in the fact that it ranks Ohio State as its No. 1 team and TCU at No. 13 in ZeLO’s net rankings.

But now, we have the CFP set, and it is time to dive into who should wind up with the crown on Jan. 9.

The CFP

No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State

I’ll come right out and say it. ZeLO has Ohio State winning this game.

Though Georgia ranks higher overall in the Prestige Rankings, Ohio State is slightly better on a statistical basis.

For as much as we talk about the Buckeyes’ offense (4th) they possess an insanely good defense (13th) whose main weakness is a lack of high-caliber corners.

Georgia may have a legendary defense (ranked 7th), but they too have a potent offense, also ranked seventh.

While I think Georgia should be the favorite, ZeLO has liked Ohio State all season to win the title, so it is not going to change course now. The main question is whether the Buckeyes can generate points against an elite defense.

When they have faced other good defenses, like Notre Dame and Michigan, the Buckeyes have struggled. Will Ohio State vindicate their placement in the CFP? ZeLO says yes.

Ohio State 50.5% Georgia 49.5%

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU

Unlike in the first matchup, there is a clear, much more dominant favorite here.

Michigan has an elite defense and a run game that simply breaks teams. All season long, the Michigan run game has worn down teams, and against the Buckeyes the Wolverines seemed to unlock their passing attack.

TCU is a fun team, but they are not on the same level as the other three. TCU has needed a lot of comebacks and has a quite a few more close calls. They survived them all, which speaks to the fact they are a good team. But I think their shortcomings caught up to them against Kansas State.

Michigan 63.6% TCU 36.4%

ZeLO has the Ohio State rematch against Michigan slightly differently. For this to be true, Ohio State needs to limit Michigan’s second-half explosive plays.

Ohio State 50.3% Michigan 49.7%

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic — No. 10 USC vs. No. 16 Tulane

Last year if you told a fan of the 4-8 Trojans they would arrive at the Cotton Bowl ranked 10th, I think they would have taken it in an instant.

And yet, the New Year’s Six Bowl Game feels like a disappointing consolation prize. The Trojans were proven to be inferior by an aggressive, physical Utah team. Had USC made the CFP and faced Georgia, the beatdown would have likely been more lopsided.

So now, the Trojans face the AAC champion, the Tulane Green Waves. USC enters the game as just a 2.5-point favorite to the Waves.

ZeLO has an even hotter take, though. Thanks to the Trojans’ defensive deficiencies and Tulane’s explosive offense (ask UCF about it), Tulane has the slight edge.

USC: 49.8% Tulane: 50.2%

Rose Bowl — No. 8 Utah vs. No. 11 Penn State

The Utes came into the Pac-12 Championship game defending their crown, and defend it they did. Though they trailed by 14 in the first quarter, Utah came roaring back and would end up scoring the last 20 points of their game. Utah reclaimed its title, and it was made all the sweeter by knocking USC out of the CFP.

Their opponent is Penn State, a team with two losses to two CFP teams. Other than an early-season close game against Purdue, the Nittany Lions have had a dominant season, ranking eighth in-game control, with the 30th SOS.

This game should be an instant classic.

Penn State: 49.7% Utah: 50.3%

All-State Sugar Bowl — No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State

Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban did a quick media tour Saturday night, campaigning to have the Tide in over Ohio State or TCU. He obviously failed, but the Tide did make the Sugar Bowl, something most programs would love to do.

Kansas State is one of those programs. Thanks to a Big 12 title, but being a three-loss team, the Wildcats are a conference champion that had no chance of making the playoffs.

Sadly for Kansas State, their good year is likely going to come to a screeching hault, as they face the dying embers of a once dominant empire. The Tide may be in a down year, but they are by no means a bad squad. ZeLO says Roll Tide.

Alabama: 60.4% Kansas State: 39.6%

Capital One Orange Bowl — No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Clemson

Hey look at that, Clemson won the ACC again. Big deal.

What is a big deal is quarterback DJ Uiagalelei entering the transfer portal, leaving the Tigers after a benching in the ACC title game.

Uiaglelei and the Tigers offense has performed well below expectations this season, ranking 42nd in ZeLO’s net rankings.

Is freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik the fix? I genuinely doubt it. The Tar Heels’ defense ranks 120th, the worst mark in the ACC by almost 40 spots. The Tigers should have had that kind of performance regardless of who was under center

Since losing to Notre Dame, the Tigers have become completely uninteresting to me. With a weak ACC, Clemson had a limited margin of error. Once they lost, what became more interesting was their offseason.

The much more interesting team in this matchup is Tennessee. What was once one of the most fun and explosive offenses in the country is now a large question mark.

With breakout quarterback Hendon Hooker injured since the South Carolina game, the Volunteers turned to Joe Milton III.

If you looked at just the scoreboard and saw that the Vols won 56-0 you would be forgiven for thinking Milton had a sensational outing. Milton was somewhat pedestrian, posting a QBR of 73 while his running backs picked up 362 on the ground.

So while ZeLO has Tennessee as a heavy favorite, I don’t know if that is right. Tennessee’s profile is now built on 10.5 games involving a different quarterback. Clemson is also using a different quarterback. Who knows?

Tennessee: 64.3% Clemson: 35.7%

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl — No. 21 Notre Dame vs. No. 19 South Carolina

This bowl should be renamed the “I am surprised you are here with that ranking given the start to your season” — a lengthy but accurate title.

After back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Georgia, the Gamecocks looked like a team outclassed by its SEC counterparts. Then came back-to-back wins against No. 6 Tennessee and No. 7 Clemson, recontextualizing South Carolina’s season. South Carolina will hope to continue their streak of taking down ranked teams. Notre Dame, of course, got off to a rocky 0-2 start with losses to Ohio State and Marshall and a disastrous loss to Stanford later on. Notre Dame also did some season-saving when they defeated Clemson (The Irish’s only actively ranked win). Maybe it should be the Saved Your Season Against Clemson Bowl.

Despite their high ranking, the Gamecocks rank a paltry 68th with a poor defensive ranking. Notre Dame sits at 44th, and their defense should end Spencer Rattler’s miracle run.

Notre Dame 56.2% South Carolina 43.8%

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.

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