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Irish aim to get back on track against struggling Louisville

On Tuesday night, Notre Dame men’s basketball suffered a narrow road loss against an NC State team that will likely be playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish will seek to get a better result Saturday, when they return to Purcell Pavilion to host conference foe Louisville.

The Irish and Cardinals have both struggled through much of the season. Notre Dame enters the game looking to shake off a four-game losing streak that has dropped them to 9-12 (1-9 in the ACC). Louisville, meanwhile, has perhaps disappointed more than any other team in the nation. The Cardinals are just 2-18, the worst record of any major conference team, and are winless in ACC play. Notre Dame will look to ensure they stay that way and gain some momentum before heading into a string of very winnable games against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

For the Irish, it is difficult to attribute their current slump to anything other than late-game execution. The outcome of eight of their ten ACC games has been in question into the final minutes, save for double-digit losses to Miami and North Carolina. Notre Dame has been in nearly every game it has played. But the Irish just have not found the right buttons to press in order to win tight games, a shock for a team with so much veteran talent.

Tuesday’s loss encapsulated how much of the ACC slate has gone for Notre Dame. The Irish played a talented team in a hostile environment, yet were in control for much of the game. When it came down to crunch time, though, they could not get the job done. Each of their four losses since defeating Georgia Tech has told a similar story.

Disappointing results notwithstanding, there have been several positive trends as of late that could provide a boost against Louisville. The first is the return to form of graduate student guard Cormac Ryan. After a brief midseason slump, Ryan has regained his shooting stroke and has been on a tear as of late. After making just eight total three-pointers during a seven-game stretch that spanned most of January, he has connected on eight in the last two games alone. He has shot at a 62% clip from deep in those contests.

When Ryan gets hot, he becomes nearly unstoppable from beyond the arc. The Irish are a different team when he is shooting the ball well. In their best performance of the season to date, an 18-point win against then-No. 20 Michigan State, Ryan made a season-high six threes and scored 23 points.

Also promising for the Irish has been the play of their freshman duo, guard J.J. Starling and forward Ven-Allen Lubin. Both had arguably the best game of their young Notre Dame careers against NC State. Starling has appeared to get more and more comfortable all season and has scored in double figures five times in the last seven games. On Tuesday, he scored 18 points, notably doing much of his work in transition. This was a welcome change for the Irish, who rank near the bottom of the country in fastbreak points. Starling actively looking to run the floor provides a new dimension for a team that has usually looked to slow things down offensively.

With graduate student forward Nate Laszewski in foul trouble, Lubin played 22 minutes, his most since November. In that time, he established a post presence on both ends of the floor. Utilizing uncommon strength and quickness for a freshman, he posted 10 points and two blocks while also playing tough on the glass. Notre Dame is known as an “old” team, and rightfully so, with five graduate students in their seven-man rotation. But Starling and Lubin have been improving all season and are ready to make a big impact down the stretch.

Louisville’s troubles cannot be pinpointed to one single facet of the game. The Cardinals rank dead last in the ACC in both points scored and allowed. Offensively, most of the load has been carried by El Ellis, who leads the team with averages of 17.8 points and 4.7 assists per game. Remarkably, not a single other Cardinal has averaged double-digit points or more than one assist, shedding some light as to why they have struggled. As a team, Louisville has shot just over 32% from three-point range. Given Notre Dame’s difficulties with defending opposing big men around the basket, the Irish will likely pack the paint and dare the Cardinals to beat them from beyond the arc.

Turnovers have also plagued Louisville, who have averaged 16.6 per game, fourth-most in the country. Notre Dame, meanwhile, averages just 9.4 turnovers, fourth-least nationally. Although the Irish did give the ball away 15 times against NC State. The Irish prefer to take their time and work to get the best possible shot off. However, that has seemingly contributed to the team’s late-game woes. When opposing defenses buckle down in the closing stages of the game, Notre Dame has often been forced to hoist difficult shots late in the shot clock.

Against a team that turns the ball over as much as Louisville does, the Irish may benefit from making more of an effort to push the pace. That should provide easier opportunities to get to the rim or kick the ball out to a knockdown shooter.

Notre Dame has been knocking on the door for several games but has not found their moment to break through and start stringing ACC victories together. Saturday’s game represents as good an opportunity as any, and the Irish will look to improve upon their 9-5 home record and make the Cardinals wait a little bit longer for that elusive first conference win.

Notre Dame will host Louisville at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday. The game tips off at noon. The matchup will be available on ESPN2 and Notre Dame Radio Network.

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Cross country teams prepared for regionals, seek spot in national meet

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will look to secure a place in the national meet this Friday when they compete at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Head coach Matt Sparks acknowledged that his team understands the high stakes of this meet. He also said the coaches have tried to decrease the amount of pressure on the athletes by treating preparation for this meet like any other.

“One of the themes of the way we coach our sport is to just continue to repeat the process. We don’t build up, and we don’t treat any meet as especially bigger than the one before it,” Sparks said. “The kids know enough about each meet and where they stand and what they need to do. So we as coaches don’t put that extra pressure and anxiety into it for them.”

Sparks is pleased with how both teams have looked in practice over the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve had a great two weeks of practice. Things seem to be falling together at the right time for both genders,” Sparks said.

The men’s team struggled a bit at the ACC Conference Championships a couple of weeks ago. Despite being the favorties to win, the Irish finished fourth as a team.

Despite the disappointing race, Sparks was not concerned about the performance, but he suggested that he tweaked some things to make sure the men’s team was fresh for Friday.

“The men had a little bit of a rougher conference meet than the women did,” Sparks said. “So we adjusted some things over the last couple of weeks to freshen some people up and get them more ready to go.”

Sparks hopes that the men’s team can have a faster start Friday as they try to rebound from ACCs.

“Getting off to a great start, I think it’s a key in any athletic endeavor to give yourself a chance to be successful,” Sparks said. “If you have some rough patches early in the competition, it’s sometimes hard to recover from those. That’s a little bit what the men’s team has struggled with getting a little bit lost early in the race. They were able to rally at the Joe Piane and the Nuttycombe meet to finish well. At the ACC meet, they just couldn’t pull it together the last half of the race.”

Sparks discussed the emergence of sophomore Carter Solomon, who placed first at the ACC Championships a couple of weeks ago, as a leader for the men’s team. Solomon was an elite runner in high school. And Sparks is ecstatic to see Solomon leading the team after two years under his belt in college.

“He quickly asserted himself about a month into the season and recognized that somebody needed to take the reins and be a leader,” Sparks said. “He’s been a great leader on the course, but also in the locker room. He’s vocal, and he’s well respected by everybody. It’s neat to see that maturation process for him to go from where he was as an elite high school kid, but it’s taken two years for him to recognize that it is his turn now to be the leader.”

On the women’s side, Sparks is excited to see his team compete after impressively finishing second at the ACC Championships. The Irish finished only a couple of points back from top-ranked and defending national champions North Carolina State.

“The women have been especially healthy and had a great conference meet,” Sparks said. “NC State is number one in the country, and we gave them a good run for their money. That was exciting and gave everybody a lot of confidence for what the next two weeks should entail, that we are starting to see ourselves with those truly elite programs in the country.”

Sparks said he thought the women benefited from a smaller field size at the ACC Championships, which allowed them to get out fast and have a good race.

“The last month, we’ve been racing competitions that had 25 teams in the race. It just gets very crowded, and it’s a challenge and you become lost in the crowd sometimes. The athletes were able to see their way to the front of the race [at ACCs]. We were out especially well, got up front, and felt very confident and rode that wave of confidence throughout the race,” Sparks said.

The top two teams at regionals automatically qualify for the national meet, with other teams qualifying via an at-large berth. The men’s team are the second-ranked team in the region and the women’s team the top-ranked. Sparks is hoping both can earn an automatic bid to the national meet.

“Our goal is to earn one of those two automatic berths,” Sparks said. “Last year we won both races, which would be a nice thing to repeat, but at the end of the day, all we need to do is finish in the top two to automatically qualify.”

With both team’s recent success in the meet, the Irish could have a target on their backs come Friday. Sparks emphasized the importance of taking care of business and each team running their own race.

“We just need to keep repeating the process and doing what we have always done,” Sparks said. “We control our own race, and that’s the theme we’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks. We need to do what we can do and not worry about what the other team might do. We might be the favorites coming into it. I feel like that makes things a little more exciting, in that we just need to take care of business and be the best version of ourselves on the day.”

The women’s 6K race will begin at 10 a.m. EST, followed by the men’s 10K race at 11 a.m. EST.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Irish volleyball falters in Florida, drops two ACC matches

The Irish opened their ACC conference play for the 2022-2023 season on Friday after traveling south to the Sunshine State for matches with Florida State and Miami. Despite a host of extremely tight sets, the Irish dropped both matchups on the weekend.

The team started ACC play by making their way to Tallahassee with a 5-5 record and new coach Salima Rockwell ready for the conference opener. 

The Irish saw the first set begin with a battle to get a lead on the Seminoles, trading possession until the score was 11-11. Notre Dame then fell behind to a score of 16-11. The Irish closed to 16-14 with two aces from freshman defensive specialist Maisie Alexander, giving the Rockwell’s squad hope for a comeback. FSU, however, then broke off a 7-1 run to take control at 23-15. While the Irish were able to score five more points, the set ended in a 25-20 Florida State win. 

The second set didn’t bring much success for the Irish with the Seminoles holding onto the lead for the entirety of the set. While the point gap was small at the beginning of the set, with just a couple of points separating the teams, the competition escalated to the point where Florida State led 23-11. Kills from sophomore setter Phyona Schrader and sophomore outside hitter Paris Thompson, combined with blocks from the Irish got them some more points on the scoreboard, but ultimately they conceded the set to FSU with a 25-18 score. 

While the beginning of the third set had Notre Dame scoring the first three points consecutively, the Seminoles quickly caught up and secured a 5-4 lead. The set continued with the Florida State lead, but the Irish trailed closely behind for a few more plays. The Seminoles finally opened up a five-point gap at a 12-7 score. The Irish were unable to catch up for the remainder of the set, losing to the Seminoles 25-17. The match was a three-set sweep for Florida State. 

The Irish, however, ventured farther south to Miami for their second match of the conference season against the University of Miami Hurricanes. The game was a battle between both teams, who both lost their conference opener and went to five sets. 

The first two sets gave Miami the two wins they needed to get a lead on Notre Dame, with the score for the first set ending in a 25-13 defeat of the Irish. While the Irish were able to close up the Hurricanes’ early lead and tied them at 6-6, Miami ripped off an 8-2 run and was able to get the lead for the remainder of the set. The second set had a similar result, with the Irish trailing behind early on, closing the gap to a two-point separation at 8-6 but ultimately conceding to Miami in a 25-12 final score.  

Notre Dame seemed to ramp up the aggression and play in set three of the match, however, getting an early lead against Miami, quickly setting the score to 7-3. Miami nearly caught up at 9-8, but the Irish kept the narrow lead. Miami eventually tied it at 17-17, but the rally didn’t last. Two kills from freshman outside hitter Avery Ross kept the Irish ahead on the scoreboard, and a combination of blocks and one kill each from graduate student Kaylyn Winkler and freshman Lucy Trump set up the Irish to stay alive. They won the 3rd set with an ace by junior libero Hattie Monson, with a final score of 25-20.

The Irish also won the fourth set in a close battle, with the final score going over the usual 25 points, ending in a 26-28 win for the Irish. The majority of the set had the Hurricanes in the lead, getting the scoreboard to 23-16, but the Irish blitzed their way to a seven-point streak and eventually tied Miami at 24-24. After the set rolled bast the 25-point threshold, Notre Dame secured the win with a final kill from Schrader. 

The game went on to a tough 5th set, with a tied score of 8-8. However, the Hurricanes prevailed, delivering a heartbreaking loss for the Irish, 15-13. The Notre Dame volleyball team now has a 5-7 season record, and an 0-2 ACC record to kick off their conference slate.

The Irish play No. 13 Georgia Tech at home on Friday, for their third game of the conference season.

Contact Lucia at laguzzi@nd.edu

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Notre Dame women’s soccer drops first match of the season against Clemson

Notre Dame women’s soccer dropped their first contest of the season, falling on the road to Clemson 2-0 on Thursday.

Proving conference play is always a different beast, the Tigers threw down the gauntlet for Notre Dame early. Just twenty minutes into the match, Sami Meredith got into transition and slotted home the opening goal to draw first blood for Clemson. Meredith’s opener marked the first time all season Notre Dame conceded first in a match.

And though a tightened Irish defense would hold the Tigers without a shot on goal for the remainder of the first half, Clemson would strike again before game’s end. Emily Brough found the back of the net after a ball was played across the box to put Notre Dame away for good.

The Irish did generate a few big chances over the final 30 minutes in a spirited attempt at a comeback, but ultimately the finishing touch just wasn’t there on the road. Most notably, sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert cracked an impressive effort off the crossbar from a distance and graduate student forward Olivia Wingate nearly connected on the ricochet. Wingate would get another chance at goal in the minute 68, driving nearly the length of the pitch with the ball before coming up short on the final conversion. 

The loss drops the Irish to 7-1-0 on the season, but the chance for an immediate rebound looms this Thursday.

The Virginia Cavaliers travel to South Bend on Thursday night, giving Notre Dame a chance to knock off one of the ACC’s top dogs and make a statement heading down the stretch of conference play.

The Cavaliers dispatched No. 2 North Carolina 3-2 in a thriller Saturday night, meaning they’ll presumably arrive at Alumni Stadium on Thursday as a top-five team in national rankings, and definitively the top team in the ACC.

Junior Lia Godfrey has helped lead the way thus far for Virginia, notching four goals as well as three assists from midfield. It was goals from Godfrey, as well as Rebecca Jarrett and Alexa Spaanstra, that helped the Cavaliers charge back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to beat the Tar Heels on Saturday.

The match also stands as a chance for Irish head coach Nate Norman to make a major statement on his resume at Notre Dame. Since his appointment, Norman is 0-13-1 against the ACC’s consistent top tier of UNC, Virginia, Duke and Florida State and 0-19-1 against opponents ranked No. 10 or higher in the coaches’ poll. 

But there are plenty of signs that this could be the year Norman and the Irish break through. Last season, Notre Dame came painstakingly close several times to getting that first win against the ACC’s elite. They dropped three consecutive games against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina, two of which came in overtime and all of which were played on the road. 

A win on Thursday would boost Notre Dame to a top-five ranking and assert the Irish early as an ACC title contender. With a home crowd (Notre Dame is 15-1-1 at Alumni Stadium over the last two years) backing up an impressive squad that has enjoyed their best start to a season in years, Thursday is set to be a marquee matchup for the Irish and their head coach. 

The Irish return home on Thursday Sept. 22 to play Virginia at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed on ACCNX.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

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Irish men’s soccer look for first ACC win in road match at Virginia

On paper, Notre Dame men’s soccer (1-2-1, 0-1-0 ACC) matchup against the Virginia Cavaliers isn’t an ideal matchup. The Irish are still looking to find their stride this season. They have scored more than one goal in three of their four matches. And while Virginia was picked last in their division in the ACC Preseason Poll, the Cavaliers are off to a solid 4-2 start. Plus, the Irish can tell you how much preseason rankings matter as much as anyone. After all, they overcame the same projection a year ago to make the College Cup.

But Friday’s contest offers the Irish a chance to rise to the increasing level of the Cavaliers. Sometimes, good teams just need the right opponent to push them. A Virginia team with a roster not expected to produce a strong season but playing some strong soccer right now could be the right matchup. And if nothing else, the Cavaliers provide the Irish a second chance to get their first conference win of the season, after the Irish fell in Syracuse 1-0 on Saturday.

After dropping their season opener to Xavier 1-0, the Cavaliers have emerged as a dominant offensive team. Virginia has scored at least three goals in four of its five matches since that game. The lone exception was a difficult matchup against No. 6 Maryland, which ended in a 6-1 defeat. But other than that, the Cavaliers have run the table. In fact, Virginia scored five goals in its last game against La Salle (5-0), the same amount the Irish have in four games this season. Obviously, quality of opponent matters. But Virginia certainly looks like a team that could give the Irish defense and junior goaltender Bryan Dowd a handful.

Leo Afonso has lead the way for Virginia with four goals on a whopping 30 shots (14 on goal) so far. His four tallies are tied for 15th in the country as well as for fourth among players in the ACC. Striker Philip Horton, a breakout candidate for the Cavaliers, scored two goals and added an assist. Virginia also rosters an ACC Preseason Watchlist honoree in senior defender Andreas Ueland. Virginia has four players with at least two goals. And, ten Cavaliers have found the back of the net at least once in this still young season.

Notre Dame does come into this meeting with some recent history on their side. The Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Irish in regulation since the 2019-20 season, with Notre Dame winning the last two meetings the teams have played. It is worth noting that both of those games were at Alumni Stadium, however. The only other meeting since was a 1-0 overtime win by Virginia in 2021. That game would end as a 0-0 tie today under college soccer’s new rules.

The Irish take on the Cavaliers at 7 p.m EST in Charlottesville this Friday, Sept. 16. The game can be streamed on ACCNX via WatchESPN.

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Irish women’s soccer looks to build on perfect start, heads into ACC play

After finishing off a perfect non-conference schedule this weekend, the Notre Dame women’s soccer team will look to build on their momentum as they travel to Clemson Thursday night. 

“We have high hopes for this season, we have a really talented team,” head coach Nate Norman said after Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Ohio. “We’re clicking, we can do some major damage.”

The Irish (7-0-0), winners of their first seven games of the year, moved up to sixth in this week’s United Soccer Coaches Poll. The Irish are now one of just four undefeated teams, alongside Harvard, Rutgers and UCLA.

The matchup with the Tigers (4-1-2), ranked No. 24, will be the first ACC contest of the year for both sides. Notre Dame will be seeking revenge after the Tigers knocked them out of the ACC tournament quarterfinals last year in a nail biting 3-2 defeat. 

Notre Dame has been dominant through their first seven games — their first perfect non-conference slate in nearly 15 years. The last time this occurred in 2008, the team went 27-1 and advanced to the national championship game. The Irish have been outstanding on both sides of the pitch this year, notching 175 shots against just 31 from their opponents. 

“I’m really proud of us, we’re doing something that’s very special that we set a goal for ourselves and we were able to accomplish,” said junior center back Eva Gaetino. “We have to stay humble, we have to have humility and we have to understand that these games are going to be hard, but I also think that these wins have given us momentum going into these tougher games.”

Offensively, graduate student Olivia Wingate will continue to be crucial to the team’s success — she has already notched six goals on the year, one away from her career high. Senior midfielder Maddie Mercado has also performed extremely well, scoring five goals thus far. 

The Irish have had nine different players score a goal, and depth could prove important in what will be a grueling ACC schedule. “We have a really deep team,” Norman said. “It’s hard, there’s only so many minutes in games, so we’re trying to allow players, even some of our younger players, to develop and get time.” 

On the defensive side of the pitch, Gaetino has been a standout performer. She was recently named to the Mac Hermann Trophy watch list, which honors the top mens’ and womens’ college soccer players. 

“It’s details, details, details,” Gaetino said as to what sets the Irish defense apart. “Never turning off, always staying focused.”

While the Irish have more than risen to the occasion thus far, the real challenge is only just beginning. The ACC is perennially one of the top conferences in college soccer, and currently boasts six teams in the top-25 — including four within the top seven spots. 

“We set ourselves up really well,” Norman said. “Our conference is a beast of a conference, we’ve just got to really refocus ourselves and go into every game and try to be ourselves and have that attacking mindset and that identity to just go after teams and have that hunger.”

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Herko: The era of superconferences

On June 30, college football fans thought the biggest announcement of the day was Notre Dame Head Coach Marcus Freeman telling Irish fans to wear green against the September 17th game against Cal. They were wrong.

Later that night, news broke that would change not only the distribution of power in the Power 5 Conferences but college sports as we know them. But what exactly are the ramifications and lingering questions around UCLA and USC’s decision to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big 10?

What does this mean for the Power 5 Conferences?

With Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the SEC last year, and the sudden lack of Pac-12 teams in Los Angeles, the Power 5 is now the Superpower 2. Both abandoned conferences are without any real star programs and without any teams that someone could seriously consider for a national championship.

The ACC is a little different. They still have Clemson, UNC and Pitt, but no one who has been both historically and currently exceptional. The good news for them is that all of their schools are tied up in a deal with ESPN that runs until 2036. The bad news is that they are
playing catch-up. Before the recent migrations, the ACC could at least have Clemson win a ton of games, bring in revenue and everyone else would do okay.

However, the Big 10 and SEC are positioning themselves to be the only relevant conferences. In the long run, this will be really bad for the ACC, especially if they cannot convince a few major programs to join. And since they cannot compete with the financial incentives of the other two conferences, their significant schools will leave at the end of their contract, if not sooner because of a talent drain to schools with more funding.

What does this mean for independents, specifically Notre Dame?

Obviously, there are other schools that are independent besides the Irish, but they’re the only program that everyone really, really wants. For the ACC, Notre Dame is its only shot at survival. For the Big 10 and SEC, it’s the best program that’s potentially up for grabs. Basically,
whoever wins this battle wins the war.

Here’s the problem: Notre Dame prefers to be independent. Not only does the NBC deal actively prevent them from joining a conference (which expires in 2025), but the Irish like being on their own.

Here’s the bigger problem: Notre Dame prefers winning championships even more. If the two Super Conferences eventually take over college football, this means that they will also be in
control of the college football playoffs. Thus, making it almost impossible to be considered for a spot without having an advocate at the table.

If the Irish did decide to pick a side, they would be greatly compensated for it. Big 10 schools, for example, are expected to make between $80-$100 million next year. And if the Irish did join a conference, the Big 10 is the most likely landing spot.

Not only does the hockey program already compete in the Big 10, but it is a better values match for Notre Dame. All of the schools in the Big 10 are AAU (Association of American Universities) members, which pride themselves on strong academics and research. Notre Dame also has extreme rivalries with Big 10 schools that college football fans would want to protect.

Unless the SEC let Notre Dame pick their price, there really isn’t any match or connection between the two. Other independent schools just don’t have the market of Notre Dame and are going to really struggle to not be left behind in the reshuffle.

Ok so you’re the Big 10 or SEC, what now?

Before the Notre Dame question even gets answered, each conference has to decide how many is enough. Both conferences are sitting pretty with 16 teams in or on their way. When do they stop? At 24? 30? What is the right number of programs that maximizes profits while also
minimizing the power of the other?

Well, that really depends on where you want to expand to. The Big 10 now controls the three largest markets in the United States: Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. (Oh, that’s why Rutgers is important.) The SEC controls the South, which may be less lucrative, but is way more passionate about football than other parts of the country. So what else is left? Philly is already controlled by the Big 10. They could look to Dallas, but TCU isn’t all that exciting. And finally San Francisco, for Stanford and Cal, but the Bay Area isn’t a great football market. And if those schools go anywhere they’d probably follow USC and UCLA because the University of California Trustees want Cal and UCLA to stay together.

That’s not a very friendly market for the SEC. Especially if other Pac-12 schools, like Washington and Oregon, want to follow Southern California to the Big 10 to preserve rivalries. Therefore, the SEC is probably looking to keep control of the South by going after schools like Missouri and Oklahoma State, or poaching from the ACC.

The poaching could be particularly difficult for the SEC because many of the ACC schools would probably be more interested in the Big 10 because of the AAU membership as well as higher academic standards that fall more closely in line with their universities’ standards.

What does this mean for smaller schools and non-football programs?

As much as both the SEC and Big 10 want to expand, they will eventually reach a limit. As they decide who they want to invite, they will really only be considering football and basketball, even though it will most definitely impact every sport. This could spell disaster for programs that relied on funding from the rest of the Power 5 or were in smaller conferences.

It is probable that when the dust settles in a few years that new, less influential conferences will form, but they will have way less revenue to divide between members. Football helps provide funding for other sports at all universities, no matter the size (assuming they have
a football team). If football programs everywhere suddenly have way less money, then that’s going to have a really negative impact on less lucrative sports.

The financial burden is going to be felt by basically all athletes at less successful division 1, 2 and 3 programs, and especially women’s sports. Additionally, schools in places that are expensive and/or difficult to travel to, like Hawaii, will be left out.

So while all this movement from conference to conference will make for some really exciting football games, it could spell trouble for the rest of college athletics.

The views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Annika Herko

Contact Annika Herko at aherko@nd.edu.

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ZeLO football season projections

Notre Dame

The Observer’s new college football projection model ZeLO has Notre Dame as the 17th best team in its rankings, boasting a defense ranked 12th with an offense ranked 42nd. This initially surprised me as Notre Dame’s weighted four-year average ZeLO ranked 10th. Notre Dames Recruit+Return Metric, however, rated 105th offensively and 51st defensively, which dramatically altered their final ZeLO number. Losing players like Kyren Williams and Jack Coan, who played many snaps, will substantially affect the returning metric. Even if Notre Dame had gotten perfect recruiting grades, the offense was going to take a step backward (as far as ZeLO is concerned).

On the other side of the ball, thanks to solid retention and recruiting, the defense essentially stayed put (if not improved ever so slightly).  
Looking at the ND schedule through the ZeLO lens, ND is currently averaging 8.7 wins. There are a few games that ZeLO has ND as an underdog in. Two of them are pretty obvious, Ohio State and Clemson. ZeLO has the Buckeyes in a different class than the Irish, but ND beating Clemson is reasonable. Two of the more surprising games ND is not favored in are UNC and BYU, though both are well within what I would consider the “toss-up” category. If both games were at home, it would be enough to swing them in favor of ND. 
The remaining games, Marshall, Cal, Stanford UNLV, Syracuse, Navy BC, and USC, should all be reasonably easy games for ND to win. 
While ND is not projected to make the CFP, the Marcus Freeman era should be off to a good start with a 9-3 or 10-2 record. 

ACC

In the Atlantic Division, Clemson is the current favorite to make the conference title game (a true shocker, I know). The fourth ZeLO-ranked Tigers are likely to be a force and are just one of a small group of teams considered to be a lock for a double-digit win total. Two other significant teams are the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (an average record of 8.5-3.5) and the NC State Wolfpack (8.7-3.3).

In the Coastal, the favorite to face Clemson is much less clear. The top three teams are all separated by less than a single game. Pitt is undoubtedly a strong contender, and with an average record of 9.8-2.2, there is no reason Pitt cannot repeat as divisional champion.

Next, is the upstart Miami squad being led by their new head coach. Miami has a relatively wide range of outcomes, sometimes finishing with a record of 7-5 but also winning the coastal with a record of 10-2 (so really an average of 8.4-3.6).

Last is Carolina (which I do not love), and they are currently projected to go on average 8.1-3.9. Since Sam Howell graduated and the offense is being turned over to Drake Maye, I expect Carolina to step back more than ZeLO is anticipating. 

SEC

The SEC East is much like the Atlantic division in that it feels largely predictable. Georgia may take a step back defensively, but it is not much of a step back; the Bulldogs are projected to remain #1 defensively. The Bulldogs are currently projected to go 11.2-0.8, so a potential undefeated season as they make it to the SEC title game. Some teams of note are Tennessee (8.4-3.6), Florida (8.6-3.4), and Kentucky (7.4-4.6, though Kentucky, is prone to having some odd
sub .500 records).

The West is reasonably straightforward (Alabama, 11.1-0.9) as far as the favorite is concerned. What is more interesting to me is the race for second. There are four teams that ZeLO currently considers contenders. Ole Miss is currently averaging an 8.5-3.5 record, Texas A&M 8.4-3.6, Auburn 8.1-3.9, and Mississippi State (7.8-4.2). For those of you who have an axe to grind with LSU, the Tigers are not geauxing anywhere; instead, they should finish with a 4.9-7.1 record.

Big 10

As a Michigan native, I was thrilled with the Wolverine’s season last year (until they played Georgia). Sadly, ZeLO thinks the Wolverines’ breakthrough season is an outlier, and Ohio State (with a record of 11.2-0.8) will take the East and the Big 10. Trailing behind the Buckeyes are the Wolverines (10-2), Penn State (8.9-3.1), and Michigan State (7.6-4.4). 

In the West, the picture is a little cloudier. Wisconsin is the highest-ranked team at eight, led by their second-ranked defense. The Badgers are projected to finish with a 10.4-1.6 record, which should give them a solid chance of winning the division. Following closely behind Wisconsin are Minnesota (9-3) and Iowa (9.3-2.6). 

PAC-12

This is the first year that the Pac-12 has moved away from divisions and is pitting the top two finishers against each other for the title. Currently, that pits Arizona State (9.7-2.3) against Utah (9.9-2.1). Not far behind are the Oregon Ducks, with an average record of 9.5-2.5 following the departure of Mario Cristobal. The UCLA Bruins are in a distant fourth with a projected 8.6-3.4 finish.  And for those following how well a former B12 coach will do in his new conference, ZeLO has
an unfavorable view of the USC Trojans, with the team barely breaking the five-win threshold. However, roughly once in about every five simulations, the Trojans get close to winning eight games. 

Big-12

And speaking of the Big 12, guess who it’s time for? The B12 will likely see Baylor (8.9-3.1) take on Oklahoma (10.1-1.9) for the Conference Crown. I was legitimately surprised by this result seeing as Oklahoma lost Lincoln Riley to USC and ESPN’s FPI is pretty low on Baylor,
giving them less than a 10% chance of winning the conference (compared to Texas’ near 40% chance). And on the note of Texas, ZeLO currently has the Longhorns in a similar boat to the Trojans;
they should be a five to six-win team, though every few simulations, Texas does make it past the seven-win mark. The next likeliest team is the Oklahoma State Cowboys, a consistent eight-win team with an
average record of 8.4-3.6. 

Group of 5

While I could probably write a separate column about the Group of 5, I doubt we have that kind of room in the budget. So instead, I will just run through some teams that have a chance to win their respective conference. 

MAC: In the East, ZeLO likes Buffalo (7.5-4.5) and Miami-Ohio (7.4-4.6) to win their division. In the West Toledo (9.7-2.3) (what can I say, the model really likes Toledo, it is genuinely one of the more random teams).


MWC: In the Mountain division, the hands-down favorite is Air Force. The Falcons are currently a 10.7-1.3, which is an incredibly high record. Air Force is not the only high-caliber team; Boise State is currently a 9-3 team. In the West Fresno State is currently 9.9-2.1.

CUSA: In CUSA (which takes the two teams with the best record), the top four teams are UAB (9.3-2.7), FAU (8.5-3.5), and Western Kentucky (8.1-3.9), and UTSA (8.7-3.3).


SBC: The only team ZeLO sees as a legitimate competitor in the West is Louisiana, with a record of (8.7-3.3). The East is a little more competitive, with Appalachian State potentially breaking nine wins. Coastal Carolina and Marshall are both eight-win solid teams. 

AAC: The AAC is by far the most robust Group of 5 Conference, with household teams like Cincinnati (10.2-1.8), Houston (10.4-1.6), and UCF (8.8-3.2). Memphis (8-4) and SMU (8.2-3.8)

Tom Zwiller

Contact Tom at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu