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Zwiller: ZeLO’s CFP Rankings and Week 11 Picks

After a weekend of significant upsets (yes, I am counting No. 3 Georgia defeating No. 1 Tennessee as an “upset,” even though Georgia was a 10-point favorite), the playoff picture got much clearer.

Alabama, it would seem, is officially out of the playoff race as they no longer control the SEC West and are a two-loss team.

Clemson and Tennessee are now one-loss teams who do not control their destiny. Clemson needs to win out and clinch their conference to have a shot. Even then, they would likely still need help.

Tennessee is in a much more enviable position. While they are not likely to be conference champs, they should finish as a one-loss team whose only loss is to the No. 1 SEC Champions.

Meanwhile, TCU and Oregon now seemingly do control their destiny. By putting TCU fourth, the committee has said that as long as TCU emerges as an undefeated conference champ (not at all a tall task), they will make the playoff.

And though Oregon is a one-loss team, their loss comes against Georgia at the beginning of the season. Should they win the PAC-12 title, there is no reason the No. 6 Ducks should not leapfrog Tennessee.

So, this week, I want to pick games that should impact the following weekend’s CFP rankings.

But first, ZeLO and FPI went 39-21 (.650) last weekend. Because it was a somewhat crazy week, the much more conservative ZeLO won the Brier Point tiebreaker (316.24-313.09), so, very little difference between the two models.

Now, onto the picks!

No. 25 Washington @ No. 6 Oregon

By putting Oregon in 6th behind the one-loss Volunteers, the Committee has shown they value Tennessee’s loss to Georgia much more than Oregon’s one loss. However, by putting Oregon at No. 6, I think the committee suggests that a one-loss Pac-12 Oregon squad could and should make the CFP.

Oregon has a 60.8% chance of winning this week, so the team should continue its CFP run. I could see the Huskies offense giving the Ducks some fits, so this will be a good game.

No. 4 TCU @ No. 18 Texas

This is arguably the most challenging game remaining for TCU in a schedule that is already challenging. ZeLO currently ranks TCU’s remaining strength of schedule seventh. Texas, Baylor, and Iowa State are all legitimate threats to TCU’s CFP ambitions.

Though Texas is a seven-point favorite, ZeLO currently gives TCU a 63.1% chance of beating the Longhorns.

While I do think that TCU can win the Big 12, I do think this may be where their unbeaten streak ends. Texas at home is a tough challenge (ask the Tide). TCU’s habit of needing to comeback may catch up with them.

No. 22 UCF @ No. 17 Tulane

This might be the most crucial game I will talk about this week. Why?

UCF and Tulane are the strongest AAC teams and the likeliest to win their conference. Tulane is currently undefeated in conference play, while UCF is just a one-loss team.

If UCF wins, they should make their conference championship (the AAC takes the two highest teams for its championship game) as they boast a win over 7-2 Cincinnati. Tulane would then play what amounts to an elimination game against Cincinnati in their season finale.

If Tulane wins, they become a lock to make their conference championship, even if they lose to Cincinnati. Both scenarios are equally likely, with ZeLO giving the Green Wave just a 52.7% chance to win.

No. 9 Alabama @ No. 11 Ole Miss

In contrast to UCF and Tulane, this might be the least important game of the week. That feels weird to say. But in all likelihood, the two-loss Tide have already been eliminated from the CFP.

Ole Miss might have a chance to win the SEC West (and the glorious prize of being dismantled by Georgia on national television for 60 minutes). But it is a longshot, as LSU has a head-to-head advantage over the Rebels. Alabama should win this game, with ZeLO giving the Tide a 55% chance of victory. But Ole Miss could make this interesting, utilizing a high-powered offense and a home-field advantage to give Alabama trouble. Alabama is tied for most penalties per game in the country. Last week, Death Valley helped contribute to that stat, as the Tide took nine penalties for 92 yards.

Louisville @ No. 10 Clemson

Thanks in large part to Notre Dame, ZeLO majorly downgraded the Tigers. Though ZeLO still has Clemson as its favorite to win the Atlantic and the ACC, Clemson took a significant step back in ZeLO’s CFP rankings, falling to 14th.

As a result, Clemson has just a 51.7% chance to beat Louisville and keep its playoff hopes alive. A two-loss team has never made the CFP. And the Committee is not going to start with this iteration of Clemson.

Even if Clemson does defeat against Louisville, they feel like a stretch to make it to the CFP. But a solid bounce-back showing could be just what the Tigers need.

No. 15 North Carolina @ Wake Forest

At the start of the season, I wrote that I was skeptical of ZeLO0s faith in UNC. ZeLO has UNC as a divisional dark horse behind both Pitt and Miami. Pitt took a step back this season, and the entire college football world discovered that the U is not back.

So, UNC is looking to win ten games, the division, and maybe even the conference. Right now, the Tar Heels have an excellent chance to win 10 games and reach the conference championship against a weaker-than-normal Clemson.

However, ZeLO thinks Wake will dash Carolina’s hopes of making the CFP. These two teams are dead even on a neutral site, so the Wake home-field advantage is the difference maker here. It is slight, but Wake’s 55% chance to win might end Carolina’s CFP ambitions before Clemson does.

Look for Wake to take advantage of a porous Carolina defense that would struggle to stop a middle school flag football squad.

No. 20 Notre Dame @ Navy

By dominating Clemson in all three facets of their matchup, Notre Dame has launched itself back into the top 25 rankings. In all honesty, if ND wins and winds up 9-3, you can argue that the season was incredibly successful, despite the bumpy start.

ZeLO has the Irish going 2-1 down the stretch, and this game against Navy is a winnable one for Notre Dame (62.9%). Though it would not shock me if Notre Dame went 2-2 in its last four, losing to Navy and BC but beating Clemson and USC. Because why not?

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

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

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Top five games of Week 7 CFB

Conference play is in full swing across the nation, and the matchups are getting better and better. This week will reveal a lot about the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 races with some crucial matchups. Let’s get into it.

5. No. 7 USC @ No. 20 Utah, 8 p.m., FOX, Utah -3

USC and their high-powered offense goes to Rice-Eccles Stadium to take on Utah. The Utes recently got run over on their trip to play UCLA, the other PAC-12 school in Los Angeles. Leading up to last week’s game, the Utes were riding high, but now they face a pivotal battle to see if they are still in contention for the Pac-12 championship. Utah’s defense has to have a better performance against USC than they did against UCLA, in which they allowed over 300 yards and four touchdowns to Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

This summer, the Pac-12 did away with conference divisions, meaning the top two teams will make the championship at the end of the regular season. USC has playoff aspirations, and the road to the CFP would be much harder with a loss. The USC defense showed its mettle last week in a 30-14 win over Washington State. USC has a complete offensive attack as well, and running back Travis Dye is running at his best level this season. Wide receivers Jordan Addison and Mario Williams give quarterback Caleb Williams no shortage of targets.

The PAC-12 has a reputation for destroying its playoff chances in conference play. Will it continue this season?

4. No. 15 NC State @ No. 18 Syracuse, 3:30 p.m., ACC Network, NC State -4

Syracuse is undefeated? In October? In football? Surprisingly, yes. Syracuse is 5-0 for the first time since 1987. In a make-or-break season for head coach Dino Babers, the Orange have come through. Predicted to finish last in the ACC, the Orange have had crucial victories over Purdue and Virginia in their spring through the first half of the schedule.

Babers has seemingly heard the cries for him to be fired, and the start to this season have quelled the flames. Running back Sean Tucker has looked like a game-changing player, perhaps even a dark-horse Heisman candidate. In their 59-0 romp over Wagner, the teams agreed to shorten the third and fourth quarters, so that the game could mercifully come to an end.

NC State represents the toughest challenge for Syracuse so far. NC State needs the win to be seen as a legitimate contender in the ACC, after losing handily to Clemson. Quarterback Devin Leary and the Wolfpack offense has put up points this season, and the indoor environment of the Carrier Dome is conducive for offensive success.

Can Syracuse continue their Cinderella season? Or, will NC State prove their strength?

3. No. 8 Oklahoma State @ No. 13 TCU, 3:30 p.m., ABC, TCU -2

The top-ranked teams in the Big 12 face off after two emotional wins. Oklahoma State squeaked by an upset-minded Texas Tech last weekend, and TCU went on the road and beat a resurgent Kansas team.

For the Cowboys, Spencer Sanders has been a high-level quarterback. The fourth-year starter had three touchdowns last weekend and is reading defenses extremely well. Bryson Green was Sanders’ favorite target, catching 5 passes for 115 yards and a score. The Cowboys outscored the Red Raiders 21-7 in the second half, pulling away for a 10-point victory.

TCU overpowered Kansas through a stellar outing from quarterback Max Duggan and the emergence of wide receiver Quinten Johnson. Johnson had over 200 yards receiving, and the Cowboys defensive staff will have to have a special game plan in mind to stop him from taking over the game. TCU is 5-0 for the first time since 2017 in a surprising season, the first under head coach Sonny Dykes. Duggan and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley have built an offensive attack that could be the best in the Big 12.

TCU was predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12. Can they keep proving the pundits wrong? Or will Oklahoma State take another step forward in their potential playoff bid?

2. No. 10 Penn State @ No. 5 Michigan, Noon, FOX, Michigan -7.5

The titanic game in the Big Ten this weekend is in the Big House, as two undefeated programs face off to help decide the Big Ten East. Michigan is coming off of a 31-10 win over Indiana, but the score is deceptive. Michigan was tied 10-10 at halftime, but a 97-yard drive in the third quarter helped the Wolverines pull away. Michigan’s defense also stepped up, allowing just 29 yards in the second half.

Penn State is 5-0 and coming off of their bye week, which they needed after a sluggish performance against Northwestern. Quarterback Sean Clifford has done just enough to win games for the Nittany Lions, but the Michigan defense represents a new challenge. Last week, the Wolverines sacked Indiana seven times.

Last year, both teams played an extremely close game, with a late Michigan touchdown marking the difference. Fox will host their Big Noon Saturday pregame show, their fourth straight week at a Michigan game. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards and wide receivers Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson headline the multifaceted Wolverine attack. Michigan’s offensive line has been stout, establishing themselves as one of the better units in the country.

This is a game that isn’t technically a rivalry, but one that always has huge national implications.

1. No. 3 Alabama @ No. 6 Tennessee, 3:30 p.m, CBS, ‘Bama -8

Alabama is one of the top teams in college football, but they look different from years prior in one important aspect: they look mortal.

In the second week of the season, Texas took Alabama down to the wire, eventually losing a one-point game. Last weekend, a Texas A&M team that has struggled at key points made Alabama fight to the last play. The Aggies’ pass was incomplete, so the Crimson Tide are still undefeated and in the driver’s seat of the SEC West.

Tennessee has looked surprisingly good and could potentially challenge Georgia and Alabama in the race for the SEC crown. Last weekend, Tennessee obliterated LSU on the road. Hendon Hooker shined again at quarterback, and the Volunteers are off to their best start since 2016. The top-10 showdown reaches another level when you factor in the rivalry. Every third Saturday in October, the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers battle for what has historically been a huge game in determining the SEC champion. Tennessee desperately needs a win in the series. They have lost the last 15 matchups. The winner of the game gets to smoke traditional victory cigars.

Can Tennessee win for the first time in the Nick Saban era? Or will Alabama continue their dominance over their rival?

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney2@nd.edu

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ZeLO: Overlooking the college football landscape

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.

Notre Dame

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. 

SEC

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. 

B10

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.

ACC

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.

Pac-12

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).

B12

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. 

G5

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). 

Conference Champs

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 tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.

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Week 2: Top 5 college football games to watch

Last weekend was a great weekend for college football. Besides Georgia’s annihilation of Oregon, most of the games that received media attention answered the bell. Week 2 presents an interesting slate of games, as some teams begin conference play. Many other Power 5 teams have tune-up games against lesser programs. Without further ado, here are my top 5 games to watch for week 2 of college football. (Lines are as of opening.)

5. USC @ Stanford, 7:30 p.m., ABC (USC -9.5)

After the Irish get done with Marshall this weekend, Notre Dame fans should turn to this game. This game will provide the first real look of the new USC under head coach Lincoln Riley. Riley was a home-run hire for the Trojans, after going 55-10 at Oklahoma and making the College Football Playoff three times. Joining him at USC via the transfer portal is quarterback Caleb Williams, also from Oklahoma, and star wide receiver Jordan Addison from Pittsburgh. In their first game, the Trojans dispatched a hapless Rice squad to the tune of 66-14.

Stanford should pose a greater challenge. Head coach David Shaw has a 94-45 record with the Cardinal but has struggled in recent years. Stanford is just 12-19 since the start of 2019. Leading the charge for the Cardinal is running back E.J. Smith, son of NFL rushing yards leader Emmitt Smith. The younger Smith ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-10 rout of Colgate last week. A win for Stanford would put them back into a potential conference championship discussion. A win for USC keeps their hype train rolling as they pursue a return to greatness.

4. Iowa State @ Iowa, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network (Iowa -3.5)

The intrastate rivalry for the Cy-Hawk trophy kicks off for the 69th time this weekend in Kinnick Stadium. Head coach Matt Campbell has built the program from the ground up since his arrival in 2016, leading what was a perennial doormat in the Big 12 to five straight bowl games. Quarterback Hunter Dekkers threw four touchdowns in his debut as Iowa State’s starting QB, a 42-10 win against Southeast Missouri State last Saturday. Running back Jirehl Brock looks to continue to fill big shoes left for him by NFL second-round draft pick Breece Hall.

Iowa is coming off of a game that would be atypical for any other program but is relatively par for the course for them. The Hawkeyes won an absolute slugfest with South Dakota State by a score of 7-3 last week. However, they did not score a touchdown. That’s right, the Hawkeyes scored a field goal and two safeties. Big Ten football. Linebacker Jack Campbell recorded 11 tackles and a safety to lead the Hawkeye defense. Punter Tory Taylor had seven punts downed inside of the 20-yard line. Can Iowa’s offense wake up and get the job done? Or will Matt Campbell record his first win in the rivalry? 

3. Kentucky @ Florida, 7 p.m., ESPN (Florida -4.5)

After a phenomenal upset win over then No. 7 Utah in Week 1, the Gators welcome another ranked foe into the Swamp. QB Anthony Richardson proved to everyone that he was not only capable of starting last weekend but that he could be a potential star in the making. Richardson rushed for three touchdowns and 106 yards in addition to completing 17 passes for 168 more. WR Ricky Pearsall, transferring in from Arizona State, made a great first impression by hauling in four catches for 67 yards. The Gator defense came up with crucial stops in their win over Utah last week, capped by Amari Burney’s game-sealing pick in the end zone.

They’ll have to keep the momentum going against Kentucky this week. The Wildcats are coming off of a 10-win season, tied for the second-best win total in school history. Last weekend, they trounced Miami (Ohio) by a score of 37-13. Quarterback Will Levis has been receiving NFL attention. Wide Receiver Tayvion Robinson impressed in his first game since transferring from Virginia Tech, catching six passes for 136 yards. Both teams desperately need the win in order to keep chase with Georgia for status as the top dog in the SEC East.

2. Baylor @ BYU, 10:15 p.m., ESPN (BYU -3.5)

A top-25 matchup in the late-night Saturday viewing window. What’s not to love? Baylor is coming off of a highly successful season, going 12-2, winning the Big 12, and finishing fifth in the country last year. Quarterback Blake Shapen has been on point ever since taking over the job in the conference championship game last year. The Bears opened their season with a 69-10 shellacking of Albany, extending their winning streak to six games since last season. Last year, Baylor beat BYU by a score of 38-24, but the Cougars are back with a vengeance this season.

BYU returns 97 percent of its offensive production from last season. Quarterback Jaren Hall looked great in a 50-21 win against South Florida, going 25/32 for 261 yards and two touchdowns. The offense looks explosive, and the defense can get it done. The Cougars are looking for a New Year’s Six bowl this year, loading up their schedule with the likes of Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Stanford to appeal to the pollsters. This is the last year of independence for the Cougars, who are slated to join the Big 12 next season. Could this be a preview of future battles for Big 12 supremacy?

1. Alabama @ Texas, noon, FOX, (Alabama -20)

A giant clash in the heart of the Lone Star State. The Longhorns are coming off of a 52-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe in week 1 as quarterback Quinn Ewers gets used to the college game. Highly recruited out of high school, Ewers transferred to Texas after one year as a backup at Ohio State. He has the help of running back Bijan Robinson, who is one of the best running backs in college football this season. Head Coach Steve Sarkisian is looking to overcome the odds to bring home a massive win against his former boss, Nick Saban. 

Alabama is the class of college football. Quarterback Bryce Young is coming off of a Heisman-winning season. Linebacker Will Anderson is coming for blood this season after a ridiculous 17.5 sacks in 2021. The Crimson Tide destroyed their sacrificial lamb (Utah State) in a 55-0 game that might’ve been somehow more lopsided than the score indicated. There is no doubt that Saban, who is arguably the greatest coach in college football history, will have his team ready. The game is a noon kickoff, and weather forecasts predict a temperature of 95 degrees, which could feel even hotter on the field. College Gameday and Fox are bringing their pregame shows. Everything is bigger in Texas, and this game is no different.

Joseph Tunney

Contact Joseph at jtunney@nd.edu

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What we saw in week 1 of college football

After a far-too-long offseason (and a smattering of Week 0 matchups), college football is back, and with its triumphant return came everything we have come to know and love about the sport. A wild opening weekend featured upsets, dominating performances, nail-biting finishes, and several teams finding bizarre ways to win. Here are five of the most notable happenings from Week 1.

Florida kicks off new era with an upset win

After last season produced their first ever Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance, No. 7 Utah entered the fall as a trendy playoff pick among fans and media alike. While a playoff berth is not yet completely out of the question, it is certainly far less likely after the Utes were defeated 29-26 by Florida in Gainesville. The Gators trailed late in the fourth quarter, but “The Swamp,” known nationally as one of the most difficult stadiums for visiting teams to win in, worked its magic.

With under two minutes to play, star dual-threat quarterback Anthony Richardson ran for a go-ahead touchdown, his third of the day. And while the Utes nearly responded, Florida’s Amari Burney picked off a Utah pass in the endzone to seal the win. Saturday’s game was the debut for new Florida head coach Billy Napier, who made the jump to the SEC after four highly successful seasons at Louisiana.

Though it is too soon to know how his tenure will play out, it could not have gotten off to a better start than with a clutch victory against a top-10 opponent. Especially after the Gators finished 2021 with a 6-7 record that included several tight losses caused by late-game miscues. It appears doubtful that anyone will challenge Georgia in the SEC East this year. But Florida is already showing signs of a program that is back on the rise.

Wild finish in App State-North Carolina

On Saturday afternoon, North Carolina headed to the mountains to face Appalachian State in a much-anticipated in-state matchup. The Mountaineers came out of the gates swinging, taking an early 21-7 lead. But a dominant second and third quarter stretch gave North Carolina a seemingly insurmountable 20-point advantage entering the fourth.

Then came one of the highest scoring quarters ever in college football, as the teams combined for 62 points in a chaotic final period. With under a minute left, an App State touchdown cut the Tar Heel lead to 56-55. But a gamble to go for two and the win did not pay off, as an incomplete pass on the conversion try appeared to seal a UNC victory. That is, until the Tar Heels not only recovered the onside kick but returned it for a touchdown. That extended their lead to eight but inadvertently gave App State another chance to score in what was still a one-possession game. Albeit one with only 28 seconds remaining.

Turns out, that was plenty of time for the Mountaineers, as they continued to torch a North Carolina defense that struggled all day, needing only two plays to score yet another touchdown. It was only after another two-point conversion stop and onside kick recovery that the Tar Heels could breathe a sigh of relief after winning a game in which they surrendered 40 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Iowa’s improbable victory

Iowa 7, South Dakota State 3. At first glance, that sounds like it could be a baseball score. But even knowing that it came from a football game, it still does not seem like a hugely surprising result. Iowa’s offense has been much-maligned in recent years. And while it is strange to see a team win while scoring just a single touchdown, it is certainly plausible.

But that is not what happened, as the Hawkeyes eked out a victory over an FCS opponent in one of the strangest ways possible. After a first half slugfest that saw the score tied at 3-3, Iowa punter Tory Taylor dropped in a perfect punt that pinned the Jackrabbits at their own one-yard line. Sure enough, a safety resulted on the ensuing play. In the fourth quarter, Taylor placed another punt inside the South Dakota State 10-yard line. Two plays later, the Hawkeyes’ Joe Evans recorded a sack in the endzone for the second Iowa safety of the game.

Somehow, that pair of safeties was all they needed to secure an unlikely season-opening win. In a truly herculean feat, the Iowa defense held the Jackrabbits scoreless in the second half in addition to scoring the four game-winning points. Iowa has experienced great success in recent years behind an elite defense and mediocre offensive play. But they most likely cannot count on winning many more games in which their defense outscores the offense.

Kicking struggles prove costly

It is not uncommon to see college football games decided, at least partially, by missed kicks. Kickers have one of the most difficult and pressure-packed roles in the sport, and most teams do not have an NFL-caliber player at the position, leading to a fair number of misses in high-leverage situations. What is surprising is for these crucial mistakes to occur on extra points rather than field goals, and we saw two instances of this over the weekend.

Hosting rival No. 13 NC State, East Carolina had a chance to pick up an upset win when, trailing 21-14, they scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown that would have tied the game if not for a shocking miss on the PAT. The Pirates forced a quick three and out and drove down the field in the final seconds only to miss another kick. This one was a potential game-winning field goal, sending the Wolfpack home as fortunate victors.

Florida State and LSU faced off on Sunday night in a showcase game that served as new LSU head coach Brian Kelly’s debut with the Tigers after leaving Notre Dame. The LSU offense was stagnant for much of the game but capped off a masterful 99-yard drive with a miraculous touchdown pass as time expired to make the score 24-23 in the Seminoles’ favor. The Tigers opted to kick rather than going for two. And sure enough, Florida State blocked the extra point to win the game. Special teams make special teams, folks.

Georgia and Alabama are in a class of their own

Last year, Georgia and Alabama met in the national championship game, with Georgia claiming their first title since 1980 in a 33-18 win. After the impressive displays that both teams put on this weekend, it would come as no surprise to see a rematch in this year’s playoff. Georgia kicked off their quest to repeat with a huge statement win, traveling to Eugene to face No. 11 Oregon and returning with a 49-3 win under their belt in a game that was somehow even less competitive than the score would indicate. The Bulldogs’ roster was decimated by this year’s NFL Draft. But their consistently elite recruiting classes have allowed them to retool and come back just as strong.

Meanwhile, Alabama began their revenge tour with a casual 55-0 steamrolling of Utah State. Head coach Nick Saban recently referred to the Crimson Tide’s last season as a “rebuilding year.” And despite finishing as SEC champions and national runners-up, that claim may not have been as outlandish as it seemed. The Tide return Heisman winner Bryce Young, potential No. 1 overall draft pick Will Anderson, and a host of other stars eager to make up for their championship-game loss. Nearly all of the season is still ahead. But Georgia and Alabama both look ready to fight for another title.

Matthew Crow

Contact Matthew at mcrow@nd.edu