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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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News

Sen. Tim Scott speaks in fireside chat, discusses memoir and state of politics

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) struck notes of optimism and unity in a fireside chat on Friday morning, discussing his book “America, A Redemption Story: Choosing Hope, Creating Unity.” 

Scott, a potential 2024 presidential candidate who has beefed up his political operation in recent months, released the memoir in August. At an event hosted by the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, he joined political science professor Vincent Phillip Munoz onstage at the Carey Auditorium in Hesburgh Library to discuss various parts of the book, as well as the current state of the country, politics, race and the Republican Party.

With various quips and references to Bible verses scattered throughout his answers to Munoz and audience members, Scott focused on the themes of his new book.

Scott, one of 11 Black members of Congress to have ever served, and the first African American to serve in both the House and Senate, visited Notre Dame for the first time this weekend. 

“I was looking for Rudy,” Scott joked, “but I didn’t see him.”

Scott touched on the story of a Chick-Fil-A operator whose mentorship changed his life, as well as the impact his grandparents and single mother had in raising him. He recalled helping his grandfather, whom he disagreed with politically, to vote for Barack Obama.

Scott said the ability of the country to move from the prejudice his grandfather had experienced to electing an African American president represented the ability of the United States to advance. 

He described his personal experience confronting race and racism, including “being pulled over for DWB — driving while Black — more than twenty times.” In 2016, he delivered a viral speech to the Senate about those experiences, which included being asked to provide identification and being physically barred from entering the Capitol as a sitting congressman despite wearing the House or Senate pin on his lapel.

Scott said that blame over issues of race and policing lie on both sides of the political spectrum.

“If you think the country is irreparably broken and racist to the core, you look for it, darn near celebrate it. The other side seems to suggest that if you see any racism at all, you’re just thinking about 1865, and you’re stuck in the past. I think if you’re going to have an honest conversation about race in America, I think you have to share both sides of the ledger. You honestly have to understand that life is harder for some people based on the color of their skin than it is for other people,” Scott said. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t made incredible progress at the same time.”

Scott’s proposed legislation around police reform in the summer of 2020 was blocked by Senate Democrats.

The topic of Donald Trump came up, and Scott recounted saying the former president had “lost his moral authority” in the wake of the 2017 Charlottesville Unite The Right rally.

He said the condemnation led to a conversation with Trump, one that ultimately allowed for Scott to shepherd his “Opportunity Zones” proposal into law. The initiative directed the governors of each state to designate economically-distressed communities that were ripe for investment and tie them to a federal tax incentive to drive private investment. It has brought “almost 80 billion dollars into the poorest communities in this country,” Scott said.

“I thank God almighty that … President Trump was deferential enough to listen and then act as opposed to trying to defend his comments. We didn’t come to the conclusion where we were on the same side of racial history — I don’t want to pretend like we did. We didn’t need to, though,” Scott said. 

Scott says the conversation led to a positive working relationship.

“From that moment forward, there was a new level of respect, and we worked on funding for historically Black colleges and universities that we took to the highest level ever. We worked on sickle cell anemia funding. We brought the unemployment rate for African Americans and Hispanics and Asians to the lowest level in the history of this country. We did that together,” he said of his relationship with Trump. “We did all that together as a result of the conflict in Charlottesville, so thank God for a president who listened in that moment.”

Scott also looked forward during the event.

He unsuccessfully predicted a Clemson win over Notre Dame, 31-23. He also spoke to Republican chances in the midterm elections, warning that the “road to socialism” runs through division in the GOP.

“On Tuesday, I think we’ll be happy that we coalesced around our candidates no matter what side of the Republican Party you may or may not be in. I think we’re far more unified about winning and restoring sanity to the country than we’ve ever been,” he said.

You can contact Isa Sheikh at isheikh@nd.edu

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Sports

‘This is what you come to Notre Dame for’: Liufau ready to take on Clemson

In summer of 2021, no one could get enough of then junior linebacker Marist Liufau. He had flashes of of success in camp, became the talk of the town and was seemingly unblockable. Then, his season ended before it could start. Liufau suffered a broken ankle midway through camp, ultimately keeping him from a season’s worth of play. 

“I missed running around with my teammates,” he said. “I missed being out there with them. I felt not as involved because I couldn’t practice and play but I missed the people too.”

Now a senior, Liufau is back in full swing and racking up tackles left and right while stepping up as a leader for the defense. 

To start the season, Liufau eased back into football. He took about half the reps for each appearance but slowly worked his way back up through camp. In his time off the field, Liufau said he began to study the game a lot more and it put things back into perspective for him. 

“Things can be taken away from you in an instant so being out here every day — I am just grateful to be out here every day I can,” Liufau said.

Out on the field now, Liufau has reclaimed what would have been his starting opportunity last year within the linebacker corps. He has been instrumental to the success of the Irish defense recording 32 tackles on the season, 12 of them alone and three for loss. Additionally, he’s assumed a role as an extra pass rusher. During Notre Dame’s confrontation with UNC, he brought enough pressure to force a sack. For the first time on Saturday though, Liufau broke into the top tier of defensive statistics. 

Against Syracuse, the Irish defense dominated and Liufau played a major role. With three tackles on the day, the crowning jewel in his Saturday afternoon came during the third quarter when he snagged an interception. 

“It was awesome,” Liufau said. “It was my first one so it was really exciting and it was a good point in the game as well. Anything that helps your team makes you feel good.” 

The pass from Syracuse backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson was tipped by junior defensive lineman Howard Cross. Liufau dove forward to make the catch once the ball was off course. The second Liufau came off the field he said he was thanking Cross. 

“I don’t think I would’ve gotten it without the batted ball,” he said. 

Liufau also said he knew how important any interception could be so it was exciting to be the one to reel one in. 

“It’s a big change of momentum really. It gets everyone going, gets everyone’s hopes high and gives everyone energy,” he said. 

The Irish are looking to carry that energy into this weekend as they prepare to take on Clemson this Saturday. 

“It was a great feeling to win away but we know this week is a new week,” Liufau said. “We emphasized that early on and we know that we have to earn a win on Saturday by our hard work in practice this week.”

 In terms of taking on the higher-ranked opponent though, Liufau says the preparation remains the same. 

“It’s always attack everything full speed and work our game plan,” he said. “Every opponent we respect. We prepare the same way for everyone. There’s always a high urgency around here every week.”

Liufau says he’s excited to play in a physical game like this on Saturday. Echoing sentiments from Freeman earlier in the week, he said “this is what you come to Notre Dame for” — to play in games like this one. 

That being said, he also acknowledged the tall order that is the Clemson Tigers.

“They’re a very good offense,” he said. “They have a great quarterback, good running back, and threats at wide receiver as well. They’ve just got a lot of weapons all around.” 

The linebacker said he isn’t too worried though, he trusts the defense to step up to the plate behind one mantra:

“Relentless. We like to pride ourselves on being relentless and attacking without stopping,” he said. “I think we’ve improved a lot since the beginning of the season and I’m really proud of the way we work every day.” 

As much as he is leading that relentless charge, Liufau said he is learning from the rest of the linebacker corps as well and relying on their continued communication both in game and at practice. 

“Going out there and doing what you’ve got to do even when you don’t feel like it is the main thing they’ve taught me,” he said. “[We’re] just working hard every day.” 

Contact Mannion McGinley at mccginl3@nd.edu.

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Sports

Keys to victory versus Clemson

After a convincing win against Syracuse last week, the Irish have a lot of momentum heading into their biggest home matchup of the season against the fifth-ranked Clemson Tigers. Marcus Freeman and the Irish will look to prove that they can play well at home and break some of their early season woes at Notre Dame Stadium. Clemson, who is coming off of a bye week, last played against Syracuse as well, beating the Orange by a narrow 27-21 margin. The Irish will have their work cut out for them against the undefeated Tigers. Here are the Irish keys to victory.

Take care of the football

In Notre Dame’s stunning losses to Marshall and Stanford this season, it was ultimately turnovers that prevented the Irish from winning. Against Marshall, it was sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s pick-six with just under five minutes to go. Against Stanford, sophomore running back Audric Estime’s fumble late in the fourth quarter sealed the Irish loss. 

Facing a Clemson team that has more talent and experience on both sides of the ball, the Irish simply can not afford to give up any possessions or give the Tigers good field position on Saturday. The good news for the Irish is that the Clemson defense hasn’t exactly been racking up turnovers, as they only generated 12 turnovers this season. Despite this, the Irish will need to be disciplined at key moments of the game and not make costly mistakes like they have in a couple of games earlier this season. 

One player to watch for the Irish is Audric Estime. Although Estime has put up impressive numbers this season with over 500 rushing yards with an average of 5.6 yards per carry, he has lost three fumbles. The Irish relied heavily on Estime against Syracuse, and Estime took care of the ball and was very productive in the run game. The Irish will need the same from him on Saturday if they are going to compete with the Tigers.

Stop Clemson’s run game

Another key to Irish victory on Saturday will be stopping the Clemson run game, which has averaged nearly 200 yards per game this season. The Tigers are led by sophomore running back Will Shipley, who has been sensational for the Tigers this year and is averaging six yards per carry. Shipley is also coming off his most impressive performance of the year. He rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse two weeks ago. 

If Shipley and the Clemson offensive line are able to have their way with Notre Dame’s front seven, this game could be a blowout. The Irish run defense is ranked 51st in college football, and they have been very streaky this season. At times they have come up big in short-yardage situations, but they have also allowed nearly four yards per carry this season. They have been susceptible to allowing big yardage plays on the ground. Shipley is arguably the best running back the Irish have faced this season. Containing his production will be a challenge to say the least.

Even if they can contain Shipley, they have to worry about Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who can punish defenses with his mobility. Uiagalelei has 350 rushing yards this season, and his ability to be effective outside of the pocket could be an issue for the Irish. If the Irish are able to stop the run, however, they can potentially expose Uiagalelei’s bigger weakness in the passing game. Uiagalelei ranks just 45th in the FBS in passer rating.

Find success in the passing game

Although the Irish relied heavily on the run game in last week’s victory over Syracuse, that is going to be much tougher to do against a Clemson run defense that is ranked 7th in FBS and allows an average of just 2.98 yards per carry. It seems unlikely that the Irish will be able to lean on their run game to lead them to victory. 

For that reason, it is likely going to come down to junior quarterback Drew Pyne being able to make some plays, potentially in third and long situations. Since the BYU game, Pyne has completed just 48.6% of his passes, which isn’t going to cut it against Clemson. In the win against Syracuse, Pyne attempted just 19 passes, but it is quite possible he needs to throw the ball twice as much this Saturday and do so successfully. If the Irish are going to get Pyne comfortable in the pass game, they need the offensive line to step up against a Clemson team that averages nearly three sacks per game. Since the Stanford game, the offensive line has looked formidable, but they will face a difficult task against a talented Clemson front seven.

Aside from the offensive line, Pyne needs to have options available downfield other than junior tight end Michael Mayer. Assuming the Tigers do everything in their power to take Mayer out of the game, the Irish need at least a couple of receivers to step up. Sophomore Deion Colzie might be an option for the Irish, as he had a couple of catches in his return from injury against Syracuse. Freshman Tobias Merriweather and sophomore Jayden Thomas have also shown flashes of greatness this season, and they could be options for deep downfield plays as well. 

At the end of the day, though, it comes down to Pyne’s ability to find these open receivers. Too many times this season Pyne gets locked in on Mayer, and that has proved costly at times. Pyne has the opportunity of a lifetime on Saturday, and he has to be prepared to take advantage of his opportunity if the Irish are going to find a victory.

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Sports

Observer Sports Staff predicts Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Aidan Thomas – Sports Editor

To be an optimist or to not be an optimist. That’s my dilemma with this pick. I won’t say it’s not realistic to pick Notre Dame. By the CFP rankings, the Irish have two convincing wins over top-20 teams. To say they’ve obliterated those two teams at their own place would be a fair assessment. So it’s a conflict of whether the Irish will step up against a big opponent, as they’ve done all year, or struggle at home, which they’ve also done all year. 

When Clemson visited Notre Dame in 2020, the Irish scored two offensive touchdowns. Both were sparked by explosive plays — a 65-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard pass. Notre Dame’s longest offensive play this year is 54 yards, so they’re going to have to find a way to be more explosive. In that 2020 game, the Irish also kicked four field goals — two for 40+ yards — which has been a struggle for current kicker Blake Grupe. Can the Irish run the ball against one of the nation’s best run defenses? Can they take advantage of Clemson’s slow-starting defense despite their own slow-starting offense? I think this game shapes up as a low-scoring duel in which Clemson has the slightly better passing game to challenge the opposing defense with a more multidimensional attack. 

Clemson 24, Notre Dame 20

Mannion McGinley – Assistant Managing Editor

The last time Clemson entered Notre Dame stadium, it was a top-five matchup with the No. 4 Irish the underdog to No. 1 Clemson. Double overtime. The Irish score, stop the Tigers and storm the field. We all remember this. 

That pregame energy is back this week but the unranked Irish taking on a No. 5 Clemson feels like an even larger task. Irish fans want the win but it may not be as easy to will it to fruition this time around. The glimmer of hope for Irish fans comes in the form of slight quarterback uncertainty. DJ Uiagalelei threw two interceptions against Syracuse two weeks ago before he was pulled from the game and replaced by Cade Klubnik. The Tigers pulled out the win there, but it forced them into a significantly more one-dimensional structure.

The Irish defense has to capitalize either on a junior quarterback trying to reestablish his good name or a young quarterback who has barely had a chance. The real test for the defense will be taking Will Shipley out of the mix. The running back averages six yards a carry and if the Irish want to see a third home victory, that can’t happen. It will require strong tackling, immediate responses to slight breakaways and — when the Irish can force a turnover — capitalizing on it without fail… 

This brings me to the offense. Drew Pyne has to find a way to successfully get the ball moving through the air and not to Michael Mayer. The Clemson line won’t give him a lot of time though so Tommy Rees is going to have to find some plays Pyne can pull off quickly and successfully to compliment the running backs. I wouldn’t mind a deep ball akin to the one Javon McKinley reeled in during the 2020 matchup.

But regardless of how they do it if the defense can create 10 or 14 points of its own (a big ask yes, but optimistically, doable), the Irish offense will need to find a way to stay on the field for a good long while. The less time Shipley has to work with, the better for the Irish and the more points Notre Dame can bolster a win with. A low-scoring win will go to the Tigers. However, the Irish will use defensive pressure to help their offense find the endzone and get just enough of a passing game to get their run game going. 

Notre Dame 28, Clemson 24

Nate Moller – Senior Sports Writer

Prior to last week’s convincing victory against Syracuse, I would have picked the Tigers to win this one in a landslide, but the Irish showed some fight last week, and I think they can hang around in this one for a while. The biggest concern, however, is quarterback Drew Pyne. Against the Orange, the Irish were able to successfully run the ball and prevent Pyne from passing for most of the game. That likely won’t be the case, however, against an elite Clemson run defense that allows an average of under 3 yards per carry.

Clemson’s weakness on defense is their passing game, and Pyne will have to make some plays if the Irish are going to have a chance. While I anticipate Michael Mayer having a big game, Pyne will need to find other receivers and not limit himself to just Mayer. On the other side of the ball, the Irish will have the challenge of stopping a prolific Clemson run game that is led by Will Shipley and mobile quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. At the end of the day, I think the Irish hang around for three quarters, but the Tigers are just too explosive for the Irish to keep pace offensively once the fourth quarter comes around. The Irish play well when I don’t pick them too, so of course, I’m picking the Tigers.

Clemson 35 Notre Dame 24

Maddie Ladd – Associate Sports Editor

This is a prediction I have been thinking about all season, and it is hard to believe it is finally here. No. 5 Clemson has performed well this season, though they have played a soft schedule. Nevertheless, the Tigers will be the best team to come to South Bend this year, and the Irish must play up on Saturday as they have in the past. Think Clemson 2020.

Put simply, Drew Pyne is key for this game. He played great on the road until last weekend at Syracuse where he only completed 9-19 passes and badly missed open receivers. Pyne must play like he did against UNC and BYU and complete the easy passes while shifting focus from solely Michael Mayer. 

Wide receivers must also step up and catch the ball. Making the easy catches will be key to open up the game for the running backs to do their thing and find holes against the powerful Clemson defense. Finally, a well-established run game is essential. The colder, rainy weather this weekend may limit passing on both sides and help the Irish lock into the run game. The offensive line is a major strength for the Irish, and they can handle Clemson.

Notre Dame has improved in all assets of the game (especially special teams) in the past few weeks. For the Irish to come out with a win, this improvement must continue and be maintained for the entire game. But Drew Pyne is the key. If he plays well, Notre Dame wins. Call it optimistic, controversial or even crazy, but I am taking the Irish this weekend. Though not by much, I think a win is possible if Pyne and the rest of the offense come together, and the defense works its magic. Maybe even a punt block or two by the special teams. If not, it could all crumble. But I do love a good underdog story. 

Notre Dame 28, Clemson 24 

Liam Coolican – Associate Sports Editor

Everything had to go right for Notre Dame to knock off Clemson on that fateful night in South Bend in 2020, and they still needed double overtime. This year’s edition of the Irish is nowhere near as good as they were two years ago when they made the Playoff. I don’t believe Clemson is at the same level as the other undefeated teams at the top of the rankings such as Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee, but what they have shown is an impressive ability to close out tight games. They have won three one-score games, whereas Notre Dame is 2-2 in such contests. 

Clemson also boasts one of the nation’s top run defenses, limiting opponents to under 90 rushing yards per game. That doesn’t bode well for Notre Dame, who has relied more and more on the running game over the past several weeks. In the win against Syracuse, the Irish carried the ball 54 times compared to just 19 pass attempts. The Irish’s success will more than likely depend on Pyne, and the coaching staff does not seem to have a great deal of faith in him.

I haven’t seen anything from Pyne (or, frankly, any receiver other than Mayer) to suggest that the passing game will be more effective against Clemson. I do foresee the Irish defense making life tough for Uiagalelei and the Tigers’ offense, but it won’t be enough to overcome the offensive shortcomings.

Clemson 20, Notre Dame 10

Emily DeFazio – Associate Sports Editor

This is the game where the blind optimism that can come with being a Notre Dame fan starts to come into question. Do I want the Irish to win? Absolutely. Do I think they will? Blind optimism would say we’ve got a fighting chance. Reality, not so much. While Notre Dame came out on top against the Tigers in 2020, they used every minute of play allowed to do so and had some pretty miraculous plays in the process. Not to mention, star quarterback Trevor Lawrence was out for the count with COVID. This year, undefeated Clemson’s then-backup quarterback will take the field again, this time as an experienced starter.

I think Notre Dame has been too sporadic this season to be able to completely predict what will go down. The Irish have lost to unranked teams that were supposed to be an easy win on their home schedule but dominated top-20 units while away. Pyne has gotten some traction as starter, but the offense’s passing game (sans Mayer) has not been developed enough. The run game will not be able to carry the team as it did at Syracuse.

However, that match against the Orange is a large contributor to my glimmer of hope. The Tigers trailed the Orange until late in the fourth a few weekends ago, and the Irish just notched a decisive victory in the Dome. If Syracuse is a measurable factor, the Irish should be able to give Clemson a run for their money. Time will tell if it will be enough. The Irish have had scattered moments of excellence. I can only hope that same magic that took over the stadium in 2020 makes a reappearance Saturday night.

Notre Dame 29, Clemson 28

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Sports

Notre Dame collapses against Clemson, likely ending their season

Notre Dame fell 3-1 to the defending national champion Clemson Tigers in the first round of the ACC tournament. The game was a rematch of the two squads’ College Cup semifinal matchup last year, won by the Tigers in penalty kicks. Ranked 48th in RPI, this loss almost certainly spells the end of Notre Dame’s season. Forty-eight teams make the NCAA Tournament, and that will include several auto-bid teams ranked below the Irish.

It was a bright start for the Irish as freshman forward Wyatt Borso broke through and had a 1-on-1 against Clemson goalkeeper Joseph Andema in the seventh minute but the freshman got down and made a good save to keep it scoreless. Notre Dame controlled much of the game early and had the best chances in the first ten minutes. However, in the 11th minute, it all changed.

Own goals dig Irish early hole

After collecting a ball from an Irish attack, Andema scanned the field and sent it long looking for one of his forwards. Instead, he found the head of Irish junior defender Paddy Burns who tried to pass it back to his classmate and goalkeeper Bryan Dowd. A miscommunication between the two led to Dowd coming off his line and seeing the pass from Burns go right by him and into the goal to give Clemson a 1-0 lead.

The own goal saw the momentum shift completely in Clemson’s favor as the Tigers asserted control over proceedings. In the 40th minute, they doubled their lead through another own goal. This time a cross from senior midfielder Alvaro Gomez fell perfectly into the six-yard box where sophomore defender Kyle Genenbacher misplayed it and bundled it into the goal to give Clemson a 2-0 lead.

It was a contentious start to the second half with three yellow cards in the opening eight minutes, but it was in the 54th minute that the game really got away from Notre Dame. Sophomore midfielder Bryce Boneau got his second yellow card of the game for a challenge from behind on Clemson’s Ousmane Sylla. His first booking came in the 31st minute when he interfered with a Clemson attempt to take a free kick quickly and go on a counterattack. The red card left Notre Dame with ten men for the final 35 minutes of the game and essentially ended any hope for a comeback. Simply put, it was two ill-advised plays from a young player costing Notre Dame big in a must-win game.

Clemson sees out the result

Clemson padded the lead with a goal from Mohamed Seye in the 59th minute to make it 3-0. The game settled in from there as Notre Dame kept going forward trying to find some offense. In the 81st minute, it came via junior midfielder Matthew Radivojsa who scored his first goal of the year to get the Irish on the board. Radivojsa got another good chance a few minutes later, but Andema made an excellent save to preserve the two-goal cushion. It was too little, too late for the Irish.

The loss eliminates Notre Dame from the ACC tournament and, realistically, also from NCAA tournament contention. After an inconsistent regular season, the Irish needed some marquee ACC postseason wins to have hope of an at-large bid in the tournament. This loss negates that and the Irish season will end at the hands of the Clemson Tigers for the second year in a row.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Sports

Notre Dame fights for playoff berth against Clemson

Notre Dame men’s soccer opens ACC tournament play on Wednesday with a road game against the Clemson Tigers. The postseason opener is a rematch of last year’s College Cup matchup where the Tigers beat the Irish on penalty kicks to advance to the national title game where they eventually beat the Washington Huskies to win the national championship.

This season has been a wildly different story for both programs. The Tigers enter Wednesday’s matchup as the 8-seed in the ACC tournament and have a 10-5-1 record and including a losing record (3-4-1) in ACC play. Notre Dame is the 9 seed and has fared even worse this season with an 8-6-2 record overall and 3-4-1 in the ACC.

Leading the line for Clemson is junior midfielder Ousmane Sylla, a second-team all-ACC player a year ago. This year, he has taken on an even bigger role for the Tigers, leading the team in goals (5), points (16), shots on goal (18), and game-winning goals (2). Freshman goalkeeper Joseph Andema has been outstanding as well, allowing 0.64 goals per game and keeping six clean sheets in 11 starts this year.

Last time out for Notre Dame, junior forward Daniel Russo scored against the Pitt Panthers on the road. He leads the team in goals (6) and points (16) including four goals in the last two games. Three of those came in a comeback rivalry win over Michigan in Notre Dame’s final home game of the year.

The Irish will also need junior defender Paddy Burns to come up big for them on Wednesday. The left-back has been a leader on the back line for Notre Dame while also providing an attacking boost down the left flank scoring five goals this season. He leads the team with 2 game-winning goals, including one just 10 days ago against Virginia Tech.

Wednesday’s game is undoubtedly more important for Notre Dame than for Clemson. Sitting at 48th in RPI, the Irish likely need to win the ACC tournament — or at least have a strong showing — to secure a bid to the 48-team national championship bracket. Clemson should be in as an at-large seed regardless, sitting at 13th in RPI.

If Notre Dame manages to beat Clemson on Wednesday, they would move on to face the undefeated No. 3 Duke Blue Devils on Sunday in Durham. Duke is the top seed in the ACC tournament after a phenomenal 11-0-4 regular season, including a 2-0 win over Notre Dame on Oct. 14.

Wednesday’s game will air at 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Sports

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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Sports

Monson, Irish volleyball return to Purcell for crucial conference matchups

Notre Dame volleyball returns to Purcell Pavilion this weekend for the first time since their opening weekend of the season. They host the No. 11-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Friday night and the Clemson Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

“We are really looking forward to being home in our gym. It’s been a few weeks away and it’ll be nice to be back,” said junior libero Hattie Monson. “These are some competitive teams, so we have to stay focused and fight for every point.”

This weekend, Notre Dame will look to overcome a heartbreaking loss to Miami the last time out. After losing the first two sets by over 10 points each, the Irish rallied to tie it and force a fifth set. The fourth set saw both teams compete, but it seemed like Miami had it wrapped up with a comfortable 24-17 lead. Still, the Irish battled back and showed great mettle as they fought off seven consecutive match points to tie it at 24-24. From there, Notre Dame made the most of the momentum and prevailed 28-26. But it ultimately wasn’t to be, and they dropped the final set 15-13 and took the loss in a closely contested matchup.

Despite the loss, first-year head coach Salima Rockwell found some positives in the performance.

“We certainly learned against Miami that we need to come out of the gates faster,” Rockwell said. “However, we also learned that we have another gear that we hadn’t seen yet. We were so competitive, and it was great to see the team not happy at all with our level of play in the first two sets. While I had to get on them a bit, it was really them that made the mentality shift to play at another level. They showed grit and resilience and we are going to need to lean on that a ton this year.”

The Irish open home conference play with Georgia Tech on Friday. The Yellow Jackets have been among the best teams in college volleyball to start the season. They sit at 9-2, with both losses coming against ranked opponents (Ohio State and Arkansas). They are also undefeated in conference play. Coach Rockwell relished the opportunity it presents for the Irish.

“It’s always good to play a team that is as talented as Georgia Tech. They have experience and they are very good at every position,” said Rockwell. “You learn more about yourselves and your weaknesses when you play top teams because they can expose those more readily than some other teams. It’s a chance to play, to get better and learn.”

Georgia Tech has been led by senior outside hitter Julia Bergmann. The reigning ACC Player of the Year and a First Team All-American last season, Bergmann has picked up right where she left off, leading her team in kills (201) while her next closest teammate, senior middle blocker Erin Moss, has just 83, not even half Bergmann’s total.

Monson preached preparation ahead of a weekend that will present numerous challenges for Notre Dame.

“We’ve been really mentally preparing because this will be a tough weekend,” said Monson. “We’ve been doing a really good job on focusing every day in practice to prepare for the weekends. We’ve been watching a lot of film on our opponents and figuring out the best way to play them.”

Coach Rockwell praised Monson’s effort and leadership as the team battles through difficult moments.

“Hattie Monson has established herself as a leader by the way she plays the game. Everyone knows she’s bringing it every day. She never takes a play off. Best leader by example,” said Rockwell.

Notre Dame’s second opponent this weekend is the Clemson Tigers. With a 9-5 record, the Tigers present a less daunting challenge for the Irish than highly ranked Georgia Tech. Clemson is middle-of-the-pack in most statistics in the ACC. But the Tigers rank dead last in blocks. Notre Dame’s outside hitters, led by junior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff, may be able to exploit that as a weakness.

“I have been so pleased with Lauren Tarnoff’s play, and last weekend it was so cool to see her take over and be a vocal leader on the team,” said Rockwell. “It’s impactful because she doesn’t do it all the time, but she is so dialed into the game plan and can help direct players in every rotation, and she did just that last weekend.”

Twelve games into the year, Notre Dame and Rockwell are not where they want to be. They sit at the bottom of the ACC standings at 5-7 overall as the only team under .500. They are also winless in conference play with losses to Florida State and Miami last week. Despite the shaky start, Rockwell kept her message consistent.

“The message is the same as it’s been,” she said. “We have another opportunity in front of us, to work hard, get better and put ourselves in a position to win. We are a very process-driven team, and when you put in the work and continue to focus on getting better, good things happen.”

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanche24@nd.edu.

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Sports

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.