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Moller: The curse that continues to haunt the Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ record in one-score games in the regular season: 11-0. The Vikings’ record in one-score games in the playoffs: 0-1.

That’s pretty much all that is needed to sum up yet another season that ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Minnesota Vikings. They yet again fell victim to a curse that has haunted their franchise since its inception more than 60 years ago.

Although I tried to keep my expectations in check for the Vikings this year, it was hard to contain my excitement after they continued to pull off exciting win after exciting win in the regular season.

It was after the Vikings found a way to win the “game of the year” against the Bills that I really started to believe in this team. After winning by a score of 33-30 to improve to 8-1, it began to feel like this team had a legitimate chance to be a Super Bowl contender. In past seasons, those close games, like the one in Buffalo, were games the Vikings simply couldn’t seem to win. But this year felt different. 

Although the Vikings had slip-ups against the Cowboys and Lions over the coming weeks, they continued to win close games against respectable teams and seemed like a legitimate contender.

And then came the game against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 17 at U.S. Bank Stadium — a game I attended in-person. The Vikings came in as heavy favorites against the lackluster Colts, with a chance to clinch the NFC North with a win.

In the first half, the Vikings were atrocious, and they found themselves in a stunning 33-0 deficit at half. What happened in the second, however, was nothing short of magical. The Vikings truly pulled off the impossible, as they battled back to win 39-36 in overtime and completed the biggest comeback in NFL history. The atmosphere at that game was truly unlike any game I have ever attended. After that, I truly believed that this Vikings team was destined for greatness in the playoffs.

After winning two of their last three games to finish the season 13-4, the Vikings secured the three seed in the NFC and earned themselves a date with the New York Giants in the Wild Card round. They beat the Giants just a few weeks earlier on Christmas Eve, and I had the utmost confidence coming into this game.

The first offensive drive resulted in a touchdown for the Vikings, but that would be the only time the Vikings led the whole game. The Giants went on to tear up the Vikings’ defense. On their first two drives, the Giants scored two touchdowns and tallied 156 yards off of just nine plays. Although the Vikings managed to stay within striking distance, there were a couple of critical plays that were simply head-scratching and contributed to the seven-point loss. 

The first of these head scratchers was a critical third-and-one for the Vikings early in the game with the score tied at seven. The Vikings desperately needed a first down to keep the redhot Giants offense off the field, and instead of running the ball, they drew up a lateral to wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who then threw the ball to quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins ended up getting dropped for a loss of two yards. Why in the world would you let Cousins use his legs on a third and short, especially when Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the league? The Vikings were forced to punt the ball away and subsequently watched the Giants march down the field after this blunder.

The other crucial play happened at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Vikings trailing 24-21. The Vikings faced a fourth-and-one from the Giants’ 16-yard line, and they lined up to go for it. It looked like the Vikings had the first down on a run up the middle, but left tackle Christian Darrisaw jumped before the snap. The ball was moved back, and the Vikings were forced to kick a field goal to tie it instead of having a chance to take the lead.

Then, the biggest head scratcher of them all occurred on the final drive of the game. With the Vikings down seven and facing a fourth and 15 from their own 48-yard line, Kirk Cousins threw a short check down pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson for three yards. Although Cousins faced heavy pressure, he needed to give his team a chance. I would have rather had him chuck it up blindly toward Jefferson than to seemingly admit defeat by throwing it underneath to Hockenson. Jefferson made some phenomenal catches this year and he might have had another one in him, but now we will never know. The play was so perplexing that after the game, veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson said that “[Cousins] must not have known what down it was.”

This series of unfortunate events is just another saga in the disappointing life of a Vikings fan. If you really want a list of all the Vikings’ blunders in the playoffs, you would need to talk to my grandparents, as they witnessed the Vikings lose four Super Bowls in the 1970s. But even in my lifetime, this loss hurt just as much as the disappointing losses in the 2010 and 2018 NFC Championship games against the Saints and the Eagles.

If the Vikings were just a bad team, it would be a lot easier. But that’s the problem. It seems like the Vikings are always just good enough to build up my hopes, but never good enough to win the Super Bowl. To prove my point that the Vikings are historically a good football team, they ranked seventh in the NFL in all-time winning percentage coming into the 2022 season. This winning percentage is better than the 49ers, Steelers and Giants — all teams that have at least four Super Bowls. The Vikings, however, have nothing to show for their stellar winning percentage.

I could continue ranting for days about the Vikings and pointing fingers at various players, coaches and front office employees. I’ve realized now, though, that maybe it isn’t any one specific person or group of people. It seems to be something bigger than that. For whatever reason, the Minnesota Vikings are a franchise that is always destined for failure in the playoffs, regardless of how good they are in the regular season. The Vikings are a cursed franchise that might never win a Super Bowl.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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

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Ukrainian exchange students discuss their Notre Dame semester

In August, 10 students embarked on a long journey taking them from the Eastern Europe to the middle of Indiana.

Olha Droniak, a junior from Ivano-Frankivsk, a town about two hours away from Lviv, recalled being very excited about arriving at Notre Dame, but very exhausted by the travel. 

“Because of the war, we don’t have flights, and the sky is closed,” Droniak explained. The group took a 10-hour bus ride into Poland, then flew from Poland to Germany, Germany to Chicago and finally Chicago to South Bend.

This semester, the University of Notre Dame hosted 10 exchange students from Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), which is located in Lviv in Western Ukraine. Notre Dame and UCU have an almost 20-year old partnership, and University President Fr. John Jenkins announced the addition of the exchange program last May.

Droniak, like other undergraduate exchange students, lives in a dorm on campus. Droniak lives with Sofiia Kyba, a senior exchange student from Lviv, in Howard Hall. Kyba and Droniak said they love Howard and the dorm community on campus. 

“Although Howard is one of the oldest dorms on campus, as far as I know, I’ve found it very cozy. I like that it’s not so big, so it’s easier to get to know people,” Kyba said.

Olena Tsyhankova, also senior from Lviv, lives in Lewis Hall. Because of a combination of the pandemic and the war, Tsyhankova said that this is her first “normal” semester at university. 

“I never lived in a dorm before, and now I have five roommates,” Tsyhankova said. “But also because of those roommates, the experience is awesome. We are all friends now.”

Though they are all different majors, the undergraduate Ukrainian students are taking classes at Notre Dame suited to their academic interests. Tsyhankova, for example, is a cultural studies major at UCU, and she focuses on art and religious studies. She is currently preparing for finals for classes like Asian Spirituality and Drawing. Tsyhankova is also involved in Archery and Outing Club and conducting research on the new religious movement in the U.S.

Kyba is studying Business Analytics at UCU and taking classes related to both finance and computer science at Notre Dame. Her most notable memory from the semester, though, was the first football game.

“I knew that everyone was looking forward to football games . . . and I was like: ‘Why are you so excited?’ But when the first game happened, that was unforgettable,” Kyba explained.

Droniak said that the semester has flown by, as she has stayed busy with her political science courses and meeting Notre Dame students. 

“I’m very happy that now I’m in this community of good people. I feel that when I communicate with American students and professors, I gain a lot of positive energy from that,” Droniak said.

However, even though they have all enjoyed their time at Notre Dame, the war in Ukraine looms over their head.

“Home doesn’t really feel like home . . . Since [Feb. 24], it’s just been weird to be home,” Tsyhankova said.

On Feb. 24, the day Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, Tsyhankova tried to escape Ukraine on foot with her mother, brother and dog. They got caught in a stampede after a group of students tried to push on the border gate and a frenzy ensued. Tsyhankova said that she knows some people died in the stampede, although her family escaped and started walking back to their home.

“From 3 p.m. to 4 a.m., we were walking in one direction, and from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., we were walking in another direction [until] some men picked us up and brought us to the bus station,” Tsyhankova said. Her family then spent four months with her godmother in Spain, and then Tsyhankova attended summer school in Croatia. She returned to Ukraine for a month before leaving for Notre Dame.

“I wake up every day being really scared that something happened to my family, so that’s the scariest part because you don’t know when or under what conditions you will see them again,” Tsyhankova said.

Kyba said the hardest part of moving away from Ukraine during the war is not having information on what’s happening. She recalled a time in October when she woke up at 5 a.m. to a bunch of texts from her friends asking each other if they were alright. 

“That was a massive attack, and I couldn’t reach my family because the connection was bad. And I was just sitting near my room and trying to call my parents to find out whether they are okay,” Kyba said.

Droniak noted that due to the war, many young adults had to grow up fast.

“War makes all Ukranians adults very soon. Children and young people have to be very responsible for their families, and they have to be proactive citizens.” Droniak said and expressed how she has appreciated the opportunity to just be a student at Notre Dame.

The Ukrainian Society of Notre Dame hosted a panel discussion in September where five UCU students spoke about their experiences in Ukraine. Droniak and Kyba both spoke and were touched by how many people were curious about their lives.

“I was surprised that people were really interested in us, and I just realized, another time, that people here care about that,” Kyba said.

Droniak also urged Notre Dame students to continue caring about the war, even as the invasion enters its ninth month.

“[Don’t] be indifferent to problems that are outside your country,” she added.

Droniak emphasized how thankful she was for the opportunity and her intentions heading back home.

“We all are grateful to the administration of Notre Dame that they gave us this opportunity, and we will use this knowledge to the best of our abilities to rebuild Ukraine after the war,” Droniak said.

Contact Katie Muchnik at kmuchnic@nd.edu.

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Ten quotes that defined the Notre Dame season

“I think we learned that we have a good football team, but we have to learn how to finish.” – Marcus Freeman

Freeman said this after Notre Dame’s season-opening 21-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State. At the time, it felt like the general consensus surrounding the Irish. Notre Dame fell a couple of spots in the polls after the defeat, but after leading the Buckeyes late into the third quarter, the competitive loss felt every bit like two elite teams battling it out. Defensively, the Irish wavered late but otherwise held down one of the best offenses in the country. However, Freeman did fall to 0-2 as a head coach, marking the second game that he lost after holding a halftime lead. 

“You really can’t just sulk in these losses. I mean, we’re 0-2, yes, and it’s horrible, it’s horrible, but we’re just going to prepare for the next team.” – Michael Mayer

The junior tight end and captain of the Fighting Irish stood in front of media after the most shocking loss of his collegiate career and the past few seasons of Notre Dame football. The Irish had just lost to Marshall, 26-21, falling to 0-2 in the process. With national championship hopes dashed, Notre Dame needed to find something else to play for. “It’s horrible” summed up the feelings of the fanbase. With an elite recruiting class waiting in the wings and a promising head coach that was struggling on the field, the Irish program’s health felt like it depended on turning the season around. 

“My mindset has never changed since the moment I got here … I will always be prepared and as ready as possible for any point that I need to help the team.” – Drew Pyne

At the tail end of that Marshall loss, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner went down with an injury that kept him out the rest of the season. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne entered and couldn’t lead the comeback, but from there on out, he was the starting quarterback. While the numbers weren’t gaudy, Pyne gritted his way through the season, winning eight of ten games as the starting quarterback for the Irish. Now in the transfer portal, Pyne lived up to what he said prior to the Week 3 clash with Cal. He stayed ready and largely kept his team in a position to win games, turning an 0-2 Notre Dame squad into a team that was playing for a New Year’s Six bowl in the season finale. 

“There was a conversation between me and God …There was some, ‘Lord, what is going on?’” – Marcus Freeman

Freeman’s first win was not a smooth ride. The Irish beat Cal, 24-17, but on the last drive of the game, the Irish forced multiple turnovers that were ultimately overturned. A fumble return for a touchdown was brought back due to the quarterback being down, giving Cal a final chance. Their Hail Mary for the win bounced around before being batted down in the end zone. After the crazy finish, a relieved Freeman recounted his ‘conversation’ with God as he attempted to secure his first win as a head coach. Despite the chaotic finish, the Freeman Era had officially gotten off the starting blocks with its first win. 

“You’re a fool if you can’t find a way to get the ball in his hands” – Marcus Freeman

This quote came after the North Carolina game, from Freeman about Mayer. It really could have come after any contest, but Mayer posted one of his several elite performances against the Tar Heels. He caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, leading the Irish offense to 45 points after they had combined for just 55 in the first three weeks. The Irish’s success in the passing game became nearly synonymous with Mayer’s performance. He ended the season as the all-time leader in career receptions, yards and touchdowns by an Irish tight end. 

“We know it was a tough week for all of us. Anybody that’s a part of this Notre Dame family or Notre Dame Nation and this football team, it was a tough week” – Marcus Freeman

After a three-game surge that had the Irish creeping back toward the Top 25, Notre Dame came crashing down to earth in a 16-14 loss to Stanford. After seemingly pushing the right buttons and getting the program back on track, Freeman was faced with a whole bunch of questions. The Irish came out with more urgency the following week, finally performing well as a big favorite. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but the result was never in doubt. Notre Dame trounced UNLV, 44-21. Freeman was very honest after the game in reflecting on the mood of the team that week. He noted the importance of displaying some of that urgency in this game. While the actual result wasn’t particularly noteworthy, it did keep the season from going completely off the rails. 

“You look at every game that we have won, I think we rushed the ball 40 plus times. That’s been our backbone. We knew this defensive line was special, but we couldn’t shy away from our strength.” – Marcus Freeman

These next two quotes are both about the identity that Notre Dame began to form under Freeman. Also, it reflected something of a refreshing change with the Irish in big games. They had an identity and they stuck to it with success in a big moment. It would have been easy to assume they couldn’t run on No. 4 Clemson’s highly-ranked rush defense. But Notre Dame pounded the rock anyways and shoved their identity down the Tigers’ throats. In previous iterations of Irish football in big games, it felt like they were incapable — or unwilling —to do this. Under Freeman, they weren’t afraid to match strength against strength and came out on top. 

“Call duo until you can’t speak.”  – Tommy Rees

The Notre Dame offense frequently utilizes a run scheme called ‘duo’. Playing off the previous quote, it was the perfect example of Notre Dame leaning into their strengths and dominating a quality opponent. Notre Dame was pretty much the only team to out-physical Clemson and a lethal and well-coached run game and offensive line helped the cause. So, as Rees prepared to leave his box to come celebrate with the team, he told tight ends coach Gerad Parker “if I don’t make it down in time, call duo until you can’t speak.” Hard to argue the logic after his two running backs, sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, ran for 218 yards in the game. 

“We did not have the urgency or execution in the second [half]” – Marcus Freeman

After a dominant first half against Navy, the Irish slipped back into their second-half form from earlier in the season. The Irish nearly coughed up a 35-13 halftime advantage, giving up 19 unanswered points. It felt like a trend all season for Notre Dame. Against Ohio State, they gave up a 10-7 advantage at the break. A seemingly comfortable BYU win turned stressful due to a stagnant offense. Up 24-7 in the third quarter against Syracuse, the Irish stalled and gave up ten unanswered points, needing to intercept the Orange on a potential game-tying drive before pulling away. Ultimately, Freeman’s team felt a little lackadaisical when it came to intensity in the second half and the Navy game encapsulated that struggle. 

“What these seniors did for this program will be the reason why we do win a national championship in the near future” – Marcus Freeman

Year One of the Freeman Era may not have gone exactly according to plan, but after an 8-4 season, the Irish’s goals remain the same. This Freeman quote came after the Irish improved to 8-3 on Senior Day against Boston College. When he was hired, Freeman talked about an ‘unwavering standard’ and that standard remains in place. It was a bumpy road in year one, but Freeman made sure to honor the seniors that turned the season around and remind everyone that the hunt for a national championship in the coming years is still very much alive in South Bend.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Fashion designer Thom Browne hosts football game photo shoot at Notre Dame

Notre Dame is well known for its football games, but the game on Wednesday, Oct. 26 was a little different.

Two 15-person teams of Notre Dame undergraduates, Team Onslaught in navy and Team Rockne in gray, faced off on South Quad.

According to the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study (NDIAS), which hosted the game, “The uniforms — which included not cleats and helmets but cashmere knits, waffle-knit long johns and striped rugby polos — were the real star of the show.”

Notre Dame graduate and luxury fashion designer Thom Browne ’88 organized the fashionable football game. Each year since 2014, Browne has hosted a football-themed photo shoot to promote his fashion line. Until this year, Browne has always held the shoot at Central Park in New York City.

Photos from the Notre Dame shoot, featuring students as models, were published in GQ and Vogue.

NDIAS director Meghan Sullivan said she was “over the moon” that Browne decided to hold the shoot at his alma mater.

“It was a chance to show the world, like all the readers of Vogue and everybody who follows high-end fashion, that Notre Dame is a big player in this space, and alums from our university are leaders in fashion,” Sullivan said. “Frankly, those students who are in the fashion shoot… watch this space, because, 10 years from now, they’re going to be leaders in this industry.”

Sullivan said students had to apply to take part in the photo shoot, and NDIAS selected them based on their creativity, their interest in fashion and their interest in taking next semester’s one-credit course, “Strong Suits: The Art, Philosophy And Business Of Thom Browne.”

According to NDIAS, the course will explore how fashion is designed and manufactured; the business strategy of artist-owned luxury brands; fashion writing and criticism; and more.

Sullivan, a philosophy professor in addition to her role at NDIAS, and Michael Schreffler, an associate professor in the art, art history and design department, will teach the course, but Browne — NDIAS’s artist-in-residence for the 2022-23 academic year — will be a special guest.

Notre Dame students Luke Thornbrue (left), Aidan O’Brien, Chris Russo and Eno Nto in action during Thom Browne’s football game photo shoot. Courtesy of Sinna Nasseri

As for the football game, NDIAS managing director Angie Appleby Purcell said over 100 students applied to take part in the photo shoot, and 30 were chosen.

Purcell said both Browne and NDIAS wanted to create an opportunity for students that would allow them to creatively and innovatively approach fashion, “an area that, as a University, we don’t have tons of depth in, but have a lot of interest in growing in.”

Purcell wanted students to see the example of Browne, a graduate of the Mendoza College of Business, and know that even if fashion is “not the way you were educated at Notre Dame,” if it’s a passion, one can become ”highly successful.”

Thom Browne poses with Notre Dame student Ian Coates. Courtesy of Barbara Johnston

Ese-Onosen Omoijuanfo, a senior neuroscience and behavior major, was one of the students who modeled for the photo shoot. Omoijuanfo said as a STEM student, she loves going to a liberal arts university like Notre Dame.

“There is so much inspiration to be found in the arts, and as someone working towards being a well-rounded person, it means having these real-life experiences that Notre Dame does an amazing job of providing in my experience,” she said.

She said she applied to participate in the photo shoot because she enjoys studying aesthetics and beauty.

“I have taken a theology course, a philosophy course and a psychology course, and each has approached this topic from a different perspective,” Omoijuanfo said. “When I was looking at the application… it described it as an opportunity to understand the work that goes into creating an aesthetic work of art and offers insight into the philosophy of design and beauty. I thought that participating in a project like this would be interesting to see more of how the production side of aesthetic works.”

Since participating in the shoot, Omoijuanfo said her friends and family have been shocked to see her in magazines and social media posts. So was she.

“I guess I was just oblivious, but I didn’t know or realize where the pictures were going to be published. It wasn’t till one of my friends texted me ‘Hey, you’re in Vogue,’ that I realized,” she said. “Lots of people will send me posts… like ‘What?! How did this happen?’ and it’s funny to explain the story of how it all happened.”

Ese-Onosen Omoijuanfo (front row, second from left) was one of the students who participated in the Thom Browne photo shoot. Courtesy of Sinna Nasseri

Omoijuanfo added that everyone’s reaction has been “super kind and excited.”

“It’s not every day you get to model for Thom Browne, and it’s fun to share that excitement with people and kind of laugh about the randomness of the opportunity to do so,” she said. “I have good friends who really celebrate with me when good things or fun opportunities happen, so it has been a really fun experience.”

Contact Claire Reid at creid6@nd.edu.

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‘Know that you are never alone’: Community, family mourns loss of ND sophomore

James “Jake” Blaauboer passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 11. Blaauboer was a sophomore at Notre Dame, veteran of the U.S. Army and avid runner, but most importantly, he was a brother, a son and a friend.

Born in December 1995, Blaauboer grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Clifton Park. He lived with his loving parents, Mary and James “Jim” Blaauboer, and younger sister Molly Blaauboer. 

Molly Blaauboer, only 20 months younger than Blaauboer, said she was always the “proud younger sister,” following behind Jake throughout their schooling. 

“Molly is very outgoing and social, and Jake was very reserved and would keenly observe,” their mother, Mary Blaauboer, explained. 

Jake and Molly Blaauboer grew up together in Clifton Park, New York with their parents, Mary and Jim Blaauboer. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Right out of high school, Blaauboer enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then spent the next few years of his life in active and reserve duty, during most of which he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. 

After his service, Blaauboer started community college and applied to a myriad of other universities and colleges — one of which was the University of Notre Dame. Although his parents said they had no personal connection to Notre Dame, the family grew up watching Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish win football games. 

Blaauboer first transferred into the University in the fall of 2019, where he was a sophomore English major in St. Edward’s Hall. 

His family explained that although Blaauboer loved to read and write, he didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish with an English degree— which was why he took a leave of absence from the University in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

When he left Notre Dame, Blaauboer went directly into technical school where he learned to be a welder. Working with his hands was something that Blaauboer began during his time as the Army when he was randomly selected to be a mechanic, Molly Blaauboer said.  

“We’re getting outreach now about how great he was at being a mechanic and what a great soldier he was, which we totally believe, but it’s interesting to see the ripple,” she noted. 

After he finished technical school, the family said Blaauboer moved to Maine to work as a welder, far away from his hometown in New York. 

While the family was in Maine celebrating Easter 2022, Molly Blaauboer mentioned that Blaauboer announced his intention to return to Notre Dame unexpectedly. 

“This is completely out of the blue,” she said. “[He said,] ‘I have something to tell you guys … I’ve applied to be unparoled from Notre Dame.’”

Jake Blaauboer was only 20 months older than Molly, who said her teachers always liked to have another Blaauboer in their classrooms. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Molly Blaauboer noted that this wasn’t unlike Blaauboer and that he often changed his mind about what he wanted to accomplish with his life. 

“I would joke about how I wonder what he wants to do this week,” she laughed. 

Mary Blaauboer explained that Blaauboer wasn’t happy as a welder because he needed something more intellectually stimulating. The family said he loved to debate politics, philosophy and history with anyone who would listen. 

“He’s an intellectual person, you know, he was a deep thinker. He was a reader,” Mary said. 

Blaauboer had to go through an entire re-entry process, Molly said, and finally found out he was retuning in July. So, in August 2022, now 26 year old Blaauboer moved to Notre Dame for the second time but as a history major instead. 

Because adjusting to college life can be hard — especially the second time — Notre Dame’s care and wellness consultants in the Center for Student Support and Care put together a support group filled with re-admitted students, including Blaauboer and fellow sophomore Ua Tom.  

Tom, a theology major and native of the Bronx in New York City, said he was originally a Gateway student, but he took time off from the University because he didn’t want his first semester at Notre Dame to be controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic. While away, Tom returned to NYC and was a teacher in Chinatown. 

“All of us re-admits, we have our mental health issues, for sure, every single one of us. But that’s also what got us close,” Tom noted. 

The support group, colloquially named “we back” by the members, met every Wednesday at 4 p.m., according to Tom. 

“Self-deprecation was the highest form of humor that we have for ourselves in that group. We dropped out but we’re back,” he joked. 

Tom explained that Blaauboer stood out as a natural mentor and leader of the group.

“When Jake spoke, people listened, he was just so earnest and genuine. Jake always checked up on me and was a wonderful influence on myself and the rest of the readmitted students,” Tom said. “He happily and naturally took on the role of an older brother and mentor, and whenever I saw him it would totally make my day. It was clear from the moment that I met him that he had a big heart. His positivity and compassion was contagious.”

Tom said he would never forget one moment when Blaauboer helped Tom during a difficult period of time.

“I’ll never forget when I was really having a tough time [at the beginning of the semester] when I was in the thick of [transitioning] and really struggling to focus on class,” he explained. “Jake gave me a hug. He told me he was there for me, and I wasn’t alone.”

Although he had only known Blaauboer for a short time, Tom noted how much of an impact Blaauboer had on him, saying that he wished they had spent more time together. 

“He really was a light of a human being. He was such an easily likable guy who was really gentle and kind,” he said. “In some ways, he knew us better than we knew ourselves.”

Apart from classes and the support group, Blaauboer was also active in the Notre Dame Running Club. Race coordinator for the club and Stanford Hall junior Jonathan Karr said Blaauboer was an active member of the group and often volunteered to drive the team to and from meets. 

“He was very supportive of the entire team. He took pictures when we ran, he wanted us to succeed, and he cheered for all the runners,” Karr said. 

Karr emphasized how deeply grateful he was for Blaauboer’s positive influence on the team and for him personally. 

“I was a very close friend with Jake, and he really helped the team,” Karr noted. “He really, really embodied what it means to be a Fighting Irish.”

The family also emphasized how important running, particularly the routine of the sport, was to Blaauboer.

“He was strict with himself,” Mary Blaauboer said. “Routine and ritual were important to him in every aspect. So, there was a routine for food and exercise and friendships and then the school and work and everything. For him, overlapping those things was uncomfortable.”

They said he also loved comedy and was a huge fan of movies. Overall, the Blaauboers said the outpouring of love they have received from family, friends, teammates and anyone who knew Blaauboer has meant a lot to them. 

“That’s an amazing blessing and comfort — to know that he’s remembered and prayed for,” Mary Blaauboer said.

The family said Jake Blaauboer loved movies, comedy and running. He would also debate politics or philosophy with anyone who would listen. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Tom emphasized that anyone, who knew Blaauboer personally or not, can honor his memory by living fully and not being afraid to reach out to others.

“Live with the same spirit that he did,” Tom said. “Reach out and ask someone how they are doing, like he did for us.”

Fr. Pete McCormick, the inaugural assistant vice president for campus ministry, echoed Tom’s sentiment during Notre Dame’s mass of remembrance on Nov. 16.

“Sometimes words fail and can’t always communicate the depths of sorrow,” he said. “Be unafraid to reach out to a member of hall staff, the University Counseling Center (UCC) or campus ministry. Know that you are never alone.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Study finds Notre Dame football to have second largest fanbase in nation

Despite an undergraduate student population far smaller than that of other traditional college football powerhouses, a study from this past summer found Notre Dame to have the second largest fanbase in college football at an estimated 8.21 million.

The study, put together by strategy consultant Tony Altimore at Altimore Collins & Company, ranked the top-16 largest college football fanbases. It found Ohio State to have the largest fanbase in the country at 11.26 million fans. Texas trailed Notre Dame at number three, followed by Penn State and Michigan.

Altimore, who attended USC and has worked with consulting companies such as Deloitte and Booze Allen, as well as the CIA, used sources such as FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times and Vivid Seats to draw his conclusions. He normalized his findings with data from the census and Google. Although he admits the data is “not perfect,” Altimore said he was able to document insightful findings about loyalties toward college football programs.

“What I really wanted to do was help sports fans see how the teams they rooted for aligned with the college’s institutional strategy,” Altimore said. “Sports are just a small chunk of what a university is.” 

Notre Dame differentiates itself from most universities by how it establishes a unique identity outside of football, Altimore explained.

Many of the colleges with top fanbases have a strong “sense of place” and encapsulate “the essence of its people,” he said. Football teams like Ohio State, West Virginia and USC align their branding and image with their respective state and regions and subsequently draw many fans simply due to geography.

“Someone in southern Indiana might not necessarily always root for the Fighting Irish. They may be a Purdue fan, or even an IU (Indiana University) fan,” Altimore said. “But for the majority of people in Ohio, they feel a connection to OSU and feel as though they can root for it.” 

According to Altimore, Notre Dame doesn’t necessarily shine in the proximity of its fanbase or even the size of its alumni network. Altimore said what makes Notre Dame such a national fanbase is its unique and successful branding, along with its track record and deep football history. 

“Notre Dame has a great combination of national recognition, relevance and strong brand identity,” Altimore said. “Notre Dame fans are everywhere.”

Whereas colleges like USC appeal to a large population of fans, they are mostly concentrated in Los Angeles, with fans that tend to “fully lean into L.A. stereotypes,” Altimore said. Notre Dame fans are so spread out across the nation that they do not have to live in South Bend or graduate from the University to feel a part of the fanbase, he said.  

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and reputation as a premier academic institution create an inviting brand image that appeals to a wide variety of fans across the U.S., Altimore said. Notre Dame also brings in fans who attended small Catholic schools with no football teams. Notre Dame has such a large fanbase, he explained, that it is the leading college football fanbase in New York City. 

But it’s not just the University’s Catholic heritage and academic rigor that make Notre Dame an attractive fanbase.

“Winning matters,” Altimore said.

This is why football teams from the Ivy League have deteriorated in recent decades, he explained, because although they draw a lot of national recognition and have large alumni bases, they do not experience much success on the gridiron. Because of their poor track records, children of Ivy League fans tend not to become fans themselves, Altimore said.

While Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988, they have consistently stayed relevant with successful regular seasons.

Altimore said he was surprised to find that fanbase size did not affect television and streaming ratings as much as he assumed it would.

“People who watch college football don’t just watch their team,” Altimore explained. “They also tune in to watch their competition. People will watch Notre Dame games whether or not they like Notre Dame because Notre Dame is a relevant team who are fun to watch.” 

Drawing from this data also allowed Altimore to make predictions about the future of college football fanbases and viewings. Altimore believes the sport might start to see a split in fanbases, similar to British football teams.

“In Britain, fans cheer for local teams just based off of proximity, as well as cheer for one of the globally recognized teams like Manchester United or Chelsea.”

Altimore thinks that college football might be headed that way as well.

“Fans might cheer for Southern Illinois because they live close to it but also cheer for Notre Dame because they like the Irish.”

Contact Gracie Eppler at geppler@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Week 11 of College Football: Top 5 games

5. No. 15 North Carolina @ Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2, (Wake Forest -3.5)

North Carolina has run the table since their loss to Notre Dame, making the Irish win look all the better. The Tar Heels are currently 8-1 and are favorites to win the ACC Coastal division. The line favors Wake Forest, but the Tar Heels are 5-0 on the road this season. UNC quarterback Drake Maye has been lighting it up the entire season, passing for nearly 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. The fact that he is putting up these gaudy numbers as a freshman should be extremely encouraging to Tar Heel fans. Maye is absolutely destroying defenses and could even garner some consideration for the Heisman. Wake Forest is coming off of two straight losses, which has seemingly eliminated them from conference contention. The only thing they have left to play is the role of spoiler; they could derail North Carolina’s hopes for a New Year’s Six Bowl. After a great start to the season, Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has thrown 3 interceptions in each of his last two games. North Carolina has a porous pass defense, so there will probably be holes in the coverage.

4. No. 22 UCF @ No. 16 Tulane, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2, (Tulane -2)

Tulane is the top-ranked team in the Group of Five, which puts them on track for a New Year’s Six game. The Green Wave are 8-1, with a signature win over a Kansas State team that is currently ranked 23rd. Their only loss was a letdown game to Southern Mississippi the week after their upset. Running back Tyjae Spears has been on a tear for the Green Wave, rushing for over 100 yards in each of his last three contests. On the other hand, UCF has a case for being the best team in the state of Florida. The Golden Knights are 7-2 and trail only the Green Wave in the conference standings. Head coach Gus Malzahn has engineered an offensively talented team; UCF has put up 40 points in four of their games this year. Two weeks ago, UCF won their biggest game of the season so far, beating Cincinnati 25-21. Backup Mikey Keene had to lead the Golden Knights to victory, and he also beat Memphis last week by a score of 35-28. 

3. No. 24 Washington @ No. 6 Oregon, 7:00 p.m., FOX, (Oregon -13.5)

The seminal PAC-12 game of the week is a pivotal rivalry contest. Washington needs a win to keep their hopes of a PAC-12 championship alive. The Huskies have shown flashes of an extremely talented team in the first year of the Kalen DeBoer era, but lack a true signature win. Last week, quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. led a game-winning drive to beat a ranked Oregon State team and the Huskies are largely dependent on the play of Penix. In their losses to UCLA and Arizona State, Penix has made crucial mistakes, throwing interceptions in each. The Huskies also have a suspect pass defense due to both injuries and inexperience. Oregon has inspired its fans into once again thinking about a potential playoff bid. Quarterback Bo Nix is having a lot more fun than he did in the season opener, as the Ducks have ripped off eight straight wins since a 49-3 demolition at the hands of Georgia. Nix has 22 touchdowns compared to just 5 interceptions. Last week, the Ducks destroyed a 1-8 Colorado team 49-10. If there is more chaos on the national scene, the Ducks could back their way back into the playoff. However, they have to win out. 

2. No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m., CBS, (Alabama -11.5)

It’s a rare sight to see Ole Miss with the better record in the annual meeting between these two SEC teams. The Rebels are 8-1, but haven’t done it in a very convincing manner. Last week, they needed another monster performance from freshman running back Quinshon Judkins in order to beat a 3-5 Texas A&M. Judkins rushed for 205 yards in last week’s victory, a game he played on his 19th birthday. The Rebels needed a bounce back from their first loss two weeks ago, 45-20 to LSU in which they utterly collapsed after holding a 17-3 lead. The Tide are still sore from their own loss to LSU, a 32-31 overtime classic. After scoring a touchdown to start overtime, LSU responded with a touchdown of their own and scored on a two-point conversion to win the game. Alabama is 7-2, but has lost their games by a combined 4 points. Quarterback Bryce Young was routinely throwing under pressure last week, and an opportunistic Rebels defense needs to try and take advantage of any weakness they can find. Alabama was favored by nearly two touchdowns in their last game, but will the Rebels pull off another upset and send the Tide reeling?

1. No. 4 TCU @ No. 18 Texas, 7:30 p.m., ABC, (Texas -7)

TCU might just be the surprise of the season in college football. In head coach Sonny Dykes’ first season, the Horned Frogs have sprinted out to a 9-0 record (their best start to a season since 2010) highlighted by wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Although they’ve won all their games, they haven’t looked unbeatable. They have faced double-digit deficits twice: down by 18 to Kansas State and by 17 against Oklahoma State. Quarterback Max Duggan has been the architect behind the Horned Frogs’ meteoric rise. Duggan has 24 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions this season. He also has a host of talented receivers to spread the ball around to — nine have a touchdown this year. Texas is coming off of a huge win over Kansas State that keeps them in the race for the Big 12. Star running back Bijan Robinson ran for 209 yards and a touchdown as Texas withheld a Kansas State comeback to win by a touchdown. The defense came through for the Longhorns against Kansas State, forcing a fumble to ice the game. The Longhorns will need a similar effort if they want to win against this high-flying TCU offense.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

Categories
News

Clemson game ends in victory and injury, again

By Bella Laufenberg and Peter Breen

First-year Macy Gunnell entered Notre Dame Stadium this weekend feeding off the crowd’s energy and looking forward to a fantastic game. She left the field in an ambulance. 

The three-loss University of Notre Dame football team upset the No. 4 Clemson Tigers Saturday night, with a final score of 35-14. This primetime matchup was reminiscent of the 2020 Clemson-Notre Dame game when only socially-distanced students were allowed to watch in person. 

Before Saturday’s competition even began, the campus was electric, Gunnell said. Everyone was expecting to rush the field if Notre Dame could pull off the win, hoping to experience this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and not worrying about the consequences. 

Broken tibia ‘worth it’ for the win

“I’m definitely feeling the adrenaline of the game the entire day,” she said. “The whole game, I mean, it was perfect.”

Gunnell, a Saint Mary’s College nursing major, said the feeling in the stadium began to shift when the game was about three minutes away from finishing. This was when she and her friends began to move down section 35, the first-year student section behind the tuba marching band row, in preparation for what was to come. 

Before she reached the field, Gunnell said the crowd was overwhelmingly aggressive, pushing and shoving her into the ground. 

“People immediately started springing out from the stands, jumping onto the field, and as that happened, people just progressively started pushing more and more forward,” Gunnell explained. “Then next thing you know, there’s bodies on top of bodies, and I was unfortunately at the bottom of that pile.”

While she was trapped under the pile, Gunnell described the experience as “absolutely terrifying.”

“It was just a complete 180 switch from being excited to rush the field and the next thing you know, I’ve got 20 people on top of me,” she said. “It was scary, I was genuinely scared that I was going to get seriously hurt.”

Gunnell said, although she was grateful for making it out without more serious injuries, she did break her tibia during the commotion.  

“As soon as I was able to get out from under the pile, the realization of the pain of what just happened hit me. That’s when I knew that I needed to get someone’s attention and get myself out of there,” Gunnell recalled. 

She also expressed how thankful she was for the band members and friends that pulled her out and stayed with her for the 30-plus minutes it took for the medics to reach her. 

After being shuttled out of the stadium by EMTs and going to a nearby hospital in an ambulance, Gunnell said she was huddled in the emergency room waiting room for seven hours with around 10-12 other game day survivors, including some other students and older alumni. 

“Funny thing was, whenever I got to the ER, there were actually several students there in the waiting room with me from injuries from the game,” she said.

Gunnell said she spent the whole night in the waiting room, before leaving around 7 a.m. and deciding to try another hospital in the morning. Now, Gunnell said she has a cast, crutches and some good spirits. 

 “I don’t really think it’s any single person’s fault,” she said. “I think this is a good story. I’d say it’s worth it with the dub that we got.”

Trampled band stays in the stands

Junior trumpet player Megan Ebner watched the mayhem unfold from the stands.

“When you’re in the band, you represent the University,” Ebner said.

Band members had complied to band directors’ instructions not to rush the field during the 2020 Clemson upset and understood going into this year’s matchup against the Tigers, they would have to stay put in the event of a field rush.

“We all kind of knew it’s just a general rule that we can’t rush the field,” Ebner said. “[We] stayed in the stands, and it was crazy.”

As the fourth quarter wrapped up, Ebner and the rest of trumpets standing in the final row of the band’s stadium seating struggled to redirect rows of students streaming down the bleachers around the immobile pack of musicians.

“We told the people, ‘You have to go to the left on the right,’ and the ushers were trying their best, but the students really just wanted to get onto the field,” Ebner said. “We were telling them, ‘You can’t come through here. There’s no space. If you tumble down and hit a bass drum, we’re all going down [and] it’s going to hurt a lot, so you need to go around.’”

While students started pushing and piling up, the band could do nothing but attempt to maintain their footing.

“It’s not like the band was funneling onto the field. We just weren’t moving,” Ebner said. “It was definitely a bit scary with all the people and no one really being in control.”

Quarantined students rush to redemption

Roommates Andrew Koo and Eddie Walsh were excited to rush the field this time around, after receiving a phone call from the University’s COVID-19 response unit Monday morning of the week leading up to the Clemson game in 2020.

“I knew that I’d be shafted for the game. I was going to be screwed,” now-senior Koo said.

Koo’s roommate in Dillon Hall, Walsh, had been hauled off to The Foundry the day before following a positive COVID test.

“I had tested positive, and so obviously, that put me and Andrew in quarantine,” Walsh said. “Me for the next 10 days [and] Andrew for the next week — both out for the game.”

Koo was in denial, anticipating the game to be one of the biggest nights of his four years of college.

“I tried everything I could on the phone with the quarantine people,” Koo said. “I considered not even showing up to the Joyce Center to go.”

As Koo tried to rationalize the situation, he said he couldn’t help but feel hurt seeing the social media posts, knowing that he’d have to carry this missed opportunity in the back of his mind for the rest of his college career.

Walsh meanwhile, maintains that that night was the best day of a “pent-up” fall 2020 semester. 

“I’m standing on a balcony on Eddy Street screaming. Everyone in town is going wild,” he said.

Koo and Walsh were watching the game together in the student section this Saturday. With each Irish score, they grew more and more excited about a chance for field-rushing redemption.

“We were just looking at each other at each touchdown and then next, thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’re actually gonna be able to do this,’” Koo said.

Though the journey from high up in the stands was daunting, there was something freeing about throwing caution to the wind on the way to the field.

“At one point, my foot got caught under a bleacher and I was like, ‘Oh, this is it. I’m breaking an ankle,” Walsh said. “But luckily nothing bad happened. It seemed like everyone had a good time.”

Koo and Walsh never thought that after their sophomore year, they’d ever get a chance to rush the field again.

“Last night felt a lot sweeter, knowing the situation,” Koo said. “Especially since it was our senior year, and we were able to finally do that. It was a great feeling.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

Categories
Viewpoint

A controversial column

An inside column can be many things: Funny, cliche, informational, emotional, controversial or otherwise. When I realized (a bit too late) that I had an inside column due this Sunday, I had a decision to make.  

I’ve already covered funny-ish when I told the campus that I was using Taylor Swift’s Red to recover from a break-up. And my last column was emotional, a detailed account of my mental health struggles and my journey to self-compassion — which I am still working on to this day. 

I decided I wanted to try my hand at a Ryan Peters-esque controversial column. Unlike Ryan’s tie to athletic endeavors (see: making physical education a requirement again and removing the last names off the football team’s jerseys), I don’t particularly care about the sports program outside of cheering on our teams at games. My love of sports lies in Wisconsin and the Packer’s horrible season, definitely not in the nuances of college football or gym class (which I did everything in my power to avoid as a high schooler). 

But nonetheless, throughout my time here, I too have collected a myriad of “unpopular” opinions. Are they horribly wrong and extremely unimportant? Probably, but I have a column to write and no other ideas. 

My top controversial Notre Dame-themed opinions (separated into sections in true Bella fashion)

1. Southwest salad >>> 

Starting off strong with my least unpopular opinion (I think). When I first got to campus in the year of our Lord 2020, one of the first stories I wrote was an update to the dining halls with the new COVID-19 regulations. During my interview, the administrators told me that one of their top priorities was bringing back the popular Southwest salad. Unbeknownst to me as a newbie to the tri-campus and to journalism, this salad would change my life.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I adore it. You can ask my friends, and I’m sure they will attest to the fact that I wholeheartedly love getting my Southwest salad every Thursday. I also gave a class presentation once about the powers of this mystical salad, embarrassing but true. Although I’ve been slacking lately, I know I can always count the NDH ladies for a great midweek pick up. 

2. Scooters are helpful if you know how to use them

All right, this one might be a little farfetched, but I am a sucker for convenience. In my sophomore year, I started doing undergraduate research in a biology lab that is located across the street in the Indiana School of Medicine (in the same building as the Harper Cancer Research Center). Very quickly, I realized that the 20+ minute walk in the South Bend winter was NOT IT. So, like a diligent daughter, I begged my father to buy me a fancy electric scooter like all the athletes have (does Notre Dame have a partnership with Go-Trax??). 

And though I definitely don’t look as cool as the football players, I can be seen scooting by whenever I have an over 5-minute walk or am running late (always). A caveat to this opinion is that I am a respectful scooter user, I promise. I only use the roads or unoccupied sidewalks and never zoom past people at 15+ mph, which is downright rude honestly.

3. North quad (and NDH) is supreme 

As a resident of the wonderful (if a tad problematic) Breen-Phillips Hall, I am a North Quad girlie through and through. 

I am already nostalgic about summer evenings when music blasts from speakers in either Zahm, Keenan or Stanford Halls, and everyone fills out the small lawn with blankets and outdoor games. I feel at home in NDH, which is a little tacky but can somehow always be counted on to be playing bops and bangers at dinner (and has debatably better food). I love that we have a great view of the Dome and short walks to almost anywhere you need to go (cue my one morning class in Geddes Hall!). 

Plus, we’re closer to the fire station for those 4 a.m. fire alarms … And after all, who can resist the beautiful women of Farley Hall? Certainly not Fr. Jenkins or me. 

4. The Observer is the best student group on campus

I detect no bias in that statement … But on a real note, my Notre Dame experience would not be what it is without the Observer. It’s been my home from the first week on campus, and I would consider my colleagues who work alongside me to be some of my closest friends. I’ll leave it there before I get too sentimental, but let’s both look forward to an amazing goodbye column in T-minus a year and a half. 

If you got all the way through this, thank you. I think this was a real bonding experience. Please send me your craziest Notre Dame (or otherwise) controversial opinions. I would love to debate or agree with you, possibly over a Southwest salad lunch?

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu (or by looking for the one person who doesn’t look athletic with a scooter).

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
Sports

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