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Predicting the College Football Playoff committee’s toughest decisions

With just three weeks remaining in college football’s regular season, a chaotic race for the College Football Playoff has become clearer, and the number of teams with hopes of reaching the final four has dwindled. After eight seasons with the current playoff system in place, there is an unofficial hierarchy of qualifications that shape the Committee’s decisions. In order of teams in the group being most likely to make the playoff to least likely, they are:

  1. Undefeated Power Five conference champions/undefeated Notre Dame: 11/11 teams with this resume have been selected
  2. One-loss Power Five conference champions: 16/19
  3. One-loss Power Five teams with no conference championship: 3/7
  4. Undefeated Group of Five conference champions: 1/7

No team that did not fall into one of these groups has ever made the playoff, and based on these criteria, there are eleven teams still fighting for a national championship this season. Given the unlikeliness of the committee to ever leave out the SEC Champion, especially one with wins over both Alabama and Georgia, two-loss LSU makes the number of contenders twelve.

While the playoff was established with hopes of giving every deserving team a shot at a national title (something that the BCS system often failed to do), annual debates over the final playoff spot remain inevitable. This year, in particular, there are very few teams that have the ability to establish themselves as playoff “locks” over the final weeks of the season. It appears increasingly likely that the committee will have to choose between several similar candidates rather than there being a clear-cut top four that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

With that being said, here are some of the most challenging decisions that the committee could face, with predictions on which team would likely be selected in each scenario based on playoff rankings from this season as well as past selections.

Tennessee (11-1) vs Oregon (12-1, PAC-12 Champion)

It is certainly plausible that Tennessee and Oregon could both reach the playoff. However, in the reasonably likely scenario that No. 1 Georgia, the Big Ten champion, and No. 4 TCU all remain undefeated, both teams would have legitimate claims to just one available spot. The committee indicated that Tennessee holds the edge by ranking the Volunteers at No. 5, one spot ahead of Oregon. However, winning a conference championship has historically been a major factor for selection, and only the Ducks have that opportunity. In 2014, TCU was ranked No. 3 entering the season’s final weekend. But the Big 12 had no championship game at the time. The Horned Frogs were passed over for Ohio State, who was ranked No. 5 but won the Big Ten Championship. We could see a similar outcome this year.

While Tennessee has impressive wins over Alabama and LSU, Oregon has already beat UCLA and can earn quality wins against Utah and either USC or UCLA in the PAC-12 title game down the stretch. Each team’s loss came against Georgia. While Tennessee looked more impressive in defeat, that should not be a significant differentiator ,as the Bulldogs beat both teams soundly.

Ultimately, the decision may come down to Tennessee finishing its season against unranked Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt while Oregon faces multiple highly-ranked teams. This would go against the committee’s historical preference for the SEC. But the resume of an Oregon team riding a twelve-game winning streak and winning a conference title should be just strong enough to leapfrog them past Tennessee and into the playoff.

Verdict: Oregon

UCLA (12-1, PAC-12 Champion) vs Clemson (12-1, ACC Champion)

Three one-loss teams remain in the hunt to win the PAC-12 Championship. No. 6 Oregon and No. 8 USC have currently ranked ahead of No. 10 Clemson. Given the Tigers’ unimpressive schedule and dismal performance against Notre Dame, if the Ducks or Trojans were to finish the season with just one loss, it would be nearly impossible for Clemson to pass them. Where the debate gets interesting, though, is in pitting Clemson against No. 12 UCLA. The Bruins’ weak non-conference slate and unremarkable eye test dragged it far below its conference counterparts in this week’s rankings.

Regardless, UCLA would have a strong case to surpass Clemson by winning its final four games. Two weeks from now, UCLA will face USC. Winning that game alone might be enough to push them ahead of the Tigers. Beating an elite Oregon team in the PAC-12 Championship would be icing on the cake. Coupled with impressive wins against Washington and Utah earlier in the season, UCLA would have several quality wins. Clemson, even by beating North Carolina in the ACC Championship, simply cannot compare.

Verdict: UCLA

LSU (11-2, SEC Champion) vs Tennessee (11-1)

This is likely a scenario that the committee looks at with dread due to the vitriol they would receive from the fanbase of whichever team was not selected. No team with two losses has ever reached the playoff. But to leave out an SEC Champion would be just as shocking. Conversely, it is hard to look past Tennessee traveling to Death Valley and obliterating LSU by a score of 40-13. And the Volunteers having just one loss could ultimately be a deciding factor.

A similar situation arose during the 2016 season when Penn State defeated Ohio State during the regular season to earn a berth in the Big Ten Championship. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten title to finish 11-2, but were snubbed from the playoff. Instead, 11-1 Ohio State, who Penn State had beaten head-to-head, made it in. This year, the Volunteers hold an even greater advantage than Ohio State did that year. Tennessee beat LSU while the Buckeyes lost to Penn State and still reached the playoff.

If the season were to play out in this fashion, there is a strong chance that both teams would be in the top-four. With only one spot to fight for, precedent gives Tennessee, with the head-to-head advantage and one fewer defeat, the edge.

Verdict: Tennessee

TCU (12-1, Big 12 Champion) vs USC (12-1, PAC-12 Champion)

For No. 4 TCU, the path to the playoff is simple: finish the season undefeated, and they’re in. A loss would make it difficult for the Horned Frogs to make the top four — but not impossible. A 12-1 TCU team would likely fall behind Oregon if the Ducks were to win the PAC-12 Championship. But the Frogs would have a viable case against a 12-1 USC. It is difficult to see why the committee thinks so highly of No. 8 USC. The Trojans have struggled defensively and are 0-1 against ranked opponents this season.

However, they will certainly have a chance to prove themselves in the coming weeks. They are staring down a three-week gauntlet against UCLA, Notre Dame and, if they reach the PAC-12 Championship, likely Oregon. Comparatively, TCU has consistently played tight games in the unspectacular Big 12. While the Frogs hold a clear edge to this point, USC has a chance to pick up three signature wins. Doing so should earn them the right to play for a national title. TCU controls its own destiny. But one slip-up will likely have them on the outside looking in.

Verdict: USC

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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College football top games week 6

5. Texas @ Oklahoma, 12 p.m., ABC, (Texas -7)

Sandwiched in between the two weeks of the Texas State fair in Dallas is the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma. The game is almost guaranteed to be a good one as regardless of the quality of the teams, only one game since 2014 has been decided by over ten points. Oklahoma has had a rough past two weeks, losing to both Kansas State and TCU after rising as high as sixth in the rankings. Head coach Brent Venables, who is seen as a defensive whisperer, needs to work some magic to get this Sooners defense back to the level Oklahoma fans expected. Texas also could welcome back quarterback Quinn Ewers, who hasn’t played since getting injured versus Alabama in the second week of the season. The Longhorns fell victim to an upset bid from Texas Tech two weeks later, but rebounded with an 18 point win over West Virginia to get to 3-2. Both fan bases are some of the most devoted in college football, and whichever head coach loses this game will get a lot of heat. Can Oklahoma stop their slide? Or, will Texas reassert themselves as a contender in the Big 12? 

4. No. 8 Tennessee @ No. 25 LSU, 12 p.m., ESPN (Tennessee -2.5)

After losing to Florida State in heartbreaking fashion in week 1, head coach Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers have won four straight games to sneak into the bottom of the Top 25. In their SEC victories, the Tigers have come back from 13 points against Mississippi State and a 17 point deficit against Auburn. Quarterback Jayden Daniels has carried LSU at times, leading them on pivotal drives to help regain leads. The defense has also made plays, forcing key turnovers. The next game is clearly the toughest on LSU’s schedule so far. Tennessee has earned a pair of big wins against Pitt and Florida, allowing them to skyrocket into the top 10. Quarterback Hendon Hooker has been a playmaker for the Volunteers, averaging nearly 300 yards passing per game. The Volunteers also have the benefit of coming off of a bye, allowing them to prepare for the mobility and improvisational skills of Daniels. Wide receiver Cedric Tillman, one of the best pieces for Tennessee, is questionable to play. Getting him on the field would be a huge boost for Tennessee as they go on the road to one of the toughest places to play in college football. 

3. No. 16 BYU @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC, (Notre Dame -4)

BYU has shown flashes of brilliance this season while also dealing with some inconsistent play. After winning their first game easily, they took Baylor down to the wire, winning in double overtime. They then got blown out by Oregon, but have responded with two wins over inferior competition in Wyoming and Utah State. Although the Cougars won, in each game they have failed to put together four quarters worth of quality football. If they want to beat Notre Dame and keep the goals they have for this season alive, they can’t sleepwalk at the start of this game. They do have the benefit of quarterback Jaren Hall, one of the most exciting players to watch in college football. Notre Dame’s back seven will have to step up to the challenge against another prolific passing offense. The Irish have largely looked good against the pass, allowing just 21 points to Ohio State and playing well enough versus North Carolina to put the game out of reach. There are still offensive questions, although some have been put to bed for the time being after a 45 point performance against North Carolina. Furthermore, the Irish are coming off of a bye week, allowing for more practice opportunities and a chance to get healthy. 

2. No. 11 UCLA @ No. 18 Utah, 3:30 p.m., FOX, (Utah -4)

UCLA, led by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, just knocked off a previously unbeaten Washington team last week. It was the Bruins’ first win over a top-15 team since 2014, and a statement win for head coach Chip Kelly. Thompson-Robinson’s skills as a mobile quarterback in addition to running back Zach Charbonnet has helped make the UCLA backfield dynamic and fun to watch. The offensive line has more than held its own through the first five games. Although UCLA only won by eight, Washington never threatened; their fourth quarter rally was only good enough to make the box score look better. After Utah’s three point loss at Florida to begin the year, the Utes have responded with four blowout wins, the most impressive being a 42-16 win over Oregon State last week. Quarterback Cameron Rising is also a skillful runner and passer with a lot of weapons surrounding him. Sophomore Clark Phillips III caught three Beaver passes for interceptions. Their defense has looked much improved and they will need all of it to stop UCLA. This is a game that could be a deciding factor in the quest for a conference championship berth. 

1. No. 17 TCU @ No. 19 Kansas, 12 p.m., FS1, (TCU -6)

If someone told me that I would be ranking TCU-Kansas as the number 1 game this week at the beginning of the season, I would have said that I have a better chance of being struck by lightning. Nevertheless, this game is an undefeated Top 25 showdown with College Gameday in town. Kansas has been the feel-good story of college football. The Jayhawks are 5-0 for the first time since 2009. Head coach Lance Leipold has been the architect of a masterful turnaround. Quarterback Jalon Daniels looked like a dominant player in the first four games of the season, although he was bottled up against Iowa State. Kansas still found a way to beat Iowa State thanks to one of their best defensive performances in years. TCU has been led by its overwhelming offensive attack on the way to averaging over 40 points in its first four games, all of them wins. They are ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2019. Quarterback Max Duggan threw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns in a romp over Oklahoma, leading to him being named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week. This is the first time Kansas has hosted College Gameday, but TCU is 6-1 during these high-level games.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

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ZeLO: Overlooking the college football landscape

Whoever, you are, wherever you are, breathe. Feel better?

After an insane four weeks of Notre Dame, there is a lull in the season courtesy of an early bye week. The Irish are at an unexpected 2-2 record, and with this bye comes a chance for both fans and the team to collect their breath and prepare for the following slate of games. 

Moreover, with the collective pause comes time for ZeLO to look forward to the rest of the season — a bigger-picture view. But first, a minor update on the performance of ZeLO thus far. 

In the past four weeks, ZeLO had fallen behind, trailing by FPI by 17 games. Granted, that is small in the scheme of nearly 300 games, but FPI is firmly in the lead. This weekend, however, that changed (a bit). 

On Saturday, ZeLO beat ESPN in a head-to-head pick ’em competition. ZeLO picked 54-12 (.818) to FPI’s 51-15 (.773).

Is that a minor victory? Absolutely, FPI is currently 14 whole games ahead of ZeLO and has an incredible Brier Points margin. But it is a good sign. ZeLO is learning and reacting to stats and results as they come in, and this week’s result shows that. 

And so, with that announcement, it is time to look at ZeLO’s projections for the rest of the season.

Notre Dame

Last week I wrote that ZeLO had picked UNC to beat Notre Dame by a thin margin, primarily because of the high-powered Carolina offense. I did add that UNC looked like a paper ram because of their weak strength of schedule. 

And that was precisely what happened: ND exploited a poor UNC defense and lit up the scoreboard on offense. 

That data point was a massive change for Notre Dame, and it took the Fighting Irish from a team that was at best .500 to a solid 7-win team. It is probably not what you are looking for if you are among the Irish faithful, but it is at the very least good news. ND is 2-2, so they still have plenty of time to prove me wrong, but they need to show their growth against UNC is sustainable and not a flash in the pan against a poor defense. 

SEC

In August, the four SEC East teams I highlighted were Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky, with the Wildcats more of a wildcard team with high upside. Kentucky seized on that upside and is now third in the SEC East as a high eight-win team and a few simulations where they even turn in nine wins. Tennessee has crossed the double-digit threshold, but Georgia is still expected to make it to the title game. 

Not a ton has changed in the West, though it is worth noting that Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers are now a team to be reckoned with and are currently tracking as a high seven, low eight-win team. Otherwise, Roll Tide. 

B10

The B10 East has stayed relatively static, though Michigan has closed the gap with Ohio State and the two teams should decide who wins the division (and the conference) when they face off in November. Penn State is surging, though, and has an outside chance to be the East representative come conference championship week. 

ZeLO had initially picked the Wisconsin Badgers to win the West. But that prediction seems less likely by the day. Now, the Golden Gophers seem like the strongest candidate, thanks to their thrashing of Michigan State.

ACC

In the preseason, the Clemson Tigers seemed like a lock to win the Atlantic. And while the Tigers are still favored, the NC State Wolf Pack certainly have a chance to take the throne from them. We will find out this weekend if they can. The FSU Seminoles are considered a strong team, too. But they have yet to enter the same tier as NC State and Clemson.

The Coastal, the less clear division, now has a clear favorite. Because of North Carolina’s atrocious defense and Miami’s … overall play, Pitt is now the clear favorite to win the division and has a projected two-game lead on Miami and UNC.

Pac-12

I will go ahead and throw out the unique prediction of Arizona State being a contender for the Pac-12. Just a perk of beta testing a brand-new model, I suppose. But do not worry, because ZeLO is back with an even hotter take. Washington and USC will face off for the Conference Crown. At least the Huskies are ranked (unlike Arizona State in the preseason).

B12

As my colleague Joseph Tunney wrote earlier this week, Oklahoma State at Baylor has the potential to be one of the most critical games in the B12 conference schedule. Right now, ZeLO has Baylor and Oklahoma State as two of the three favorites to reach the conference championship, with the third being Oklahoma. This matchup can potentially shape the Conference Championship game later this season. 

G5

As of right now, the AAC Title game looks to be a showdown between Cincinnati and UCF. Though the Tulane Green Wave -— yes, Tulane -— has an outside chance to make it, too 

I am sure everyone reading this loves the Sun Belt Conference. But why would you not? Do you not just love a group of spunky underdogs? In the Sun Belt, the two strong contenders to come out of the East are Coastal Carolina and James Madison, who was recently promoted to the FFCS. In the West, it’s South Alabama.

Conference USA has a handful of teams with the potential to make the conference title game. However, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the UAB Blazers are the leading contenders.

In the Mountain West, Air Force still looks like the team to win the Mountain Division, though Boise State has had quite the fallout. In the West division, it looks like it should be Fresno State or San Diego State (I have absolutely nothing on that one).

The only strong-seeming team in the MAC East is Miami (OH), so at least there should be one successful Miami team this season. Toledo seems like the surest bet in the West, with Central Michigan and NIU looking like potential outside threats.

Unlike last time, I am going to offer a CFP prediction (though it will be brief — covering ten conferences and ND is kind of tricky in 1,100 words). 

Conference Champs

Alabama beats Georgia

Ohio State beats Minnesota 

Clemson beats Pitt

Washington beats USC (yes, this is real, what can I say)

Baylor beats Oklahoma

College Football Playoff

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Georgia

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

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What we saw in week 1 of college football

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

Florida kicks off new era with an upset win

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

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

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

Wild finish in App State-North Carolina

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

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

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

Iowa’s improbable victory

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

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

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

Kicking struggles prove costly

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

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

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

Georgia and Alabama are in a class of their own

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

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

Matthew Crow

Contact Matthew at mcrow@nd.edu

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Tunney: The Brian Kelly experience

On Sunday night, at about 11:15 PM, Brian Kelly held up a single finger. It proved to be a decision he may come to regret. Quarterback Jayden Daniels had just led the LSU Tigers on a miraculous 99-yard drive with just 80 seconds left in the game, culminating in what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown as time expired.

It had been a tough game for the Tigers. But they now stood an extra point away from taking a shell-shocked Florida State Seminoles team into overtime. Then, special teams reared their ugly head. A Florida State player burst through a hole in the left side of the line and blocked the extra point try, sending it careening off the bottom crossbar. Game over. Seminoles win.

A blocked extra point in itself is indicative of a terrible game for a special teams unit. But this was not the first mistake that the unit had made in the course of the game. Returner Malik Nabers fumbled two punts, twice setting the Seminoles up with amazing field position. Fortunately for LSU, the defense stiffened. On the first possession, the Tigers forced a turnover on down. On the second, they recovered a poorly executed pitch to kickstart the 99-yard drive.

However, the Tigers also could have won the game had they not let a previous field goal attempt also get blocked by Florida State. Kelly said a “switch in personnel” was made after the first block. But the issue was not corrected. If you compare the two blocked kicks, they look remarkably similar. Both tries resulted in the left side of the line caving in, allowing a defender to step in and get a hand on the football.

To add further insult, Florida State’s special teams unit was ranked 106th in the country last season. To put it simply, it could not have gone worse in the kicking game for special teams coordinator Brian Polian, who has seemed to be Kelly’s right-hand man. When Kelly left South Bend for the Bayou, Polin was the only assistant coach who followed.

For Irish fans, Kelly’s loss on Sunday had many familiar overtures. Special team woes seemed to strike the Irish at unfortunate times throughout Kelly’s tenure. One only has to look back to 2016 to see multiple similarities. In what Irish fans now call the hurricane game, Notre Dame lost 10-3 to NC State. The culprits? A blocked punt and (predictably) bad snaps. Or you could go back to Kelly’s first season in 2010. A blocked extra point returned for two points and punt return TD helped to doom the Irish against a markedly inferior Tulsa team.

Apparently, bad snaps also followed Kelly down to Baton Rouge. On LSU’s first possession they looked destined for the end zone until a bad snap at the Seminoles’ five-yard line eventually led to a field goal. LSU’s slow start versus the Seminoles allowed them to amass a 17-3 lead. Again, for Irish fans, it seemed eerily similar. Just look back to 2020, when the Irish amassed a total of seven yards in a win against Duke in the first quarter.

What was not similar (and even worse for LSU) was offensive line play. Throughout Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame, the Irish prided themselves on quality offensive line play. Just look at the NFL, it’s littered with Notre Dame linemen. For the Tigers last night, their offensive line got handled at the line of scrimmage. LSU was able to run for 139 yards last night. But the vast majority of the yards were on scrambles from Daniels after the line had broken. Having your quarterback lodge 16 rushes a game is not going to be a healthy proposition.

Furthermore, the decision to go for the extra point requires close scrutiny. Perhaps Kelly had bad memories of the Irish playing Northwestern in 2014. Kelly decided to go for two up 11, a call that failed and eventually led to Northwestern winning in overtime. Could that have been the reason why he took the ball out of the hands of the player who had willed his team to that point? One can only speculate.

The old saying goes that a leopard can’t change its spots. Maybe that’s true for tigers, too. Welcome to the Brian Kelly Experience, LSU.

Joseph Tunney

Contact Joseph at jtunney@nd.edu

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