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Moller: Taking a look at the teams in the CFP

On Sunday morning the college football playoff committee announced the College Football Playoff field with Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State being the four teams selected. There was plenty of drama this weekend with notable playoff implications, including USC’s stunning loss to Utah in the PAC-12 Championship and TCU’s overtime loss in the Big 12 Championship that set up this final four. With the four-team field set now, it’s time to take a look at each team.

Georgia

Georgia has been the most consistent team this season, and they have dominated every game this season aside from a close victory against Missouri in October. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has continued to command the Bulldogs offense this whole season. Bennett’s 68.1% completion rate is one of the highest in college football, and he will look to continue that against an Ohio State defense that has struggled with passing defense all season.

The Bulldogs also possess plenty of talent in the ground game with the trio of Kendall Milton, Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh all having over 500 rushing yards this season. In the receiving game, the Bulldogs are led by tight end Brock Bowers, who has 726 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Ladd McConkey has also developed as a reliable option at wide receiver as well.

In last Saturday’s win against LSU, the Bulldogs showed why they are the top-ranked team in the country, putting up 50 points against a formidable LSU defense. It’s going to take a lot to stop Georgia from winning another national title this season, and anything other than a repeat title for Kirby Smart’s team should be considered a disappointment.

Michigan

Although the Wolverines made the playoffs last season, they flew under the radar somewhat this year. The Wolverines, however, have embraced the underdog role this season, and their regular season culminated in a 45-23 drubbing of Ohio State in Columbus. On Saturday, the Wolverines took care of business against Purdue to complete their first 13-0 record in program history. 

The key to the Wolverines’ success at the end of the year has been the play of quarterback J.J. McCarthy. In the win against the Buckeyes, McCarthy had some huge plays and finished the day with 263 yards and three touchdowns. The Wolverines will need McCarthy to continue his hot streak into the playoffs if they want to have a chance at winning the national title.

Running back Donovan Edwards has also carried the Wolverines as of late with over 400 rushing yards in just the last two games. With star running back Blake Corum receiving season-ending surgery, Edwards must continue to be a work horse for the Wolverines in their backfield.

Although the offense has stepped up as of late for the Wolverines, the defense has been the team’s staple this season. The Wolverines rank third in the FBS in total defense, and they have allowed just 277 yards per game and only 4.45 yards per play. 

TCU

The Horned Frogs come into the playoffs as the biggest underdogs after losing the Big 12 Championship game Saturday to Kansas State. Despite the loss, this year has been a year to remember for the Horned Frogs. Quarterback Max Duggan has been the heart and soul of this team, and has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdown passes. Duggan’s season will likely earn him a trip to New York for the Heisman trophy, and if TCU is going to have any chance against Michigan, they will need Duggan to have a career day. 

Running back Kendre Miller has also been a spark for the Horned Frogs on offense this season, as he has averaged 6.2 yards per carry and has totaled over 1,300 yards on the ground this season.

No one is giving TCU a chance against Michigan in the CFP semifinals, but the Horned Frogs are playing with house money at this point. Although they will have a chance to prove themselves in the program’s first ever playoff appearance, the Horned Frogs’ defense must play better than they did against Kansas State if they are going to pull off an upset of Michigan.

Ohio State

Ohio State has arguably had the rockiest of roads to the CFP, and without USC’s loss on Friday night, they most likely would not have made the playoffs. Although the Buckeyes breezed through the majority of their regular season games, they hit a major road bump in their stunning home loss to Michigan at the end of the season. In that game, the Michigan offense gashed the Buckeyes for 252 yards on the ground, despite not having star running back Blake Corum.

Despite the stunning loss, C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes will have a chance to redeem themselves as heavy underdogs against Georgia. If the Buckeyes are going to compete, their defense is going to have to make a complete 180 from the Michigan game, which will no doubt be a challenge against a Georgia offense that ranks seventh in the FBS in total offense. 

In the Michigan game, the Ohio State offense let the team down as well by only scoring three points in the entirety of the second half. Although that was uncharacteristic for an Ohio State offense that averages nearly 500 yards per game, they will face another stiff test against a Georgia defense that led the SEC in yards allowed per game.

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Tunney: Top 5 conference championship games

5. Purdue vs. No. 2 Michigan (-16.5), 8 p.m.

Michigan is coming off of the best win in the college football season, a 45-23 dismantling of Ohio State. After big plays from quarterback JJ McCarthy and receiver Cornelius Johnson kept the Wolverines in striking distance at halftime, the bruising offensive line opened big holes for Donavan Edwards to sprint the field and ice the game. The Michigan defense stepped up, allowing just three points in the second half in addition to forcing two turnovers against a  vaunted Buckeyes offense. McCarthy was quick to say that the Wolverines “weren’t finished,” in his postgame interview, and they now travel to Indianapolis to face Big Ten West Champion Purdue.

The Boilermakers are coming off of an emotional rivalry win of their own against Indiana. After his older brother, Sean, passed away, quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns to lead Purdue to a 30-16 win. Purdue is a feel-good story, they have back to back 8 win seasons for the first time in 15 years. They also have a history of upsets, including 9 wins over the second-ranked team while being unranked themselves. Michigan is number two. Can the Boilermakers become the Spoilermakers once again?

4. No. 22 UCF vs. No. 18 Tulane (-3), 4 p.m.

UCF and Tulane are scheduled to play for the second time in a month this Saturday. Last month, the Golden Knights won 38-31 behind the play of quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. However, Plumlee has struggled to stay healthy since. Backup Mikey Keene, who has filled in for Plumlee in previous games, is in line to start if Plumlee can’t play. Last week, Keene filled in for Plumlee in the second half of a 46-39 win over rival South Florida. The two teams are the highest ranked among the Group of 5 conferences, meaning that the winner will head to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

UCF got the best of Tulane in the first round, and there is now uncertainty around the Green Wave. Head coach Willie Fritz has been rumored to be negotiating with Georgia Tech for their coaching position. It remains to be seen whether the rumors will affect the play of his team on Saturday. The Green Wave are coming off of a huge win over Cincinnati that got them to the conference championship game, and they have the benefit of being the home team. Green Wave running back Tyjae Spears is a player to watch. He has over 1,000 yards on the season and a conference-leading 16 touchdowns.

3. No. 11 LSU vs. No. 1 Georgia (-17.5), 4 p.m.

LSU has shown flashes of brilliance where they can defeat any team at any time. Their success will revolve around two players, quarterback Jaylen Daniels and linebacker Harold Perkins. Daniels suffered an ankle injury in LSU’s loss to Texas A&M last week, but head coach Brian Kelly said he is optimistic that Daniels will play in the SEC Championship game. However, his best attribute could be limited. Daniels has made the Tigers offense go this season due to his amazing scrambling ability in addition to his passing. With Daniels banged up, he may be less mobile against a frightening Georgia defense. Linebacker Harold Perkins is a star for the Tigers. He had four sacks against Arkansas earlier in the season.

Georgia, on the other hand, has a lethal defense and two weapons at tight end. Both Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are semifinalists for the Mackey award, given to the best tight end in the nation. Georgia’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 22 points the whole season. Head coach Kirby Smart and his Bulldogs are the favorites to win the national championship for the second year in a row, but in order to do it they have to defeat a talented LSU team. 

2. No. 13 Kansas State vs. No. 3 TCU (-2.5), 12 p.m.

Kansas State is coming off of a 20-point victory over rival Kansas to clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship game. Deuce Vaughan ran for 147 yards and a touchdown to earn their trip to the Big 12 Championship game. Vaughan has 1295 yards on the year and is one of the best running backs in college football. The Wildcats are looking for revenge, they lost the first matchup against TCU 28-38. However, Kansas State had an 18-point lead before TCU roared back with 28 straight points to win.

TCU is coming off of their most dominant performance of the season, a 62-14 demolition of an Iowa State team that had the best statistical defense in the Big 12. TCU has had many doubters throughout the season due to their inability to win games in a convincing fashion. However, the Horned Frogs have an unblemished 12-0 record. Quarterback Max Duggan has led the horned frogs the whole season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Head coach Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs are just one game away from the first playoff berth in program history. 

1. No. 12 Utah vs. No. 4 USC (-3), 8 p.m. Friday

The best game of the weekend surprisingly takes place on Friday night. USC needs a win to keep their spot in the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Caleb Williams is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman after his four-touchdown performance against Notre Dame. Williams has been superb the whole season, throwing for 3712 yards, 34 touchdowns and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. Head coach Lincoln Riley seems to have the Trojan offense humming on all cylinders, despite the loss of starting running back Travis Dye to a season-ending injury. What remains to be seen is if the defense can hold against the Utes.

Earlier in the season, the defense folded, allowing 43 points and a game-winning two-point conversion for Utah. Utah is the only team in the Pac-12 that is statistically top 20 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They are looking to defend their PAC-12 Championship from last season in pursuit of a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. If USC (or TCU) loses this week, chaos will ensue for the fourth spot. Would the committee put in Ohio State? Alabama? This weekend is the ultimate factor in determining who will be in the playoff come the end of the calendar year.

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Where to run, walk and hike in South Bend

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where the UW-Madison campus is seamlessly integrated into the city.

Local families and students alike stroll the same State Street, hike in the same arboretum and frequent the same restaurants and cafes without a second thought. So imagine my surprise when I came to Notre Dame and saw how completely divorced its students are from the rest of the South Bend community!

I’m now a senior, and I’ve realized I often feel more at home in South Bend than I do on campus. And as a marathoner, I feel most at home while running outdoors.

If you’re eager to get outside and explore South Bend, here are (from experience) three of the best trails to check out.

East Bank Trail

The East Bank Trail is great for a long, out-and-back run or bike ride. Tri-campus students can easily access it at the trail entrance on W. Angela Boulevard near Holy Cross College.

Much of the trail runs along the St. Joseph River and takes you past Howard Park, the Notre Dame Rowing facility, the farmer’s market and IU-South Bend.

If you’re down for an even longer run or ride (I use this part for my marathon training), you can take the trail to S. 26th Street and then turn right onto Mishawaka’s Northside Trail.

The Northside Trail offers gorgeous views of the river and Mishawaka’s beautiful parks and suspension bridges (my civil engineer boyfriend loves those). There are also plenty of drinking fountains in case you need a pick-me-up after traversing double-digit miles.

Riverside ‘West Bank’ Trail

Known as “West Bank” among the Notre Dame Running Club, the formal name for this trail is the Riverside Trail. (I just learned this while doing research for this column.)

The trail is about 3.5 miles long, providing another great option for out-and-back journeys, but it also provides easy access to the East Bank and LaSalle trails if you’d rather run/ride/hike a loop.

You can access the trail by turning right down the hill on W. Angela Boulevard and then turning right on Riverside Drive at the roundabout.

The trail runs right along the river and provides beautiful sunrise views. It also takes you through a residential neighborhood and past the newly-revitalized Pinhook Park.

At least three drinking fountains can be found along the trail, and bathrooms are available in Pinhook Park.

LaSalle Trail

Have you ever wanted to run/ride/hike across state lines? The LaSalle Trail makes a trip to Michigan easy.

You enter the trail by turning left on Dublin Road, just past Douglas Road and the Inn at Saint Mary’s.

Numerous restaurants, including Culver’s, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ and Subway, are available right off the trail between Cleveland and Darden roads.

The LaSalle Trail proper extends 3.5 miles to the state line and connects to the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail once you reach Michigan. (You won’t even notice you’re on a new trail.)

The River Valley Trail extends an additional 3-or-so miles to the Pulaski Highway. There, you can then take S. Third Street north to Fort Street and hop back on the River Valley Trail, which takes you into the heart of Niles, Michigan.

Despite completing an 18-mile out-and-back run on the LaSalle/River Valley trail, I’ve never traversed the entire thing, so if you’re looking for a long bike ride (or maybe training for an ultramarathon?), the trail provides plenty of ground to cover.

You can contact Claire at creid6@nd.edu.

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

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Tunney: Top five games of CFB Week 9

Another week of college football brings another slate of games, each with unique stories, traditions and players. In the words of famous sportscaster Brad Nessler, “you can go to every stadium in the country, and never see the same thing twice.”

5. Michigan State @  No. 4 Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ABC, (Michigan -22.5)

This iconic battle is waged for the 115th time this Saturday, as two teams with divergent seasons clash in a rivalry matchup. Michigan is 7-0 and has looked the part of a team willing to challenge Ohio State again for Big Ten supremacy. The Wolverine offensive attack possesses a talented group of wide receivers and strong backfield led by running back Blake Corum. Corum has received some Heisman trophy hype, the prognosticators currently project him with the fourth-best odds to win the award. 

After a good deal of preseason fanfare, Michigan State has had a rocky season, going 3-4. Their offense hasn’t gotten over the loss of NFL running back Kenneth Walker III, although the team still has playmakers. Wide Receiver Jaylen Reed had a game-winning catch against Wisconsin last week. Defensive end Jacoby Windmon has won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice. The Wolverines may be the better team talent-wise, but to achieve their goals they’ll have to get past a team that has been their kryptonite. Jim Harbaugh is 0-2 against Spartan head coach Mel Tucker, and the Wolverines are 4-10 in the last 14 matchups. 

4. Notre Dame @ No. 16 Syracuse, Noon, ABC, (Syracuse -2.5)

After an up and down month, the Irish travel east to central New York to play a surprisingly good Syracuse team. The Irish had the benefit of a get-right game last weekend, beating an inferior UNLV squad 44-21. Throughout the year, tight end Michael Mayer has looked like the real deal; he’s the leading receiver on an Irish team that needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back Audric Estime has run well at times but has struggled with ball security, fumbling three times in his past four games. If the Irish want to upset Syracuse, they will need to take care of the ball. Syracuse is 6-1, coming off of a tight loss to fifth-ranked Clemson. Running back Sean Tucker has been the best player for the Orange this year, which makes head coach Dino Babers’ decision to largely exclude him from the game plan against Clemson all the more confusing. Tucker only carried the ball five times for 54 yards. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has had a good year for the Orange, and if they want to stay in contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl Game, they will need this win. 

3. No. 9 Oklahoma State @ No. 22 Kansas State, 3:30 p.m., FOX, (Kansas State -1)

The Big 12 plays host to another important battle, a dogfight that could potentially decide the second spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. Both teams have lost to TCU, who has taken charge as the best team in the Big 12 thus far. Oklahoma State responded from their double overtime loss to TCU two weeks ago (their only loss of the season) with a huge win over Texas. Quarterback Spencer Sanders is dealing with undisclosed injuries, but he fought through to give the Cowboys an important win. Sanders threw for 391 yards and 2 touchdowns last week.

Kansas State has lost two games, to TCU and a ranked Tulane team, and have shown flashes of being a conference contender. The Wildcats were up 28-10 on TCU at one point before collapsing and allowing a comeback. Kansas State also barely avoided an upset against Iowa State. Quarterback Adrian Martinez also was injured against TCU, and although backup Will Howard filled in admirably, the starter’s health is a paramount concern. Both teams need the game to stay in the battle for the Big 12 Championship. 

2.  No. 19 Kentucky @ No. 3 Tennessee, 7:00 p.m., ESPN, (Tennessee -12.5)

This showdown between two ranked SEC teams has potential to be a classic. Quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Will Levis are two of the most talented in the country for their respective teams, and their showdown on Saturday night is going to be fun. Hooker has been the man behind the reins of an insanely talented offensive attack, and his connection with wide receiver Jalin Hyatt might end up leading the Volunteers to the SEC Championship and beyond. The Volunteers are playing their first conference game since their biggest win in years, a 52-49 win over Alabama. Fans stormed the field, uprooting the goal posts and transporting them out of the stadium into the nearby river. Last weekend, the Volunteers put up 65 points on a hapless UT Martin squad. Kentucky is coming off of their bye week, which allowed their star quarterback to get healthy. Two weeks ago, they earned a key win against a ranked Mississippi State, stopping a losing streak of two games. Kentucky’s philosophy is built on running the football and playing strong defense. If they can somehow get defensive stops this Kentucky team could turn Tennessee’s championship dreams into a nightmare.

1. No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 13 Penn State, Noon, FOX, (Ohio State -15.5)

Ohio State is undefeated and has a claim as the best team in the country. Quarterback CJ Stroud has been scary good, with 28 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. Ohio State has made their living off of having the best wide receiver rooms in the country over the past few seasons and this year is no different. Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming have more than stepped up in the absence of the crown jewel, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Head coach Ryan Day is hopeful that Smith-Njigba can return for his first game since his injury against Notre Dame. 

Last week, the Buckeyes obliterated an Iowa defense that some called the best in the Big Ten, overcoming a flat start to put up 54 points. Penn State is coming off of a big win against Minnesota that keeps them in the Big Ten Championship race (for the time being). That contention is dependent on a win this weekend. If Penn State loses on Saturday, the Nittany Lions and head coach James Franklin will be effectively out of the running. Franklin’s team has talent, and have played the Buckeyes close in recent years. 

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

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

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Top five games of Week 7 CFB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney2@nd.edu

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ZeLO: Overlooking the college football landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notre Dame

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

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

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

SEC

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

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

B10

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

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

ACC

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

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

Pac-12

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

B12

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

G5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference Champs

Alabama beats Georgia

Ohio State beats Minnesota 

Clemson beats Pitt

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

Baylor beats Oklahoma

College Football Playoff

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Georgia

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

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Crow: Three takeaways from Week 4 in College Football

The Big 12 is officially up for grabs

Through four weeks of the college football season, we are at the stage where conference hierarchies typically begin to emerge and pecking orders come into focus. At the very least, it should now be clear which teams are legitimate conference championship contenders and which are not. Even that cannot be said for this year’s Big 12, which feels more wide open than ever after Saturday’s results.

The presumptive favorite in the conference had previously been No. 6 Oklahoma, winners of six of the last seven Big 12 championships. That presumption came crashing down on Saturday, as the Sooners were upset by Kansas State in Norman, Oklahoma behind a dominant five-touchdown performance from Wildcats quarterback Taylor Martinez, a Nebraska transfer. Likewise, No. 22 Texas had a strong start to the season with a near-victory against Alabama, but it was ultimately defeated in overtime by rival Texas Tech. Suddenly, Kansas State and Texas Tech are both 1-0 in Big 12 play with head-to-head advantages over Oklahoma and Texas, respectively, leaving the Sooners and Longhorns with a significant amount of ground to make up.

No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Baylor are likely the current Big 12 favorites, but they face off next Saturday, and a Baylor loss would saddle them with an 0-2 conference record while teams like Kansas (who can usually be penciled in for last place prior to the start of the season) and TCU remain undefeated. The conference’s “worst” teams may be Iowa State and West Virginia, yet it would be no great shock to see either string together a few wins and find themselves in the hunt for a Big 12 title. Iowa State’s resume includes a win over a solid Iowa team, and the Cyclones’ only loss was by one-possession against Baylor. West Virginia started 0-2 with close losses against a ranked Pitt team and a should-be-ranked Kansas team. The Mountaineers have since turned their season around with a pair of victories that includes Thursday’s 33-10 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

All of this is to say that it is anyone’s guess who will win the Big 12. Maybe December’s championship game will pit Oklahoma against Oklahoma State, or Baylor against Kansas State, or Kansas against TCU. There is certainly an element of excitement that comes from conferences having one or two clear favorites. The season-long buildup to a single game that could alter the entire playoff race, like Alabama-Georgia or Ohio State-Michigan, creates a special sense of heightened drama unique to a sport in which the regular season carries so much weight. If chaos is what you seek, though, look no further than the Big 12, which is sure to deliver it in abundance throughout the rest of the season.

Mixed bag for ‘basketball schools

One of the off-season’s strangest stories was the feud between two Kentucky head coaches, men’s basketball’s John Calipari and football’s Mark Stoops, that arose after Calipari referred to Kentucky as a “basketball school.” While the comment was not without validity, given the school’s illustrious history on the hardwood and comparatively dismal track record on the gridiron, taking a jab at another program within the Kentucky athletics umbrella felt unnecessary and in poor taste. Stoops quickly came to his team’s defense, noting that the football program is on the rise while its basketball counterpart has struggled as of late. Notably, Kentucky football has won ten games twice in four seasons after last doing so in 1977, while the two most recent men’s basketball seasons ended with a missed NCAA Tournament and a first-round tournament loss to Saint Peter’s.

Kentucky has taken care of business through the early stages of the football season, currently sitting at 4-0 and ranked No. 7 as Stoops has made good on his word. Ironically, given the unusually high amount of discourse about what qualifies as a basketball school, the six schools widely considered to be college basketball’s “blue bloods” all entered week four with a 3-0 record. While some, like Kentucky, stayed hot, others saw their perfect start to the season come crashing down.

The Wildcats played host to Northern Illinois on Saturday and used 17 consecutive second-half points to break open a game that was tied at halftime. Kentucky star quarterback Will Levis threw four touchdown passes in a 31-23 win that did not earn any style points but kept the Wildcats in lockstep with a red-hot Tennessee team in the battle to be Georgia’s biggest SEC East challenger.

Further west, a pair of 2022 Final Four participants squared off as Kansas hosted Duke in front of a sold-out crowd in Lawrence. The Jayhawks continued their surprising resurgence in a 35-27 victory as quarterback Jalon Daniels continued to build his Heisman case, compiling over 400 yards and five touchdowns. Even further west, UCLA remained perfect with a dominant 45-17 win on the road against Colorado. The Bruins have benefited from a forgiving non-conference schedule and will have their first true test when they host No. 15 Washington in a critical Pac-12 battle next Friday.

Indiana and North Carolina joined Duke in suffering their first losses of the season, both of which could be primarily attributed to defensive struggles. Indiana surrendered 38 first-half points on the way to a 45-24 loss on the road against Cincinnati. The Tar Heels hosted Notre Dame in Chapel Hill and allowed a previously struggling Irish offense to gain 576 yards as they coasted to a 45-32 win. As the season kicks into high gear, the next few weeks will reveal if the rise of the blue bloods in football is just a flash in the pan, or if this really is, to the dismay of Coach Calipari, the year of the football school.

Top teams show signs of vulnerability

A common critique of college football is that it lacks parity, that the same handful of teams compete for the national championship every year. This notion mostly holds true, and this season, teams like Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State already appear to be closing in on playoff lock status. Beyond that trio, however, the next tier of contenders has provided more questions than answers, and several top-ten teams were put to the test in week four.

No. 4 Michigan began its season with three consecutive blowout wins, though the legitimacy of their dominance was questioned due to an extremely weak nonconference slate. There now appears to be some truth to those concerns after the Wolverines were played tight by Maryland in a 34-27 win in their conference opener. Similarly, No. 5 Clemson faced its toughest opponent to date in No. 21 Wake Forest and required two overtimes to escape Winston-Salem with a 51-45 win. Clemson’s first few games established its offense as a relative weakness, but it was the defense that struggled against Wake, as Deacon quarterback Sam Hartman torched the Tigers to the tune of 337 yards and six touchdowns. Clemson showed encouraging signs of offensive improvement but will need to sort its defensive issues out in a hurry as they prepare to face No. 10 NC State this week.

Elsewhere, No. 7 USC featured one of the nation’s best offenses during the season’s first three weeks but struggled to move the ball against a subpar defense as they clawed out a 17-14 win over Oregon State. Kentucky also picked up their fourth win, using a second-half surge to beat Northern Illinois, but Oklahoma, and No. 10 Arkansas, were not as lucky. The Sooners fell at the hands of Kansas State while a potential game-winning Razorback field goal that bounced off the top of the goalpost before falling short proved costly in a 23-21 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M. It is difficult to say that college football is moving toward greater parity when another Georgia-Alabama championship matchup looms; but this season promises a great deal of shakeups near the top as the race for the elusive fourth playoff spot continues.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@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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Architecture students help revitalize South Bend, Kalamazoo

An architectural drawing of a proposed design for downtown Kalamazoo. / Credit: Kate Naessens – The Observer

Marianne Cusato is leading a new initiative to revitalize underutilized areas of South Bend and Kalamazoo, Mich., while also providing a professional environment and learning opportunities for students.

“It’s a combination of looking at human community development patterns and how we can use that to build a better home,” said Cusato, professor of the practice and director of housing and community regeneration initiatives within the School of Architecture.

During a four-day period, a team of students and faculty from the School of Architecture met with public officials, city planners and various industry professionals in a practice known as a “charette” to discuss and map out plans to make better use of Kalamazoo’s layout. The goal of the project is to make the city more accessible and enjoyable for the public.

“There is no hierarchy in charette” is a phrase senior Angelica Ketcham heard repeatedly throughout her experience that describes the teamwork involved.

“Small, midwest towns are an interesting urban design puzzle because a lot of them experienced urban renewal in the ’80s and ’90s,” Ketcham said. “The goal of the charette is less ‘this is what’s wrong with your city, and this is how we are going to fix it’ but ‘this is what is great about your city, how can we do more of it? How can we emphasize it? How can we revitalize what’s around it?’”

Dylan Rumsey, a third-year graduate student, explained that after the “core downtown area” of Kalamazoo was identified, the next step was to create a zoning plan to support the commercial areas.

Then, the architects had to decide what buildings were worth preserving or replacing, how to better direct traffic to make these areas more commercially friendly and how to utilize the surrounding alley networks to make the street itself more accessible on foot.

“We were really just thinking how we could take the space in between the buildings and best utilize it for traffic and pedestrians,” Rumsey said.

While reflecting on his time in Kalamazoo, Rumsey said he hopes urban planning can be more centered around the consumer experience in the future.

“Designing public spaces should be the number one approach to any kind of urban planning, and I think that is something we’ve really missed the mark on here, especially in middle America, because cities just aren’t nice places to walk around,” he explained.

An architectural drawing created by Notre Dame architecture students participating in the charette project. / Credit: Kate Naessens – The Observer

Now, with the plan itself finished, Ketcham and Rumsey said they are going through the process of compiling the results of the charette to present in a public report in the coming months.

The next charette will be with Habitat for Humanity in Mishawaka during fall break, Cusato said.

“We’ll do three charettes a year, plus a charette lab course, which does the prep work and follow-up for each of the charettes,” she said.

Cusato said students can expect to experience real-world problem-solving from being involved in this initiative.

“For so long, we have been on autopilot, just accepting that the world around us is just the world around us, but with these charrettes, there’s a real energy around them from feeling like you can actually be a part of a solution,” she said.

Contact Kate at knaessen@nd.edu.