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Irish face off against Wolfpack, look to stay in playoff contention

Notre Dame women’s soccer hosts NC State this Thursday in their fifth conference game of the season. The sixteenth-ranked Irish take on the Wolfpack one week after a win against Boston College. Notre Dame dominated Boston College last week, winning three to nothing and leading the Eagles sixteen to seven in shots and six to two in corner kicks. Junior midfielder Eva Gaetino returned to play against BC after exiting early with a head injury in the game against Pitt.

Now 2-2 in the ACC, the Irish are looking to dominate in their next six games leading up to the ACC tournament at the end of the month. 

The game against NC State will test Notre Dame’s ability to perform consistently against ACC competition. The Irish have had trouble performing consistently in ACC play so far, alternating wins and loses across their four conference games. The team hopes that last week’s strong performance against Boston College will set the tone for the rest of conference play. NC State is currently ranked 9th in the ACC, three spots behind the 6th-ranked Irish.

Notre Dame averages 2.36 goals per game compared to NC State’s 1.38. Notre Dame also only gives up an average of .73 goals per game, while NC State gives up an average of 1.23. 

Also 2-2 in the ACC, the Wolfpack has had similar struggles with consistency as the Irish have. NC State recently suffered a crushing 6-0 loss against Duke, but rebounded last Thursday to beat Clemson, who beat Notre Dame 2-1 earlier in the season. Their performance against Clemson proves that the Wolfpack can’t be overlooked. That being said, NC State has yet to beat a nationally ranked team, going 0-1-2 against ranked opponents. It seems NC State has been unable to deliver in tough games so far. This bodes well for the sixteenth-ranked Irish, especially on their home pitch. 

At this point in the season, both teams are competing to earn a spot in the ACC tournament.. The top six teams in the ACC qualify for conference playoffs. Currently Notre Dame is sixth in the ACC, so from here on out every game is important for keeping the Irish in playoff contention. The Irish face two more nationally ranked opponents in their final six games of the regular season. Given this challenging schedule, the Irish will look to earn a win while they can.

NC State is currently ranked ninth, but the sixth through ninth-ranked teams all have the same ACC record. A few wins could easily put NC State in the running for the playoffs as well. 

This match up kicks off on Thursday at 8 p.m. in Alumni Stadium. It will also be streamed on the ACC Network.

Contact Sammie McCarthy at smccart9@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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Sports

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