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Observer on the Ground: Naval Academy traditions arrive in sunny Baltimore 

By Liam Coolican and Maddie Ladd

As the weather in South Bend turned frigid over the weekend, we were rewarded with a trip to sunny Baltimore. Believe it or not, the weather at kickoff Saturday afternoon was 70 degrees with bright sunshine. We departed South Bend in the early afternoon on Friday and quickly became well-acquainted with the Charlotte airport as we waited out our four-hour layover. Two flight delays and a plate of nachos later, we arrived in Baltimore late Friday night and immediately settled down in our hotel overlooking the waterfront.

We took advantage of the lovely Saturday morning by waking up early (for college students, that is!) and taking a leisurely stroll along the beautiful Inner Harbor and into Federal Hill. Irish fans abounded throughout the city. Although plenty of Navy fans had made the short trip from Annapolis as well.

We stumbled upon Sam’s Bagels, a quintessential East Coast bagel shop, packed with locals and football fans alike. It more than lived up to its reputation. For the curious: yes, they had Old Bay-flavored bagels. No, we were not quite crazy enough to order one. We ate our bagels outside before taking the short walk to the stadium. 

Once we arrived at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Ravens, we checked out the tailgating scene before heading up to the press box. It was definitely more akin to a professional football tailgating environment, as no tents were allowed. And given the fact that the stadium is right downtown, the lots were much smaller. 

That didn’t prevent Irish and Midshipmen fans alike from enjoying the unseasonably warm November afternoon. The two groups of fans mingled among each other, showing once again why Notre Dame and Navy have one of the friendliest rivalries in college football. 

Once we settled into the pressbox, we took the elevator down to the field to watch warmups. As the teams left the field, the 4,000-plus Midshipmen, composed of 30 companies, marched onto the field in perfect formation.

The student experience at the Naval Academy is so different from that of our own, especially on a game day. Experiencing it firsthand gave us an even greater respect for their service to our country. 

Once each company was in position, the band began to play the The Star-Spangled Banner. Standing on the same field as the Midshipmen as the colors were presented and two fighter jets roared overhead at the conclusion of the national anthem is not an experience we’ll easily forget.

Just before kickoff, three parachutists descended on to the field with perfect landings. And at halftime, we were able to take in the impressive Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. All in all, it was certainly not a typical college gameday experience. But the Naval Academy’s unique traditions make it an incredibly special place.

After the game, as is tradition, the two teams joined together in front of the USNA band for the playing of Notre Dame, Our Mother, and Navy Blue and Gold, Navy’s alma mater. It is clear these two programs have an immense amount of respect for each other.

Upon arrival at the Baltimore airport Sunday morning, we decided to stop by Miss Shirley’s, a Maryland classic. After seeing that the Food Network said Miss Shirley’s has “the best pancakes in Maryland,” we knew we had to try them out for ourselves. We can both confidently say that the title lived up to the test.

After connecting in Charlotte once again, although thankfully with a much shorter layover this time, the plane descended through the permacloud which had invaded South Bend in our short absence. We let out a collective groan as we saw the snow-covered ground. But we were grateful for our short foray into Baltimore.

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Coolican: Notre Dame’s performance vs. Navy exemplifies uneven year

For those wondering how Notre Dame can dominate top-15 opponents Clemson and North Carolina, yet lose against Marshall and Stanford at home in the same season, look no further than Saturday afternoon’s game against Navy. 

Junior quarterback Drew Pyne looked like a Heisman contender in the first half on Saturday. He methodically picked apart the Midshipmen defense, completing 14 of 16 passes for 234 yards and five total touchdowns.

It was a performance that took everyone, the Navy defense included, by complete surprise. A week earlier in Notre Dame’s upset win over Clemson, Pyne completed just nine passes for 85 yards.

But as quickly as his brilliance arrived, it disappeared even faster. If someone had listened to Pyne and head coach Marcus Freeman’s post-game press conference without knowing the result, they’d be forgiven for thinking the Irish had lost.

“We’re going to be better because of it, somehow, someway,” Freeman said after the 35-32 win. “We have to be better because of what happened in the second half.”

“I’m just going to learn from it and keep getting better,” Pyne said. “That’s all I do and that’s all I’ll ever do.”

That certainly doesn’t sound like the coach of a top-20 team that just won their fourth straight contest. Nor like a quarterback who accounted for five touchdowns and nearly 300 yards. 

Credit Navy for an impressive series of halftime adjustments that managed to hold the Irish scoreless in the second half. But something has to go seriously wrong for an offense to go from accumulating 333 yards in one half to just two in the next.

Fans will point fingers at the coaching staff, especially offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, as they have all season. Pyne deserves some criticism after completing just three passes for 35 yards and being sacked five times in the second half. The run game and the offensive line did next to nothing in the final two quarters. They all deserve some of the blame for a half that saw Notre Dame nearly surrender a seemingly insurmountable 35-13 halftime lead. But the real problem, as Freeman noted post-game, was a complete lack of urgency.

“We had to match their urgency throughout the entirety of the game,” Freeman said. “We did the first half, we did not have the urgency, the execution, that we needed to finish the game the way we wanted to.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon for Notre Dame. After spending most of fall camp preparing for the highly-anticipated season-opening matchup in Columbus, they fell flat the next week against Marshall. Following back-to-back impressive wins North Carolina and BYU, they turned in an abysmal performance against Stanford.

The Irish have consistently followed up outstanding performances by looking completely hapless against inferior opposition. It clearly isn’t a talent problem. Notre Dame’s drubbing against Clemson and the first half against Navy, among other performances, have shown the Irish are undoubtedly among the most complete teams in the country.

Until now, I’ve resisted the urge to suggest that Notre Dame has been overlooking certain opponents. It is hard to imagine that some of the best athletes and coaches in the country would ever come into a game with anything less than everything they have.

But it’s difficult to find another explanation for what happened Saturday — and throughout this season. In the first half, 333 yards. Two in the second. I repeat this stat because it is almost unbelievable. The Irish thought they had the game in hand. And Navy almost made them pay for their complacency.

For example, Navy quarterback Xavier Arline went down with an injury, and backup Maasai Maynor entered the game, the Irish were completely unprepared for his throwing ability. Yes, it is true that Navy hardly ever throws the football. But when a team is down by three scores in the fourth quarter, it is safe to assume that they’ll be passing. Maynor, who until two weeks ago was Navy’s third-string signal caller, gashed the Irish defense for multiple big plays in just a quarter of action.

I’m not sure whether to blame the coaching staff or the players for this lack of urgency and preparedness. On one hand, it is the coach’s job to inspire his players and prepare them each week. Yet it is the players who are the ones who take the field each day.

It is a bizarre phenomenon. There’s no other way to describe what has happened with Notre Dame football this year. Under Brian Kelly, the criticism was always that his teams couldn’t compete on the biggest stage. While it is still early, the so-called Freeman Era seems to be trending in exactly the opposite direction. The Irish play their best football in the biggest games, yet struggle to put away twenty-point underdogs. 

It is at times frustrating to watch Notre Dame turn in these types of performances against teams like Navy. However, given where Notre Dame was a month ago after they fell to Stanford, most Irish fans would be thrilled to be in the position they are in now. 

I’m sure Freeman, his staff and the players are working tirelessly to correct this problem. I don’t have a solution to offer. But the team had better find one sooner rather than later. If this trend continues into next year, when the Irish should be CFP contenders once again, they’ll be in trouble. A half like the second one against Navy can cost a team big time. It didn’t Saturday. But it has in the past. And it will again in the future.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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

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‘One thing we know about Navy is that they will never quit’: Irish hold on 35-32, despite aggressive Navy comeback attempt 

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, No. 20 Notre Dame met Navy for their 95th time. Naval festivities welcomed the 62,124 fans to M&T Bank Stadium, as a Midshipmen procession, fighter jet flyover and parachute display occurred before play commenced. The Irish have had a history of victories against Navy, with the Midshipmen only winning 13 of the 94 (now 95) previous meetings. Notre Dame was able to extend their four-year win streak, though their offensive dominance in the first half quickly crumbled in the second. It was as though there were two different Notre Dame offenses playing between the first and the second halves, but nonetheless it was just enough for a win. 

Pyne dominates first half, points abound for the Irish (35-13)

After Navy won the coin toss and deferred, Notre Dame started off with the ball and junior quarterback Drew Pyne came in hot. The first quarter saw a stellar performance by Pyne and the rest of the offense. On the first drive of the game alone, Pyne completed for 58 yards, over half of the 85 yards he threw throughout the entirety of the Clemson game last week. By the end of the first half, Pyne had more than quadrupled that number, coming in at 234 passing yards. 

Pyne had some nice looks to the outside in order to get the Irish on the board early. A 30-yard pass completed to wide open sophomore running back Audric Estime gave the Irish their first touchdown early in the game. On Notre Dame’s next possession, sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy received Pyne’s 38 yard catch in a snag behind his defender’s back to grant the Irish another touchdown. The crowd went wild for this catch of the year contender. 

However, Navy had something to say about this 14-0 score. Fullback Daba Fofana snuck in a touchdown for the Midshipmen in the final minutes of the first quarter to bring the game to 14-6 after a missed extra point. A touchdown run at the beginning of the second quarter by Navy quarterback Xavier Arline made it 21-13. It is obvious Notre Dame missed senior J.D. Bertrand, who missed the game with an injury, as gaps in the defense allowed Navy to show some ownership of the run game throughout the second quarter. That is, until junior cornerback Clarence Lewis had something to say about it. 

A crucial midfield interception by Lewis in the final three minutes of the second quarter changed the tide for the Irish, and was arguably the kiss of death for the Midshipmen. The Irish went to work quickly, and a big run from Estime allowed Pyne to run it in for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 28-13. Momentum continued, and a blocked punt by Jack Kiser marked the fifth straight game that the Irish have blocked a punt. In addition, this was the first blocked punt against Navy since their season opener against Marshall last year. 

In yet another touchdown play, a stellar 37 yard catch by wide receiver Jayden Thomas in the final minute of the second quarter brought the Irish to 24-13. Though it was less than three minutes on the clock, the Irish were able to get some serious work done, and spirits were high heading into the second half with a 35-13 advantage. 

Slow play in quarter three leads to crumbling Irish performance in the fourth (35-32)

The second half play got off to a slow start with the Midshipmen draining 10 minutes off the clock in a 16 play, 72 yard drive. Though missed tackles and penalties abounded for the Irish and allowed the Midshipmen to keep moving, Navy eventually settled for a field goal. The kick was good to bring the score to Notre Dame 35, Navy 16. The Irish appeared to have lost steam as they only gained three yards in the third quarter. On the other side of things, Navy was attempting an aggressive comeback. Head coach Marcus Freeman commented on Navy’s resiliency. 

“One thing we know about Navy is that they will never quit,” Freeman said. 

And quit they did not. Any of the sluggishness in the third quarter was made up right away by the Midshipmen right in the final period. Pyne’s first pass of the quarter was intercepted by Navy’s John Marshall, and Arline quickly passed it up the middle for a touchdown. After a successful two point conversion, the score rose to 35-24. Pyne two plays apart as Notre Dame’s drive sputtered. Later, Pyne was sacked again as he was under constant pressure in the second half.  

The Irish offense generated next to nothing in the second half, as they only gained a total of 12 yards in its entirety. Injury of Navy’s quarterback Xavier Arline brought in backup quarterback Maasai Maynor to the stage. This did not seem to particularly hinder Navy, as the Midshipmen were able to make some plays downfield and eventually amass a touchdown in the final minute of the game. A successful two-point conversion brought the Midshipmen dangerously close with a score of 35-32. Nevertheless, the Irish fell on the Navy onside kick to seal up the game. Freeman commented on the lack of urgency present among the Irish in the second half. 

“We had to match [Navy’s] urgency throughout the entirety of the game. We did it in the first half, but we did not have the urgency or execution in the second,” Freeman said.

Continuing a longstanding tradition, the Notre Dame and Navy alma maters rang out as Irish and Midshipmen players stood alongside one another in solidarity. Junior linebacker Prince Kollie described it as “a great thing to see” and a moment that he cherishes. 

With a final score of 35-32, Notre Dame leaves Baltimore victorious, but with lots to review. The Irish ended the game with 269 passing and 66 rush yards, for a total of 335. Navy edged them out at 363, on 108 pass and 255 rush. The Irish move down their docket of rivalry matchups as they face Boston College next week.

“We’ve got to a point now where we can win these close games, and we are going to be better because of it. It’s going to be a hungry group as we head into our last home game,” Freeman said.

Contact Maddie Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu.

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Five key moments from Notre Dame’s 35-32 victory over Navy

Notre Dame defeated Navy by a score of 35-32 Saturday afternoon at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium for their fourth consecutive win. Here are five key moments from the victory. 

Offense turns to Pyne early as quarterback has career first half

A week after Notre Dame ran roughshod over the vaunted Clemson defense, many expected more of the same Saturday. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne completed just nine passes for 85 yards a week ago. Yet on the first drive of the game, he picked apart the Midshipmen defense, completing all four of his passes for 58 yards, including a 30-yard catch and run to sophomore running back Audric Estime to open the scoring. 

He also completed a key fourth down on a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive, as Notre Dame raced out to a 7-0 lead in less than five minutes. The first drive was merely a precursor to what was to come as the offense continued to count on Pyne throughout the rest of the first half. He would finish the first half with an impressive statline of 14-16 for 234 yards and five total touchdowns. 

Lenzy hauls in circus catch 

Towards the end of opening the quarter, with the Irish already leading by a touchdown, Pyne evaded pressure, scrambled to his right and heaved the ball towards the end zone. It looked like a sure incompletion, or worse, with a defender draped all over his intended receiver, senior Braden Lenzy. Instead, Lenzy somehow turned it into his second touchdown of the season, pinning the ball against his defender’s back for one of the best catches in college football this year. It was a 38 yard score which pushed Pyne over the 100-yard mark, and seemed to galvanize the offense even further.

Pyne, who in past weeks seemed hesitant to take a shot down the field, was able to get several different targets involved early, particularly on third down. Deion Colzie had a big, 27-yard gain to convert on 3rd and 12 and Jayden Thomas had a 38 yard gain on 3rd and 10, which set up Pyne’s third touchdown. In total, Pyne completed a pass to seven different receivers. Interestingly, junior tight end Michael Mayer, typically Pyne’s most reliable target, was relatively quiet, finishing with just three receptions for 23 yards.  

As Notre Dame struggled slightly on the ground, gaining 89 yards on 19 carries in the first half, Pyne’s success proved all the more critical, and proved Notre Dame could win in multiple ways after last week’s dominant rushing performance against Clemson. 

Navy’s trickery backfires 

After the Midshipmen scored their second touchdown of the game to make the score 21-13, they looked poised to climb back into the contest. They attempted to catch the Irish off guard on the ensuing kickoff with a surprise onside kick, but Notre Dame was prepared. Sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie fell on the ball at midfield, and the Irish started the drive with great field position. 

The Midshipmen defense bailed out their coaching staff’s unconventional decision, forcing the Irish to attempt a long field goal. Blake Grupe’s 45-yard try went wide right, and Navy had another chance. But on the very first play of the subsequent drive, they returned to the trickery. A reverse went to slotback Kai Puailoa-Rojas, who attempted to find a receiver downfield. His poor attempt at a pass fell directly into the arms of junior cornerback Clarence Lewis, and the Irish got the ball right back at the Navy 41. 

This time, they needed just three plays to take advantage. After Estime broke off a 28-yard run, Pyne scrambled in from 11 yards out for his fourth total touchdown of the game. 

Special teams blocks another punt as Irish build insurmountable lead

On the next drive, the special teams unit once again came through for Notre Dame by blocking a punt. This time, it was junior linebacker Jack Kiser who got a hand on it with just 1:27 left in the first half. The Irish took over at the Navy 37, and Pyne wasted no time, finding Thomas in the end zone on the first play of the drive with one of his best throws of the afternoon. 

It was Notre Dame’s seventh blocked punt of the year, which leads the nation, and the fifth consecutive game in which they have blocked at least one. Thomas’ touchdown gave the Irish an seemingly insurmountable lead 35-13 at the break. Even as Navy continued to battle and the Irish offense struggled in the second half, it was inconsequential. 

Irish offense held to 12 yards in second half, Midshipmen mount furious comeback

Despite Notre Dame’s big lead at halftime, Navy came out of the locker room with another level of play, especially on defense. The Midshipmen held Notre Dame to just three yards of offense in the third quarter and nine in the fourth, a remarkable turnaround after being torched for 323 yards in the opening half. 

Pyne was routinely under pressure — he was sacked three times in the second half, and Navy’s defense line refused to give the Irish running backs anything to work with. On offense, meanwhile, the Midshipmen scored 19 points to mount a furious late comeback, including a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in the game. Yet Notre Dame’s defense bent but didn’t break, and despite the abysmal offensive performance in the second half, Pyne’s play in the first half was enough to carry the Irish to a win.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@nd.edu.

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Keys to victory versus Navy

Notre Dame took their biggest win of the season last weekend, accomplishing three goals: changing the narrative of the season at home, defeating No. 4 Clemson and breaking back into the CFP rankings. 

At No. 20, the Irish head east to Baltimore, Maryland to take on the Midshipmen. Navy is 3-6 on the season but has played some close games. Coming off two statement wins and three straight victories overall, these are the keys to another Irish victory.

Stopping two more quarterbacks

Yes, Navy uses the triple option run, that much is true. The Irish will have to stop this unique style to see success this weekend. There’s an additional level of difficulty in answering the triple option this year, though, as Navy lost their starting quarterback Tai Lavatai two weeks ago to a knee injury.

Lavatai was replaced by Xavier Arline, who now shares the spotlight with Maasai Maynor. Because of Lavatai’s injury, this will be the third week in a row Notre Dame has the potential to see a quarterback they don’t know a lot about. Arline has been a part of the triple option scheme even before he took over as quarterback, so he should rely on that. The wild card will be Maynor. He can throw the ball when asked — he went three for five against Cincinnati for 81 yards. But he’s not as good in the triple-option structure. In that Cincinnati game, he ran the ball six times for negative nine yards.

The Midshipmen are still figuring out how best to move forward without Lavatai. It’s highly possible it will be a mixed bag in terms of who’s under center against the Irish. Regardless, Notre Dame needs to be ready for anything that’s coming their way. The Irish defense need to be ready for a surprise through the air from Maynor. Arline, meanwhile, can run the triple option seamlessly. Communication and clarity from the linebackers is vital. 

Tackle well, force a fumble

The triple option relies most heavily on Daba Fofana, Maquel Haywood and Anton Hall, Jr. The Irish will need to not only contain those three, but also take the ball back from them. Through the air, the Irish have taken the ball back; they’ve defended 17 passes and have racked up five interceptions. All of the latter figure have come in Notre Dame’s last five games. On the ground, though, they haven’t made as much of an impact. Notre Dame has only forced five and recovered two fumbles all season. This weekend, forcing and recovering them will play a large role in the outcome of the game.

Additionally, first touches on the ball carrier will be important. Fofana and Haywood cannot break any tackles. If the Irish want to win, they will have to limit carries and drive length tremendously. In order to do that, the first touch on a running back will need to take him down. Without that, the Irish will lose too much yardage too quickly.

Waste time, but turn it into points

Every Irish win this season has come on the backs of their running backs — sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs and junior Chris Tyree. The run game has been instrumental to the Irish cause and has made a difference in several games throughout the season.

The Irish will need to continue their success on the ground Saturday. They will need to march downfield, six or seven yards at a time, and ensure they score a touchdown when they get to the red zone. Scoring quickly would put pressure on the Midshipmen to score quickly, something the triple option is not built for. Forcing the Midshipmen into this position will force them into the air and change their game, allowing the Irish defense to look for mistakes and take advantage of them. Additionally, if the Irish are ahead to start, the triple option’s benefit of wasting time no longer works in Navy’s favor.

Contact Mannion McGinley at mmcginl3@nd.edu.

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Zwiller: ZeLO’s CFP Rankings and Week 11 Picks

After a weekend of significant upsets (yes, I am counting No. 3 Georgia defeating No. 1 Tennessee as an “upset,” even though Georgia was a 10-point favorite), the playoff picture got much clearer.

Alabama, it would seem, is officially out of the playoff race as they no longer control the SEC West and are a two-loss team.

Clemson and Tennessee are now one-loss teams who do not control their destiny. Clemson needs to win out and clinch their conference to have a shot. Even then, they would likely still need help.

Tennessee is in a much more enviable position. While they are not likely to be conference champs, they should finish as a one-loss team whose only loss is to the No. 1 SEC Champions.

Meanwhile, TCU and Oregon now seemingly do control their destiny. By putting TCU fourth, the committee has said that as long as TCU emerges as an undefeated conference champ (not at all a tall task), they will make the playoff.

And though Oregon is a one-loss team, their loss comes against Georgia at the beginning of the season. Should they win the PAC-12 title, there is no reason the No. 6 Ducks should not leapfrog Tennessee.

So, this week, I want to pick games that should impact the following weekend’s CFP rankings.

But first, ZeLO and FPI went 39-21 (.650) last weekend. Because it was a somewhat crazy week, the much more conservative ZeLO won the Brier Point tiebreaker (316.24-313.09), so, very little difference between the two models.

Now, onto the picks!

No. 25 Washington @ No. 6 Oregon

By putting Oregon in 6th behind the one-loss Volunteers, the Committee has shown they value Tennessee’s loss to Georgia much more than Oregon’s one loss. However, by putting Oregon at No. 6, I think the committee suggests that a one-loss Pac-12 Oregon squad could and should make the CFP.

Oregon has a 60.8% chance of winning this week, so the team should continue its CFP run. I could see the Huskies offense giving the Ducks some fits, so this will be a good game.

No. 4 TCU @ No. 18 Texas

This is arguably the most challenging game remaining for TCU in a schedule that is already challenging. ZeLO currently ranks TCU’s remaining strength of schedule seventh. Texas, Baylor, and Iowa State are all legitimate threats to TCU’s CFP ambitions.

Though Texas is a seven-point favorite, ZeLO currently gives TCU a 63.1% chance of beating the Longhorns.

While I do think that TCU can win the Big 12, I do think this may be where their unbeaten streak ends. Texas at home is a tough challenge (ask the Tide). TCU’s habit of needing to comeback may catch up with them.

No. 22 UCF @ No. 17 Tulane

This might be the most crucial game I will talk about this week. Why?

UCF and Tulane are the strongest AAC teams and the likeliest to win their conference. Tulane is currently undefeated in conference play, while UCF is just a one-loss team.

If UCF wins, they should make their conference championship (the AAC takes the two highest teams for its championship game) as they boast a win over 7-2 Cincinnati. Tulane would then play what amounts to an elimination game against Cincinnati in their season finale.

If Tulane wins, they become a lock to make their conference championship, even if they lose to Cincinnati. Both scenarios are equally likely, with ZeLO giving the Green Wave just a 52.7% chance to win.

No. 9 Alabama @ No. 11 Ole Miss

In contrast to UCF and Tulane, this might be the least important game of the week. That feels weird to say. But in all likelihood, the two-loss Tide have already been eliminated from the CFP.

Ole Miss might have a chance to win the SEC West (and the glorious prize of being dismantled by Georgia on national television for 60 minutes). But it is a longshot, as LSU has a head-to-head advantage over the Rebels. Alabama should win this game, with ZeLO giving the Tide a 55% chance of victory. But Ole Miss could make this interesting, utilizing a high-powered offense and a home-field advantage to give Alabama trouble. Alabama is tied for most penalties per game in the country. Last week, Death Valley helped contribute to that stat, as the Tide took nine penalties for 92 yards.

Louisville @ No. 10 Clemson

Thanks in large part to Notre Dame, ZeLO majorly downgraded the Tigers. Though ZeLO still has Clemson as its favorite to win the Atlantic and the ACC, Clemson took a significant step back in ZeLO’s CFP rankings, falling to 14th.

As a result, Clemson has just a 51.7% chance to beat Louisville and keep its playoff hopes alive. A two-loss team has never made the CFP. And the Committee is not going to start with this iteration of Clemson.

Even if Clemson does defeat against Louisville, they feel like a stretch to make it to the CFP. But a solid bounce-back showing could be just what the Tigers need.

No. 15 North Carolina @ Wake Forest

At the start of the season, I wrote that I was skeptical of ZeLO0s faith in UNC. ZeLO has UNC as a divisional dark horse behind both Pitt and Miami. Pitt took a step back this season, and the entire college football world discovered that the U is not back.

So, UNC is looking to win ten games, the division, and maybe even the conference. Right now, the Tar Heels have an excellent chance to win 10 games and reach the conference championship against a weaker-than-normal Clemson.

However, ZeLO thinks Wake will dash Carolina’s hopes of making the CFP. These two teams are dead even on a neutral site, so the Wake home-field advantage is the difference maker here. It is slight, but Wake’s 55% chance to win might end Carolina’s CFP ambitions before Clemson does.

Look for Wake to take advantage of a porous Carolina defense that would struggle to stop a middle school flag football squad.

No. 20 Notre Dame @ Navy

By dominating Clemson in all three facets of their matchup, Notre Dame has launched itself back into the top 25 rankings. In all honesty, if ND wins and winds up 9-3, you can argue that the season was incredibly successful, despite the bumpy start.

ZeLO has the Irish going 2-1 down the stretch, and this game against Navy is a winnable one for Notre Dame (62.9%). Though it would not shock me if Notre Dame went 2-2 in its last four, losing to Navy and BC but beating Clemson and USC. Because why not?

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

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