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Moller: It’s time to give the Vikings the respect they deserve

With last week’s Thanksgiving victory over the New England Patriots, the Minnesota Vikings currently hold an impressive 9-2 record. They hold a staggering five-game lead over the Detroit Lions in the NFC North. Despite the Vikings’ impressive record and dominance in the NFC North, the Vikings have received very little respect as a true contender for the Super Bowl.

In fact, in ESPN’s power rankings this week, the Vikings found themselves ranked sixth behind three teams with three losses. This included the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, whom the Vikings have beaten on the road this season. Additionally, the article set a realistic prediction for the Vikings as splitting their final six games of the season. Four of the five teams ranked above them had a Super Bowl trip as their realistic prediction.

I know the Vikings have been made fun of all year for their close victories. But at the end of the day, a 9-2 record has to mean something regardless of the path to it. I will concede that the blowout losses to the Eagles and Cowboys were embarrassing, to say the least. But the Vikings’ ability to find a way to win close games should overshadow these losses.

It’s not like the Vikings haven’t faced a difficult schedule, either. In fact, of the five teams ranked ahead of the Vikings in this week’s ESPN power rankings (Kansas City, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Dallas and Miami), only the Bills and Cowboys have a stronger strength of schedule than the Vikings. The Vikings also have a stronger strength of victory than every team ahead of them except those two.

I’ve been saying this for the last couple of weeks, and I will say it again: The Vikings need to be considered as a serious contender for the Super Bowl. And Vikings fans must understand, with a record this good, anything less than a Super Bowl appearance is a disappointment. While I will admit that the Chiefs, Eagles and Cowboys are more serious contenders than the Vikings at the moment, the Vikings have shown that they have the tools to be considered one of the NFL’s best teams, as well.

To really emphasize my point that the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, let’s look back to the Vikings’ stunning 33-30 overtime win in Buffalo a couple of weeks ago. Although the game was coined as “the game of the year” because of the stunning back-and-forth ending, the Vikings showed that they could step up in a harsh road environment and still get a victory.

Trailing 27-10 with less than two minutes in the third quarter, the Vikings could have given up. But instead, a Dalvin Cook 81-yard run put the Vikings right back in the game. After struggling to contain Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense all day, the Vikings’ defense stiffened up at the right time in the game, which allowed Minnesota to edge closer at the end of the fourth quarter. 

Yes, they ultimately received some help with Josh Allen’s fumble on the goal line with under a minute left to take the lead. But that doesn’t diminish the Vikings’ stunning comeback in any way. Against all odds, the Vikings were able to battle back and ultimately win a high-stakes game against a great football team in overtime. If that isn’t a Super Bowl-worthy performance, then I don’t know what is. 

That whole game, the Vikings also relied heavily on their best player, wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Jefferson alone is a valid reason for why the Vikings should be in the mix for the Super Bowl. The third-year wide receiver has proven himself time and time again by making crazy highlight-reel catches when his team needs him most. After last Thursday’s 139-yard performance against the Patriots, Jefferson sits second in receiving yards this season, trailing Tyreek Hill by only one yard. Teams that win Super Bowls have guys like Justin Jefferson.

Another reason the Vikings have been doubted all season is quarterback Kirk Cousins. Although I’ll admit that I am not the biggest Cousins fan, Cousins has been really good this season. He is currently seventh in the NFL in passing yards and is tied for ninth in passing touchdowns. He hasn’t been flashy by any means, but the strong supporting cast has allowed Cousins to find success.

I know there has been some talk about Cousins’ shortcomings on primetime. But his stats against the Patriots during a primetime win on Thanksgiving were pretty good. Cousins completed 30/37 passes for nearly 299 yards and three touchdowns, proving that he can succeed on the big stage.

I haven’t even mentioned the Vikings’ midseason acquisition from the Detroit Lions, tight end T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson’s addition to the Vikings has been huge so far, giving Cousins another reliable target and endzone threat. The Vikings were seriously lacking in the tight end department before Hockenson’s arrival. He has fulfilled every need the Vikings had at that position. That kind of move is something you see in Super Bowl contenders. And Hockenson’s addition might be the difference in the Vikings finally being able to make the Super Bowl.

I am not saying that I would pick the Vikings to make the Super Bowl. It’s more than likely that in typical Vikings fashion, they trip up in the divisional round or conference championships like every Vikings team since 1976. I am saying, however, that this Vikings team needs to receive more respect. They should at least be considered as one of the teams with the best shots at the Super Bowl. Going 9-2 to start the season doesn’t just happen by coincidence.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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

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ZeLO makes conference title and bowl game picks

I will come right out and say it: This week of college football is boring. Of the top-25 teams playing on Saturday, the average point spread is 14.7. That feels like Vegas telling you that you can turn your TV off and go for a walk.

Do not get me wrong, there are good games. No. 7 USC takes on No. 16 UCLA in a game that could eliminate USC from its playoff chase. No. 4 TCU is only a 2.5 favorite on the road against Baylor. And since when has a ranked, 21-point favorite Notre Dame not felt like a trap game?

But bar No. 6 LSU dropping the ball against 14.5 underdog UAB, this weekend feels short on drama. So instead of breaking down individual games I dub important, I would rather look ahead and predict conference championship weekend, the CFP and the NY6. If you want to know whom ZeLO thinks will win the Notre Dame BC game, you will have to check out the graphic made by our wonderful graphics department (spoiler: it’s Notre Dame).

Conference Championship Weekend

The Locks

The SEC and ACC have already been decided, with LSU and Georgia squaring off for the SEC while UNC and Clemson head to Charlotte. Not surprising to anyone, Georgia is ZeLO’s heavy favorite to make the title game, with the Bulldogs having a 70% chance of taking the crown. That snarling Bulldogs defense should be able to give LSU’s offense fits, especially after Arkansas slowed the Tigers significantly last week.

Meanwhile, the ACC should be a much more watchable game. Though the Tigers have been a favorite to win the crown all season, ZeLO has it as a close one. The Tigers still win; however, UNC’s atrocious defense (ranked 121st) will make DJ and the gang look better than they are.

Up for Grabs

The Big 12, Big 10, and Pac-12 are all still up for grabs. Here are the most likely pairings for each championship game:

ZeLO has TCU playing a rematch game against No. 15 Kansas State. The last time these two teams faced down, TCU needed to overcome an 18-point deficit, which they did with ease, winning 38-28.

Right now, ZeLO has TCU as the favorite, with a 22.4% chance of ending the season as an unbeaten regular season champ and conference champion. The Wildcats would love to ruin their chances.

The Big 10 will be the winner of Ohio State vs. Michigan and whoever wins the royal rumble that is the West. Four teams (Purdue, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota) are 4-3. Of those four, Purdue has the easiest strength of schedule and the best odds of winning out. Just who is Purdue playing, though? The Buckeyes are slightly favored over Michigan. This game may be skippable…

As for the Pac-12, ZeLO currently has Oregon facing off against UCLA. It is odd, but ZeLO has Oregon and UCLA winning out. Seeing as Oregon faces Utah this weekend and UCLA plays USC, those two teams should be heavily favored to make it to the conference championship.

I will add that that is an improbable scenario, but it is ZeLO’s. ZeLO has been high on UCLA and Oregon all season long, so it does not feel like a surprise that ZeLO would have these two competing for the title. If you do not like that scenario, I will do you one better. UCLA wins the crown. It is not my prediction; a spreadsheet made it. So, that leaves us with Georgia, TCU, Clemson, Ohio State and UCLA (yes, I know) as the conference champions.

Based on current CFP rankings and the ZeLO Prestige Rankings, the likeliest order would be Georgia, Ohio State, TCU and then Clemson, though there is a chance that the committee ousts Clemson for Tennessee.

Considering Tennessee is ZeLO’s fourth net-ranked team, this would be the more innovative move, though it would likely mean that TCU is bumped to fourth to avoid a repeat matchup.

NY6
Capital One Orange Bowl

Two teams claim to play in Death Valley, and both have Tiger mascots. That is right, ACC champion Clemson takes on SEC runner-up LSU, with Brian Kelly getting a rematch against Dabo Swinney.

Clemson has had an offensive down year and genuinely struggles on offense, ranking 42nd. LSU is by no means an offensive juggernaut, but their defense should be able to frustrate DJ Uiagalelei more than Clemson can Jayden Daniels.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Given Alabama’s high ranking but impossibility of making the CFP, the Cotton Bowl would be an excellent finish for the Tide. It might not be the season they wanted, but overall, it’s a good one.

The Group of 5 team is a harder prediction. Based on the committees’ current rankings, I am inclined to put UCF here. They rank 19th in ZeLO’s net rankings and are the second-highest Prestige Ranking Group of 5 team.

ZeLO has Coastal Carolina as a slightly better Prestige team, but that is forecasting the season’s end. For now, it is the Knights.

Now, UCF can finally try to prove they legitimately won a championship, like they did in 2017 (ZeLO thinks they won’t).

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Capital One

Because ZeLO is so high on UCLA, ZeLO has them as a strong contender to make the Rose Bowl. Fitting, as UCLA plans on becoming a part of the Big 10 soon. Why not give them a sample of their new competition in Michigan?

ZeLO thinks the Bruins might regret the switch.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

The most likely teams for the Sugar Bowl are Oklahoma State and Ole Miss, as both are strong teams who failed to make their conference championship.

CFP
Fiesta Bowl

Although TCU made the CFP, ZeLO has Georgia in another class of team. There are currently five teams for whom ZeLO has above 100 net points. TCU is on the outside looking in, sitting in sixth. As a result, the defending champion Bulldogs continue their defense.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

The Buckeyes are ZeLO’s No. 1 team and have been all season. Although Tennessee sits 4th in the net rankings, Ohio State makes it to the title game to face off against the Bulldogs.

CFP National Championship

Though ZeLO loves the Buckeyes, Georgia is simply an elite team. Georgia is currently the third-ranked team by net, boasting the sixth-best and seventh-ranked offense.

The only problem? Ohio State boasts the third-ranked offense and fifth-ranked defense. The Buckeyes pick up their ninth national championship and first under Ryan Day.

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

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Predicting the College Football Playoff committee’s toughest decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Oregon

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

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

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

Verdict: UCLA

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Tennessee

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

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

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

Verdict: USC

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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McGuinness: Taking stock of the MLB postseason race

There are few moments as exciting on the sports calendar as the final three weeks of an MLB season. The everyday nature of the sport captivates the emotions of fans and their teams whose destinations after the regular season ends on Oct. 5 remain unknown. Add in an extra wild card spot in each league to expand the number of teams still in the mix and the importance of finishing top-two in each league to avoid the expanded best-of-three Wild Card round, and there’s even more intensity than ever.

So, with just 20 days remaining in the 2022 season, now is as good a time as any to review where the key races stand. And there are a lot of them. Only one team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, has already punched their postseason ticket. A few others — namely the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees — are all but assured to join them. But even those teams have plenty to play for down the stretch.

The West divisions in both leagues are all the easiest to analyze. The Dodgers have officially clinched the NL West pennant, their ninth in the last 10 seasons. The Houston Astros, who have won the AL West four of the past five seasons, won’t be far behind. They currently lead the Seattle Mariners by 12.5 games.

Every other division race has at least some intrigue to it. The Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals are looking like the safest bets, with six and and seven game leads over the next closest teams, respectively. The Yankees rebounded in September after a brutal August that saw a once comfortable division lead start to shrink. The Cardinals have been playing outstanding baseball over the last few months, and there’s more drama around whether Albert Pujols can slug three more home runs to reach 700 for his career than their status for the postseason.

Meanwhile, the AL Central and NL East are total dead heats. Cleveland has been in control of the Central for a little while now with the Twins going cold. Meanwhile, the White Sox are looking to avoid being labeled the season’s biggest disappointment, winning 10 of their last 14 to pull within three games of the Guardians. Cleveland’s outstanding pitching could make them a tricky Wild Card round opponent, but the Guardians have to get there first.

Like their New York brethren, the Mets have seen a once comfortable division lead dwindle to almost nothing. However, it’s not that the Mets have fallen into a significant slump. Rather, the Braves look simply unbeatable for about the third extended period since May. Both old and new faces have capitulated the Braves up the standings. Plus, two-time All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies could return from the IL soon. A three-game head-to-head series in Atlanta from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 could decide this race.

As is typical, the tightest races are for Wild Card spots in both leagues. The American League is largely about playing for seeding at this point, although that’s as important as ever since the best Wild Card team will host their first series. That would be especially significant for the Toronto Blue Jays, considering multiple teams have been missing players when going to Toronto throughout the year due to Canada’s vaccine mandate. Toronto’s also on a strong 7-3 run, which is tied for the third best record of any team in their last 10 games.

Just a half game separates Toronto from the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays for Wild Card No. 1. The Rays have cooled off a bit after looking like legit challengers to the Yankees for a New York minute. Still, their depth is as outstanding as ever. And they’ll be even more dangerous if they get AL Cy Young contender Shane McClanahan back from injury soon.

Just getting in would be massive for the Mariners, who hold the longest postseason drought in the four major sports dating back to 2001. They came very close last year, missing by just two games. An aggressive offseason and infusion of youth looks like enough to push them over the top. The Baltimore Orioles are the only team within six games of the Mariners and Rays. And while it looks like the young O’s won’t have enough to make the postseason, this is still an incredibly encouraging year after losing 110 games a year ago. They could easily be on the right side of this mix in a similar article next year.

The loser of the Braves-Mets NL East race will almost certainly claim the first Wild Card spot. The other two, however, are still up for grabs. After years of not being able to make a big push from just behind the pack in September, it’s the Phillies who are currently in the best shape. Improved depth and production from their youth have pushed the Phillies, who hold the sport’s second longest postseason drought, to lead the Padres by 1.5 games and the Brewers by 3.5, holding the tiebreaker over both.

San Diego currently sits in the final Wild Card spot one year after missing the postseason in shocking fashion. The Padres are in a bit of a weird spot this year, too. They added star power in Juan Soto and Josh Hader (the latter ironically coming from Milwaukee) and quality depth in Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at the trade deadline. However, with Fernando Tatís Jr’s return spoiled due to suspension, the Padres aren’t as strong as they could be.

However, they’re still in a solid spot. The Brewers are as one-dimensional as any team still in the race. Their starting pitching is still outstanding and Devin Williams is lights out in the bullpen. But their offense lacks star power, with only one player (Hunter Renfroe) sporting an OPS above .800. Like the White Sox, that type of team can be very dangerous in the postseason if the right player or two gets hot. But they have to get there first.

Regardless of the results, it’s shaping up to be an exciting stretch run. At least three spots (AL Central champion, Wild Cards 2-3 in the NL) are undecided. And most of the other nine teams are in legitimate battles for seeding, which again is more important than ever under the new postseason format. All of it will somehow be sorted out in the next three weeks. What happens, of course, remains unknown. But whatever unfolds should be a blast to watch.

Contact Andrew McGuinness at amcguinn@nd.edu.

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Zwiller’s ZeLO Picks: Week 2

Well, Week 1 is officially in the books, and quite honestly, it could not have gone better. And yes, I include the Notre Dame loss in that, if only because ZeLO quite frankly nailed the pick. It still had Ohio State as a favorite, but by less than ESPN and (factoring in home-field advantage) had ND as a 10-point underdog. 

ND aside, ZeLO still had a solid performance. Through the model’s first eighteen games, it went 18-0, catching an unexpected stumble against Old Dominion (as did Virginia Tech). ZeLO closed the weekend going 65-18 and finished with a record of 73-21 (.776%), compared to ESPN’s 79-14 (FPI did not pick UCF). 

If you had told me that ZeLO would finish Week 1 only six games behind FPI, I would have taken it. The fact that the model is even competent is a win; I had no idea how this would go. And yes, ZeLO has some problems and shortcomings; I plan on discussing them later in a separate column. 

Right now, I want to give out some of the model’s picks. Last week’s picks went 3-1, so hopefully I can continue giving out some good ones.  

No. 1 Alabama @ Texas

I wish I could sit here and tell you that ZeLO did not think Alabama was all that impressive and that the spunky, underdog Texas team would knock off Saban’s NFL prep school. Even with home-field advantage (Texas ranks 13th), Alabama still has a 76% chance of victory.

Even though ZeLO has Texas covering, last weekend ZeLO picked a lot more underdog covers than anything else, and since this is Alabama, it would not shock me if Alabama beats the spread by the half. 

No. 24 Tennessee @ No. 17 Pittsburgh

This was a matchup I found interesting, if only because both ESPN and the gambling world were betting on Tennessee. The newly ranked Volunteers are currently a touchdown favorite over No. 17 Pitt. ESPN gives Pitt a 45.9% chance of winning, despite being ranked and at home. 

This is one of the few games — one of seven — where ZeLO disagrees with FPI and has the Panthers as the favorites with a 60.2% chance of victory. Not entirely comforting considering Pitt’s performance last weekend against WVU, but I digress. 

No. 20 Kentucky @ No. 12 Florida

Last week, after barely surviving Utah, the Gators are rewarded with an easier opponent … not much easier when you realize the opponent is also a Top-20 team. From a harder conference, but by poll logic, an easier team nonetheless.

ZeLO currently has Florida as a favorite with a 60.1% chance of staying undefeated, but the model does have Kentucky covering the +4.5 spread, so this should be a fantastic game. 

Arizona State @ No. 11 Oklahoma State

I picked this matchup only because ZeLO is pessimistic about Oklahoma State. 

While ESPN may have its golden child in Texas as the favorite to win the B12, ZeLO has Oklahoma State as one of the Top-3 finishers, with Texas closer to fifth or sixth. 

But as much as ZeLO likes OKSU, one of its more random favorites is Arizona State. Because Arizona State was not atrocious over the four-year sample ZeLO took, and because it had a positive Return+Recruit metric, the Sun Devils ended up being a solid team.  

But back to the game at hand: Considering we just saw OKSU look like it forgot how to play defense against Central Michigan, there might be an opportunity here. 

ZeLO has the Cowboys finding the win with a 50.1% chance of victory, but Arizona State finds a way to cover the 11-point spread. 

No. 9 Baylor @ No. 21 BYU

BYU has been one of the models’ favorite teams since I first started running it back in mid-June. So while I was surprised that BYU was a -3.5 favorite over a Top-10 team in the country, I was not as surprised as I should have been. 

And while this is one of those games where ZeLO seems to like Group 5 (and now independents) more than it should when they play Power 5 teams, ZeLO has BYU as a favorite to beat the Baylor Bears.

And not only is ZeLO giving the Cougars a 63.4% chance to beat Baylor, but it also has them as likely to beat their -3.5 spread.

Marshall @ No. 8 ND

I had two thoughts when I saw the graphic in last Friday’s edition of The Observer. The first was, “Wow, that graphic looks incredible.” The second was, “Good lord — I hope that pick is correct.”

The only way to lose credibility faster than picking against the home team in the home team’s newspaper is to pick against the home team in the home team’s newspaper and be wrong. 

Thankfully (or not, depending on how much you love ND), ZeLO was right and spared me the misfortune of picking wrong against ND. 

This week, though, to fulfill my contractual obligation of talking about ND, I must warn you that Notre Dame is facing … another loss. 

I’m kidding, I’m kidding; I just did that to see if you were paying attention. 

No, in reality, ND has a 62.5% chance of beating the Thundering Herd. And while yes, that seems low, that’s because I’m still working off my original projections for the season.

This is because in the past, when I have run ZeLO for the NFL, if you use Week 1 results your predictions get a little … weird. 

For example, last year’s Week 1 gave us the shocking result of Green Bay 3 and New Orleans 38. If I tried shoving that result into the model and the other random results (like the Eagles beating the Falcons 32-6), Week 2 would be bizarre. 

So, I trust my forecasting is somewhat good until four weeks into the season when hopefully, all the quirks have evened out. 

The same rule will apply here. So, ND is a little undervalued and Marshall is probably a little overvalued. ND should win, but Marshall should cover the 20-point spread. 

No. 10 USC @ Stanford

ZeLO already dunked on LSU once, so why not give it a chance to dunk on another team unpopular in South Bend? ZeLO has not once been a fan of the Trojans and will not become a fan until Week 4 at the earliest. I did not make a coaching adjustment this offseason, and USC has had no significant changes beyond its recruiting class adjustment. 

So while yes, ZeLO has a win for the Trojans, when they face a conference foe in Stanford, it will be a lot less likely than you think, 56.6%. Stanford does get the cover, though. 

Tom Zwiller

Contact Tom at tzwiller@nd.edu