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.


Irish offense stays red-hot, torches Boilermakers

The undefeated Notre Dame women’s soccer team trotted into West Lafayette, Indiana on a humid Thursday evening to face off against in-state rival, Purdue. It was a rematch of last year’s Round of 32 matchup, which the Irish won in penalty kicks. They left tonight with a still unblemished record (6-0-0) after a 3-1 victory over the Boilermakers. 

The Fighting Irish waited a week to get back on the pitch after a scheduled contest with Indiana University on Sunday, Sept. 4 was rained out. Graduate student Olivia Wingate recorded her first career hat trick the last time Notre Dame played, in a 4-1 win against Wisconsin.

The Purdue Boilermakers, a solid Big Ten school sitting 3-3 on the season, were coming off a strong road victory at Kansas State in which goalkeeper Sarah Kile recorded 11 saves. 

Notre Dame played aggressively right out of the gate on Purdue’s Folk Field. The Irish sent several balls hurling over the Boilermaker’s net and dominated possession of the ball within enemy territory. Fifteen minutes passed before the Purdue squad mounted a formattable attack on the Notre Dame side of the field.

Yet, for the remainder of the first half, Purdue was able to keep Notre Dame off the scoreboard with its gritty defensive play. The Irish became frustrated at the Boilermaker’s handling of the early pressure. 20 minutes into the game, the Irish bench was charged with a yellow card. In the 39th minute, junior midfielder Eva Gaetino received a personal yellow card to the roar of Boilermaker fans.

The more experienced Notre Dame team was able to rest their starters at the close of the first half, exercising the program’s depth as an advantage. The young and talented Boilermaker squad, which showed great discipline in the opening minutes of play, was unable to afford such luxuries.

Though the score lay 0-0 at halftime, the Irish were undeterred. All four goals in their last game against Wisconsin found the net during the second half. The Irish also possessed a 10-4 midgame shot advantage over the Boilermakers. 

The stalemate crept almost a quarter of an hour into the second period of play. In the 59th minute, senior midfielder Maddie Mercado shot in her fifth goal of the season to take the 1-0 lead for the Irish. Thirty-five seconds later, senior forward Kiki van Zanten landed her first goal this season off an assist by Mercado.

The Boilermakers, who had defended so well up until this point, rebounded right back from the one-two punch. Kayla Budish, the lone black jersey in the sea of white all night, tallied her first goal of her college career just over three minutes later in the 62nd minute.

Both sides played at a fast pace throughout the final 25 minutes of play. Notre Dame’s experience and communication skills ultimately carried the day. With less than eight minutes to go, sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert struck a dagger of a goal, her second of the year, building a 3-1 lead for the Irish.

The fatigued Purdue starters were unable to mount a persuasive attack in the final minutes of play against the fresh legs brought in to fortify the Irish defensive line.

The final score stood at 3-1. The Irish recorded 29 shots and seven shots on goal compared to the boilermaker’s six total shots with just three on goal.

An off day for the Irish still proved to be a convincing victory. The currently 12th-ranked Notre Dame women’s soccer team is knocking on the door of a top ten national ranking.

Next up, the Irish take on the Ohio University Bobcats at home on Sunday at Alumni Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.


Irish hope to bring the rain at Purdue

Inclement weather may very well be the only thing that can slow down Notre Dame women’s soccer at this point. Sunday’s match at Indiana was postponed, forcing the Irish to wait an additional four days before resuming their special start to the 2022 season.

Nate Norman’s team is 5-0 with a +14 goal differential, its best margin through the first five games of a season in 14 years. The next challenge is a short trip to West Lafayette for a Thursday night battle with 3-3 Purdue.

Notre Dame swept the Boilermakers in two meetings last season, prevailing 1-0 in the regular season and eliminating Purdue from the NCAA tournament with a 2-1 victory in penalty kicks. The Boilermakers lost their second-winningest season in program history (15-4-3) at the hands of the Irish, so Drew Roff and his group are certainly ready for another shot at them.

To open the season, Notre Dame has won all five of its games by at least two goals, outshooting opponents 118-17 with a 65-7 on-goal clip. The back end has been reliable throughout the first few weeks for the Irish, allowing just one goal total. The offense, however, has come alive the last two games, bombarding both Illinois and No. 22 Wisconsin for four goals each.

Graduate forward Olivia Wingate has played the starring role in the Irish attack, netting three of her team-leading five goals in last Thursday’s 4-1 thumping of Wisconsin. Very few teams have the defensive talent to shut her down, so Purdue may have to focus on limiting her supporting cast, namely senior midfielder Maddie Mercado. The San Diego native has found the back of the net four times already, and closely trails Wingate’s 17 shots on goal with 15 of her own. Notre Dame’s prime attackers may have an unusually tougher bout with Roff’s defense, though, as Purdue has allowed three or more goals just once since the head coach began his fifth season in 2019.

Purdue, on the flip side, has stumbled out of the gate this year after a historic 2021 season. After defeating then-ranked USC 3-0 to begin the campaign, the Boilermakers lost back-to-back matches to Vanderbilt and Kentcuky before closing out August with a 2-1 win over Miami (Ohio). Purdue then embarked on a two-game Sunflower State road trip that included a 1-0 loss to Kansas last Thursday and a gritty conquest of Kansas State on Sunday. The Boilermakers struck twice in the first 25 minutes of play, but were reduced to ten players for the game’s final 47 minutes due to a red card.

Even so, Purdue followed the lead of sophomore goalkeeper Sara Kile and survived by a score of 2-1. Kile made a career-high 11 saves and has been leaned upon time and time again this season. Despite playing less than 12 minutes as a freshman, Kile has stopped 33 shots and let in just five goals in five games played, as Purdue has been battered 97-57 in the shots attempted department.

In front of her, sophomore forward Gracie Dunaway has paced the offense with a Big Ten-best four goals on the year. The Boilermakers have won all three games in which she scored, so Notre Dame’s cohesive defensive unit will undoubtedly need to keep close tabs on her. Junior midfielder Emily Matthews has often been involved in setting up her tallies, quickly racking up three assists on the young season.

In order to pull an upset and hand the Irish their first loss of 2022, Purdue may have to replicate its brilliant start at Kansas State. The Boilermakers cannot expect to contain Notre Dame’s potent offense for the full 90 minutes, seeing that the Irish have potted ten second-half goals in the first five games, including four late markers against Wisconsin. Thursday will be Purdue’s final tune-up before Big Ten conference play begins, while Notre Dame will have one more home contest with Ohio on Sunday prior to opening its ACC schedule.