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Sports

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.

Categories
Sports

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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Sports

Notre Dame women’s soccer drops first match of the season against Clemson

Notre Dame women’s soccer dropped their first contest of the season, falling on the road to Clemson 2-0 on Thursday.

Proving conference play is always a different beast, the Tigers threw down the gauntlet for Notre Dame early. Just twenty minutes into the match, Sami Meredith got into transition and slotted home the opening goal to draw first blood for Clemson. Meredith’s opener marked the first time all season Notre Dame conceded first in a match.

And though a tightened Irish defense would hold the Tigers without a shot on goal for the remainder of the first half, Clemson would strike again before game’s end. Emily Brough found the back of the net after a ball was played across the box to put Notre Dame away for good.

The Irish did generate a few big chances over the final 30 minutes in a spirited attempt at a comeback, but ultimately the finishing touch just wasn’t there on the road. Most notably, sophomore midfielder Korbin Albert cracked an impressive effort off the crossbar from a distance and graduate student forward Olivia Wingate nearly connected on the ricochet. Wingate would get another chance at goal in the minute 68, driving nearly the length of the pitch with the ball before coming up short on the final conversion. 

The loss drops the Irish to 7-1-0 on the season, but the chance for an immediate rebound looms this Thursday.

The Virginia Cavaliers travel to South Bend on Thursday night, giving Notre Dame a chance to knock off one of the ACC’s top dogs and make a statement heading down the stretch of conference play.

The Cavaliers dispatched No. 2 North Carolina 3-2 in a thriller Saturday night, meaning they’ll presumably arrive at Alumni Stadium on Thursday as a top-five team in national rankings, and definitively the top team in the ACC.

Junior Lia Godfrey has helped lead the way thus far for Virginia, notching four goals as well as three assists from midfield. It was goals from Godfrey, as well as Rebecca Jarrett and Alexa Spaanstra, that helped the Cavaliers charge back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to beat the Tar Heels on Saturday.

The match also stands as a chance for Irish head coach Nate Norman to make a major statement on his resume at Notre Dame. Since his appointment, Norman is 0-13-1 against the ACC’s consistent top tier of UNC, Virginia, Duke and Florida State and 0-19-1 against opponents ranked No. 10 or higher in the coaches’ poll. 

But there are plenty of signs that this could be the year Norman and the Irish break through. Last season, Notre Dame came painstakingly close several times to getting that first win against the ACC’s elite. They dropped three consecutive games against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina, two of which came in overtime and all of which were played on the road. 

A win on Thursday would boost Notre Dame to a top-five ranking and assert the Irish early as an ACC title contender. With a home crowd (Notre Dame is 15-1-1 at Alumni Stadium over the last two years) backing up an impressive squad that has enjoyed their best start to a season in years, Thursday is set to be a marquee matchup for the Irish and their head coach. 

The Irish return home on Thursday Sept. 22 to play Virginia at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed on ACCNX.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

Categories
News

Notre Dame inches up national college rankings

Notre Dame was ranked No. 18 in the U.S. News & World Report best national university rankings released Monday.

The list, which ranks 443 U.S. colleges and universities, ranks Notre Dame as tied for No. 18 with Columbia University. Notre Dame was ranked a spot below at No. 19 in last year’s rankings.

Columbia University fell in the rankings from No. 2 to No. 18 following a data falsification scandal. According to The New York Times, the scandal and the forthcoming ranking drop called into question the basis of U.S. News ranking

The U.S. News rankings are often advertised by elite schools in order to attract prospective students.