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Moller: The curse that continues to haunt the Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ record in one-score games in the regular season: 11-0. The Vikings’ record in one-score games in the playoffs: 0-1.

That’s pretty much all that is needed to sum up yet another season that ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Minnesota Vikings. They yet again fell victim to a curse that has haunted their franchise since its inception more than 60 years ago.

Although I tried to keep my expectations in check for the Vikings this year, it was hard to contain my excitement after they continued to pull off exciting win after exciting win in the regular season.

It was after the Vikings found a way to win the “game of the year” against the Bills that I really started to believe in this team. After winning by a score of 33-30 to improve to 8-1, it began to feel like this team had a legitimate chance to be a Super Bowl contender. In past seasons, those close games, like the one in Buffalo, were games the Vikings simply couldn’t seem to win. But this year felt different. 

Although the Vikings had slip-ups against the Cowboys and Lions over the coming weeks, they continued to win close games against respectable teams and seemed like a legitimate contender.

And then came the game against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 17 at U.S. Bank Stadium — a game I attended in-person. The Vikings came in as heavy favorites against the lackluster Colts, with a chance to clinch the NFC North with a win.

In the first half, the Vikings were atrocious, and they found themselves in a stunning 33-0 deficit at half. What happened in the second, however, was nothing short of magical. The Vikings truly pulled off the impossible, as they battled back to win 39-36 in overtime and completed the biggest comeback in NFL history. The atmosphere at that game was truly unlike any game I have ever attended. After that, I truly believed that this Vikings team was destined for greatness in the playoffs.

After winning two of their last three games to finish the season 13-4, the Vikings secured the three seed in the NFC and earned themselves a date with the New York Giants in the Wild Card round. They beat the Giants just a few weeks earlier on Christmas Eve, and I had the utmost confidence coming into this game.

The first offensive drive resulted in a touchdown for the Vikings, but that would be the only time the Vikings led the whole game. The Giants went on to tear up the Vikings’ defense. On their first two drives, the Giants scored two touchdowns and tallied 156 yards off of just nine plays. Although the Vikings managed to stay within striking distance, there were a couple of critical plays that were simply head-scratching and contributed to the seven-point loss. 

The first of these head scratchers was a critical third-and-one for the Vikings early in the game with the score tied at seven. The Vikings desperately needed a first down to keep the redhot Giants offense off the field, and instead of running the ball, they drew up a lateral to wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who then threw the ball to quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins ended up getting dropped for a loss of two yards. Why in the world would you let Cousins use his legs on a third and short, especially when Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the league? The Vikings were forced to punt the ball away and subsequently watched the Giants march down the field after this blunder.

The other crucial play happened at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Vikings trailing 24-21. The Vikings faced a fourth-and-one from the Giants’ 16-yard line, and they lined up to go for it. It looked like the Vikings had the first down on a run up the middle, but left tackle Christian Darrisaw jumped before the snap. The ball was moved back, and the Vikings were forced to kick a field goal to tie it instead of having a chance to take the lead.

Then, the biggest head scratcher of them all occurred on the final drive of the game. With the Vikings down seven and facing a fourth and 15 from their own 48-yard line, Kirk Cousins threw a short check down pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson for three yards. Although Cousins faced heavy pressure, he needed to give his team a chance. I would have rather had him chuck it up blindly toward Jefferson than to seemingly admit defeat by throwing it underneath to Hockenson. Jefferson made some phenomenal catches this year and he might have had another one in him, but now we will never know. The play was so perplexing that after the game, veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson said that “[Cousins] must not have known what down it was.”

This series of unfortunate events is just another saga in the disappointing life of a Vikings fan. If you really want a list of all the Vikings’ blunders in the playoffs, you would need to talk to my grandparents, as they witnessed the Vikings lose four Super Bowls in the 1970s. But even in my lifetime, this loss hurt just as much as the disappointing losses in the 2010 and 2018 NFC Championship games against the Saints and the Eagles.

If the Vikings were just a bad team, it would be a lot easier. But that’s the problem. It seems like the Vikings are always just good enough to build up my hopes, but never good enough to win the Super Bowl. To prove my point that the Vikings are historically a good football team, they ranked seventh in the NFL in all-time winning percentage coming into the 2022 season. This winning percentage is better than the 49ers, Steelers and Giants — all teams that have at least four Super Bowls. The Vikings, however, have nothing to show for their stellar winning percentage.

I could continue ranting for days about the Vikings and pointing fingers at various players, coaches and front office employees. I’ve realized now, though, that maybe it isn’t any one specific person or group of people. It seems to be something bigger than that. For whatever reason, the Minnesota Vikings are a franchise that is always destined for failure in the playoffs, regardless of how good they are in the regular season. The Vikings are a cursed franchise that might never win a Super Bowl.

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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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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Schatz: The 6,500 souls that built the 2022 Fifa World Cup

The World Cup is back, and most soccer fans all over the world are excited for its return. For the first time in FIFA history, an Arab nation is hosting it. However, with this feat comes a very dark turn. Qatar won the bid over several other countries such as the U.S., Japan and South Korea. 

Before I discuss what occurred in the years leading up to the World Cup, I would like to start with the atrocities Qatar has consistently committed. In their 2022 freedom house report, the country was deemed “not free” with a score of 25 out of 100. For comparison, the U.S. has a score of 83 and Tunisia 64. 

How did Qatar get such a low score? Well, despite having some of the wealthiest citizens in the world, Qatar has a large number of migrant workers and refuses to protect the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. Qatar, like many other Gulf countries, lives under the guardianship system. In this system, women are treated as property to their male guardian. Women thus need permission from their male guardian (whether it be husband, brother, father or other male family member) for certain activities. LGBTQ+ members are constantly harassed, and Qatar legally prohibits sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage. 

So with these examples, and countless others, Qatar should not have even been eligible for the bid. Even though FIFA’s then-chairman Sepp Blatter supported the original bid, he has since admitted it was a mistake. 

Even with the global spotlight on Qatar, they have yet to make changes. As I stated previously, a majority of Qatari workers are migrants and noncitizens. According to multiple reports, over the course of the ten years since Qatar received their bid, over 6,500 Southeast Asian migrants from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have died building the stadiums and hotels that guests will stay in. This is not including the thousands of migrants that work in Qatar from other parts of the world. 

The death toll is not the only issue with the migrant workers in Qatar. These workers are noncitizens, which means they are not granted the same rights as Qatari citizens. These workers would work 18-hour days, were subject to extreme heat and dangerous conditions and were sometimes imprisoned for what appeared to be no reason. 

With the stadiums and hotels lying on the bones of those who built them, you can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more protests on the event. Sure, many newspapers have reported on the atrocities, and there has been plenty of buzz on the human rights abuses. But soccer teams and countries that are protesting the World Cup are doing it in a very superficial way. Cities in France join London in stating that they will not be hosting public screening of the events. Yet, both countries sent their team as representatives. And many have pointed out the hypocritical response from France as Paris Saint-Germain F.C. is owned by a Qatari company. Australia posted a video against human rights in Qatar, and Denmark has released a statement that they will be wearing more subtle jerseys to protest. However, and I know this is a shock to every individual reading this, all of these countries will still be attending the world cup and bringing hundreds of fans, and thousands of dollars, into Qatar.

Qatari organizers have tried to mitigate the issues by stating that “everyone is welcome.” But many do not feel that this sentiment is real. With statements of welcome from Qatar come very damaging ones. Like a Qatari ambassador saying that homosexuality was “damage in the mind” and that members of that community should respect their culture and accept their rules. 

As the first game on Sunday roles around, millions of fans across the world will be tuning in to support their team. There will be thousands of fans there who will spend their money to continue to contribute to Qatar’s government that is flooded with corruption and human rights offenses. I am not blaming the fans. In fact, I will probably be turning on multiple games over the course of the series. Rather, I hope that it will make people think just a little more than they did previously on the graves that the World Cup is built on. 

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu.

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

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Post: Improve your criticisms of Gregg Berhalter

Let me preface by saying this: I am no fan of Gregg Berhalter. From the start of his tenure, I have maligned his implementation of positional play and often conflicting ideals. It’s hard for me to imagine a world where he is the best possible coach the USSF can muster to coach the USMNT.

With that being said, so much of the criticism of the USMNT’s current manager as the team gears up for its first World Cup in eight years is misplaced.

If you want to take shots at Berhalter’s tactics, so be it. I, for one, don’t think much of what he has tried in terms of structure fits the current roster. But critiques of the players he’s bringing to play (or lead, given this is the youngest USMNT roster since any of its current players were alive) miss the mark.

Take current first-choice center-back Aaron Long, for instance. Over the last year and change, criticizing Long has become something of a stand-in for criticizing Berhalter. The case against Long makes sense in a vacuum. He is by any definition a flawed player. He doesn’t boast an expansive passing range, he doesn’t excel in 1v1 defensive situations and there are still questions about how much of his game was affected by a season-ending injury suffered at the start of the 2021 season. 

But using starting Long as a building block for a “fire Berhalter” case is ridiculous. Because, as flawed as Long may be, he absolutely makes the most sense from a tactical perspective for the current USMNT. Most USMNT fans would agree that Walker Zimmerman is, given the current injury status of Miles Robinson and Chris Richards, the best option for the team in their first match against Wales.

And Zimmerman’s consensus status as a starter is why Long is his partner. Zimmerman, for all his aerial prowess, is, simply put, slow. Throughout qualifying, the USMNT has played a high defensive line. And such a line would struggle if Long was removed from the rotation because no other center back in the current fold complements Zimmerman like he does. Tim Ream offers experience at the highest club level in the world and an underrated passing range. But Tim Ream is 35 years old and even slower than Zimmerman. 

Just because Ream plays in the Premier League (and at a high level at that), means that he’s an automatic fit to start for the USMNT. One of the reasons Ream has excelled for Fulham is the fact that they play a deep block, where the veteran center-back is tasked with being dominant in the air. This system fits his skillset, and as such enhances his performance. The opposite is true for how he would fit into the USMNT lineup.

The reason we know this? Ream was himself in Long’s position just a few years ago, the whipping boy of the USMNT picked on as a consequence of continued faith from Berhalter despite poor performances. Perhaps most notably, in what would go on to be an iconic 3-2 statement victory against Mexico, Ream spent most of his 82 minutes on the field being toyed with by quicker players like Hirving Lozano. On Mexico’s second goal, Diego Lainez was isolated directly with Ream and beat him with a cut inside. 

And this performance came in a defensive structure that offered Ream even more security (he was the left center back in a back five) than the current 4-3-3 high line would. While Ream will certainly be an important factor in the squad for Qatar. It may be merely offering a veteran presence in the locker room of one of the youngest teams in the tournament. Or it could be as someone who can help close out a lead when teams are sending long balls into the box at every chance. He’s not fit to be the starter. Berhalter is making the right choice rolling with Long. 

And on the note of the USMNT being one of the youngest teams in the tournament, that fact also helps to explain some of Berhalter’s more heavily criticized roster decisions. Christian Roldan, for instance, is perhaps the player heading to Qatar that has drawn the most questions from USMNT fans. Sure, the wide midfielder is a reliable MLS starter who brings versatility to the table. But there’s not much in his pure skillset that excites anyone as a game-breaker on the international level.

For one, at 27, Christian Roldan is basically an old man by USMNT midfield standards. The oldest expected starter in the center of the park for the United States in Qatar will be Weston McKennie, at the ripe old age of 24. He’ll likely be accompanied by Tyler Adams (23) and Yunus Musah (19) to help lead a lineup that won’t be much older in average age than McKennie, if at all. It’s easy to see why veterans of both club and country such as Roldan (who also consistently has been praised for his tactical acumen and ability to act almost like a player-coach at times) and DeAndre Yedlin made the roster over some of their more exciting counterparts.

The USMNT is entering the World Cup knowing the odds are stacked against them. Just one player on the roster (Yedlin, who’s likely to be used in a rotational role if at all) has played in a World Cup before. Just about every team they face will be more battle-tested on the global stage. Berhalter knows this and knows he needs to add reliability and veteran know-how wherever he can. 

And in his eyes, that means starting a flawed center-back he knows fits the system and filling his depth spots with experienced options even if they lack upside. Many fans see such decisions as weakness. Berhalter likely sees them as insurance. And if the USMNT is able to put together a run in spite of their collective youth, that insurance will almost certainly be invaluable.

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Gregg Berhalter’s leadership provides subdued outlook for U.S.

The first thing you need to understand, if you are an American inexperienced with world soccer, is that Greg Berhalter is not a “bad guy.” He’s not the Bobby Petrino or Urban Meyer of American soccer. I personally have had the opportunity to engage in a number of brief conversations with the man and can confirm he is a genuine, humble and approachable person who truly cares about U.S. soccer.

Another thing you need to know is that Gregg Berhalter likely obtained his current position due to nepotism. His brother was an executive in the U.S. Soccer Federation and reportedly fought hard to elevate him, then the head coach of the MLS Columbus Crew toting a 39% win percentage, to the nation’s most prestigious soccer position. 

Throughout the post-2018 disaster era of the USMNT, whether it be friendlies, World Cup qualifying, recruitment, roster selection or, most recently, preparation for the World Cup, Berhalter’s reign has had its ups and downs. There were the bright moments, such as recruiting dual nationals Yunus Musah, Pepi Ricardo or Malik Tillman, emphatically defeating Mexico dos a cero in Cincinnati or expanding the USMNT player pool into Europe. Then, there were the lows, like an embarrassing loss to far inferior Canada in qualifiers, notching zero goals in recent September friendlies or the alienation of veteran players.

Many always believed Berhalter’s most mind-numbing lapse in leadership was his commitment to a stringent system in international play. Again, to my potentially inexperienced readers, international soccer is thrown together in a matter of weeks. There is no time to establish a system similar to that of FC Barcelona or Manchester City in, at most, a combined month together over the course of a year. Yet GGG (Berhalter’s nickname) has emphasized “verticality” as if it was his Bible. The system of “verticality,” which puts a priority on building from the back, slow methodical play and a bevy of runs in behind, has done nothing but stunt the growth of this team. It has neutered star attackers such as Christian Pulisic or Giovanni Reyna and alienated talented players that deserve to suit up, such as Jordan Pefok or John Brooks, simply because they do not “fit the system.”

Yet Berhalter’s masterclass of troughs came this past week, when the Federation announced the 26-man roster that would be attending the World Cup in Qatar. As someone who has meticulously scouted this pool of players, lets just say, I was far more than a bit underwhelmed. Now, the roster is no failure — there were some lock picks that elevate it, as well as a few pleasant surprise selections that will be vital in the Cup matches. Yet overall this roster provides little prospects for the United States exceeding expectations in Qatar. 

In the defense, GGG selected Cameron Carter-Vickers of Celtics, Sergino Dest of AC Milan, Aaron Long of NY Red Bulls, Shaquell Moore of Nashville SC, Tim Ream, captain of Fulham, Antonee Robinson of Fulham, Joseph Scally of Borussia Monchengladbach, DeAndre Yedlin of Inter Miami and Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC. It is important to note that Chris Richards of Crystal Palace sustained an injury and thus was unfit to play. This slew of selections screams “MLS quota.” There is absolutely no reason this many players from a far inferior domestic league should be representing our country in 2022. We have far better options available. I am pleasantly surprised to see Tim Ream, who has been in fantastic form for Fulham, on the roster. Dest and Robinson have played fantastic for the national team, and Carter-Vickers and Scally deserved nods based off immense club performances. Zimmerman has been a beast for the USMNT, and was the sole MLS player I believed deserved a spot. 

But then… it gets bad. Long has a great comeback story after injuring himself at the start of qualifying. That’s all well and good, but he should be nowhere within 500 miles of this roster. His form has been questionable in the retirement league of the MLS, he has played mediocre at best for the national team and has major injury concerns. Perhaps there’s hope President Biden could sign an executive order to kick him off the roster.

Shaq Moore and DeAndre Yedlin exist. There’s not much to say about them. They’re not very good for their already underwhelming clubs, nor the national team. Their principal accomplishment is that they can run and sometimes kick. Hooray! One could make the argument Yedlin is here for past WC experience, but if that’s the case, where is John Brooks, who scored in a World Cup? Reggie Cannon, Mark McKenzie or John Brooks would have been far more talented options. But Gregg had to show the USSF is “in league” with the dead weight and talentless MLS, leading to a back line that lacks critical depth.

The midfielders are a far more elite group, mostly because there was little way GGG could screw it up. Brendan Aaronson and Tyler Adams of Leeds United, Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo, Weston McKennie of Juventus, Yunus Musah of Valencia, Kellyn Acosta of LAFC and (deep sigh) Cristian Roldan of Seattle Sounders (screams in agony). It is likely the captain will be in this midfield group, whether its Adams or McKennie. All of the European selections here are top-notch. Each has been in top form for their clubs, particularly the Leeds United boys, and contributed immensely to the heart of the USMNT. 

The MLS players are highly questionable at best. Kellyn Acosta has a high motor. Congrats, you can run a lot. That may come in handy against inferior pawn teams such as Jamaica or Cuba, but will be utterly useless against a side of immense talent like England. Cristian Roldan should be triple the distance of Aaron Long from this side. He has been fine for Sounders, but utterly invisible on the national team. He may even be a net negative. GGG apparently believed one spot needed to go to a “glue guy,” and the selection was Roldan. The idea that Berhalter would overlook the talents of a Malik Tillman or James Sands simply for a “glue guy” to record some funny videos in the locker room is befuddling. Actually, more like downright negligent. Roldan has no business warming the USMNT bench, much less seeing minutes.

The forwards provided perhaps the most shocking exclusions of the roster. Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, the undisputed star of the team, was joined by Tim Weah of Lille, Gio Reyna of Borussia Dortmund, Josh Sargent of Norwich City, Haji Wright of Antalyaspor, Jesus Ferreira of FC Dallas, and … Jordan … Morris … of Seattle Sounders. The first four names mentioned were locks and should be critical contributors and shining stars of this side. 

The bottom three warrant not just discussion, but anger. Jesus Ferreira is not the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo because he scored some sexy free kicks in MLS. In fact, recently his form has been utterly disgusting, as he sends easy goals 30 yards into the air as if he was kicking a field goal. GGG’s favoritism is more than apparent there; it’s blinding. Haji Wright has been blazingly effective in the Turkish Super Lig, yet was underwhelming at the national level. His skill set is utilized better by Jordan Pefok, who at one point was the top scorer for his Bundesliga team. Pefok was not selected due to “form concerns,” yet Ferreira was given an almost guaranteed spot, despite a form that could be rivaled by certain writers at The Observer. 

Jordan Morris has no merit to be on this team. It is 2022 and Jordan Morris is still receiving call-ups, despite proving time and time and time again he is an underwhelming winger who cannot effectively create attack chances. He is undoubtedly the worst pick here. 

Pepi Ricardo, who struggled in the Bundesliga but now is tearing it up in the Eredivisie, was not selected. Pepi saved the USMNT a number of times in contested qualifying matches and was, at a point, the second-leading scorer behind Pulisic. He proudly chose to represent the USMNT over Mexico, and was a fierce proponent of the American vision of football throughout 2021 and 2022. Yet, he will remain at home, a heartbreaking decision for fans and Pepi alike. These are the sorts of decisions that may threaten Berhalter’s job come January. At least he did a good job picking goalkeepers in a historically weak USMNT keeper pool.

So, what can American hopefuls, both diehards and casuals, expect when the U.S. plays its first match next Monday? That will ultimately come down to Berhalter. He needs to ditch the ideas of “verticality” and loosen up his coaching style. Let talented players like Christian Pulisic (who truly is Chelsea’s best attacker), Gio Reyna (Golden Boy nominee) and Timothy Weah take players on and beat them. Let the trio of Musah, McKennie and Adams operate with more independence as opposed to following a script. Let Dest shoot from deep outside. In other words, let the youngest team in the tournament play like the youngest team in the tournament. Do not restrict them to playing like your mediocre Columbus Crew sides of old or a middling Premier League side. There is a fire here in this side that can come out at any time. GGG needs to stop trying to work to tame that flame and instead let youthful exuberance be what propels this unbelievable group of teenagers forward. 

This article may have been bleak. I know. But, readers, you must understand this is the most talented team the USA has ever sent to a World Cup, and it’s not close. If utilized correctly, these players have the potential to make some noise in this tournament. They will be likely favorites against Iran and Wales and, despite the pompous celebrations of the English media, reports are Gareth Soutgate and the Three Lions are uneasy about their match versus the Americans. This is the group of boys we will be sending — there are no more changes to make, barring injury or emergency. Let’s show them the support they need as they undertake the most iconic tournament in the world. And Gregg, try not to screw things up. 

Contact Adam Akan at aakan@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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Coolican: ‘They wrote me off, I ain’t write back:’ Smith, rookies lead Seattle resurgence

“They wrote me off, I ain’t write back though,” Geno Smith said after the Seattle Seahawks’ 17-16 victory over the Denver Broncos to open the season. 

The quote, which instantly reverberated throughout the NFL landscape, certainly is true of Smith, but it also applies to the entire Seahawks team. After trading franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos and releasing All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner in the offseason, most fans and pundits alike thought Seattle would finish at the bottom of their division and challenge for the No. 1 overall draft pick. 

What has transpired instead over the first eight weeks is nothing short of remarkable. The Seahawks currently sit atop the NFC West with a 5-3 record, notching impressive wins over projected playoff teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants. They also look like undisputed winners of the Wilson trade.

The Seahawks received several veteran players in addition to two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-rounder in exchange for Wilson and a 2022 fifth-round pick. Denver currently sits at 3-5, with Wilson vastly underachieving the lofty expectations heaped on him when the Broncos acquired him. It is possible the Seahawks may make the playoffs and receive a top-10 draft pick in the same season. 

The emergence of Smith has been a large part of the Seahawks’ success this year. Drafted by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2013 draft, Smith had an unremarkable first two years in the league as a starter before being relegated to a backup role. He had brief but uneventful stints with the New York Giants and Chargers before landing in Seattle in 2019 as Wilson’s backup. 

Last year, while Wilson missed several weeks due to injury, Smith filled in as the starter, and played well but not spectacularly. After the Wilson trade, Smith competed with the newly-acquired Drew Lock for the starting job. Despite Lock’s uneven record as the Broncos starter, many expected him to win the job, but after an excellent training camp and preseason, Smith earned the nod. 

He immediately burst onto the scene, completing 17 of 18 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone against the Broncos to open the season. The game, nationally televised on Monday Night Football, saw Smith outduel his former teammate Wilson. 

His production hasn’t dropped off since then. Smith leads qualified passers in completion percentage and is in the top ten in passing yards and touchdown — significantly ahead of Wilson in each category. 
Smith hasn’t done it alone, however: another reason for Seattle’s success is one of the best draft classes in recent memory. The Seahawks boast a surprisingly effective offensive line, anchored by two rookie tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas. 

The success of the offensive line has allowed second-round pick Kenneth Walker III to emerge as one of the league’s best running backs over the last several weeks. Walker has been a force to be reckoned with since Rashaad Penny went down with an injury, thrusting him into the starting role. After averaging under 20 yards rushing per game over his first three contests, Walker has averaged more than 100 yards the past four weeks, including a 167-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Chargers in Week 7. 

On the other side of the ball, fifth-round pick Tariq Woolen’s four interceptions are tied for the league lead. Fellow rookie cornerback Coby Bryant has also impressed as the team’s nickel corner. General manager John Schneider and his team did an absolutely outstanding job with the 2022 draft and set the Seahawks up for success now and in the future. 

Veteran leadership has also been key for Seattle this year. Wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are among the best one-two punches in the league, while defenders such as safety Quandre Diggs and linebacker Jordyn Brooks have stepped up to lead the defense. The defense was among the league’s worst over the first few weeks of the season but has improved significantly. While still not a strength of the team, the defense is no longer a liability. 

While this year has been a revelation for Seattle, Seahawks fans should keep their optimism tempered for playoff success. The NFC West remains one of the toughest divisions in football. The Los Angeles Rams are the defending Super Bowl champions, and the San Francisco 49ers have one of the most complete teams in the league after the addition of star running back Christian McCaffrey. Don’t count out the Arizona Cardinals after wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins returned from suspension. 

The Seahawks haven’t played an easy schedule so far by any means, but the only time they played a true Super Bowl contender was a 27-7 loss to the 49ers where they didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Upcoming games with the Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and a rematch with the 49ers will be instructive to see if Seattle has what it takes to go toe to toe with the best and make a playoff run. 

Whatever the outcome this year, fans in Seattle have every reason to be thrilled about the direction the organization is heading. Very few teams can trade a franchise quarterback and come out as clear winners, but the Seahawks did just that. Combined with an elite rookie class and solid veteran play, the team appears poised to return to its role as an annual Super Bowl contender sooner rather than later.

Contact Liam Coolican at lcoolica@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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Week 10 of College Football: Top five games

5. Air Force @ Army, 11:30 a.m., CBS, (Air Force -7)

Air Force and Army square off for the 56th time in an early start with the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy on the line. This trophy is given to the winner of a round robin between Army, Navy and Air Force. Since Air Force beat Navy 13-10 this year, they have a chance to win the trophy outright with a win Saturday. If the Falcons lose and Army beats Navy in their end of the season clash, Army would win the trophy. And, if Army beats Air Force but loses to Navy, the trophy will be shared. Both teams have a unique offensive style. Due to restrictions on the height and weight of those in the service academies, the offensive lines of each school are some of the smallest in college football. However, both schools are elite academically and prepare students to become future officers in the armed forces. This makes running the triple option (an offense based on discipline, quickness and deception) perfect for the service academies. Air Force carries a 5-3 record, led by workhorse running back Brad Roberts and dynamic quarterback Haaziq Daniels. Army is 3-4, but with 2 straight wins and a reputation for playing tough defense under head coach Jeff Monken. 

4. Texas @ No. 15 Kansas State, 7 p.m.,  FS1, (Texas -2.5)

Another week, another key Big 12 battle. This week sees the Texas Longhorns head up to Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas to face Kansas State in a battle for second in the Big 12. Texas is 5-3, falling victim in close losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Alabama by a combined 11 points over the three games. The Longhorns are coming off of their bye week, which was needed in order to correct some issues after their loss to Oklahoma State. Texas squandered a 31-17 lead and didn’t take care of the ball; three Quinn Ewers interceptions (two in the fourth quarter) was what did them in. Kansas State is coming off of their best win in years, a 48-0 win over the very same Oklahoma State team. Even though dynamic starting quarterback Adrian Martinez was out, backup Will Howard threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Deuce Vaughn had 158 yards on the ground and another score. The defense also had a stellar performance, holding Oklahoma State to just 217 yards. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy stated his team’s performance bluntly, saying they “got their butts kicked.” The transitive property would seem to give the edge to Kansas State, but that rarely works in the tumultuous world of college football. 

3. No. 6 Alabama @ No. 15 LSU, 7 p.m., ESPN, (Alabama -13)

The Tide and the Tigers square off in a key battle between two teams with one loss in SEC play. Although LSU lost their opener in heartbreaking fashion to Florida State, the Brian Kelly-led Tigers have rebounded well. Their only other loss is a 40-13 drubbing by Tennessee, who is currently second in the nation. The Tigers have been led by their dual-threat quarterback Jayden Daniels. If the LSU receivers are covered downfield, Daniels is always a threat to scramble for a large gain. Daniels has also taken care of the football, throwing 12 touchdown passes to just one interception. In LSU’s last game, they roared back from a 17-3 deficit to dispatch Ole Miss 45-20. This team can put points on the board, and if they beat Alabama they would shockingly be in the drivers’ seat of the SEC West. The Tide have other plans. After their 49-52 loss to Tennessee, they rebounded with a dominating 30-6 win over Mississippi State. Quarterback Bryce Young continues to wow NFL franchises looking for a franchise centerpiece in the upcoming draft. Will Anderson continues to wreck teams’ gameplans from the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Nick Saban is still the best in the business, and he is 6-1 with the Tide in Tiger Stadium, a venue seen as one of the toughest to play in. 

2. No. 5 Clemson @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC, (Clemson -3.5)

If Notre Dame wants to redeem their season and give first year head coach Marcus Freeman some real momentum, this is the game to win. If Clemson wants to continue their ascent to the College Football playoff, they have to get a tough win in the cathedral of college football. It all shapes up for an epic showdown. The Irish have won 5 of their last 6, highlighted by their 41-24 domination of sixteenth ranked Syracuse. They’ve done it under a punishing run game, led by running backs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. Further, the Irish hold a 26 game regular season winning streak against ACC opponents. The Irish have largely played up and down to their level of competition this year, which gives them a punching chance against Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team. Clemson’s offense is built around running back Will Shipley. If they are able to run the ball with success against the Irish, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will have a much easier time connecting with his wide receivers. It remains to be seen how much time Uiagalelei will have under center. In their last game, a 27-21 win over Syracuse, Uiagalelei was benched for freshman Cade Klubnik. Klubnik then successfully led a comeback attempt to preserve the win. 

1. No. 2 Tennessee @ No. 1 Georgia, 3:30 p.m., CBS, (Georgia -9)

One versus two is a rarity in college football, even more so in the regular season. Georgia has put together a convincing title defense in their first 8 games, highlighted by a season-opening drubbing of an Oregon team that hasn’t lost since. Last week, the Bulldogs took care of Florida after a brief scare. Florida scored 17 unanswered points after falling behind 28-3 to make it a one score game. Georgia responded with 2 touchdowns to ice the game. Tight end Brock Bowers is extremely athletic, and he just had 154 yards in his best game of the season. Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV is not the game-changing player that other top teams have at the position, but he knows how to win. The Bulldogs have much less margin for error against a Tennessee team that is having their best season since their national championship in 1998. The Volunteers haven’t let up since their win against Alabama. Last week, they demolished a ranked Kentucky team 44-6. Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt broke the school record for touchdown catches in a season in just eight games. The Volunteers intercepted NFL prospect Will Levis three times en route to the easy win. Tennessee seems to be playing their best football, but a win over Georgia would be unparalleled.

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Zarazua: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, the game that could have changed it all

I have the weirdest hobbies sometimes; one of them is looking at past events for sports teams. Particularly where simple plays become pivotal moments in a team’s future, years beyond the game’s end. A lot of them are reaches for sure, but it’s always interesting to think about what would have happened if things went another way for another team. The one that I always think about though, as a Notre Dame football fan, through all the numerous quarterbacks, heartbreaking losses and coaching changes, was that fateful night on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. This is when No. 5 ranked Notre Dame traveled to Tallahassee to face defending national champions No. 2 ranked Florida State.

I do not think people remember well-enough how talented the 2014 Fighting Irish were. On the defensive side of the ball the Irish had Isaac Rochell, Drue Tranquill, Jaylon Smith and, of course, captain Joe Schmidt. On the offensive side quarterback Everett Golson was having an amazing comeback season, with weapons like Corey Robinson and Will Fuller, all while being protected by Nick Martin, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.

Yes, that’s a lot of players, but that’s barely scratching the surface of this talented Irish squad. Everything was clicking for them going into the 7th game of the season including the demolishing of Michigan 31-0 and the game winning TD caught by Ben Koyack at home against Stanford. They were talented, clutch and, most importantly, a team. I truly felt that this team could beat anybody, and felt they were truly up for the challenge against Jameis Winston and Florida State, which we came to find out they were.

Showing remnants of the classic 1994 matchup, Notre Dame and Florida State were battling and dealing blows left and right. If one team gave a gut punch, the other gave one back. No matter what, it seemed that the game would come down to one final play… and it did.

With 7:39 left in the game, down 31-27, Notre Dame drove the whole length of the field with a chance to dethrone Florida State on the road. It came down to 17 seconds left, 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. The ball was snapped, Golson threw a pass to a wide open Corey Robinson and… touchdown; the Irish had the lead and most likely the game. I remember hugging my grandpa, an avid Notre Dame fan as well, and we were celebrating such an amazing win in an amazing game. Then, suddenly, my dad had to break the sad news to us: There was a flag.

My stomach literally dropped, “Pass interference, offense No. 7.” First off, Will Fuller never set the pick, it was sadly No. 20 C.J Prosise. I remembered trying my best to defend him, but of course, looking at it now, it was the most obvious pick I had ever seen, in a football game no less. Now, its 4th and 18, they did it earlier in the drive, they have to have the luck of the Irish on their side right? Nope, pressured, Golson had to let it fly early, with the ball seeming to have no clear target: game over, Irish lost.

While the outcome was gut wrenching, I have to admit that was one of my favorite games to ever watch. I saw all the future NFL talent on both teams, but it still sucks knowing that a simple screen cost Notre Dame a chance to beat the No. 2 team in the country. I was still optimistic about the season though, 6-1, playoff hopes were clearly still alive and they beat Navy in a nail biter the next week, but they’ll be fine. The Irish win next week against Arizona State and win out the rest of the season…right? Dead wrong.

The Irish completely collapsed, and seeing it every step of the way was heartbreaking and a little embarrassing to watch. They completely melted down against Arizona State. I saw it the most in Golson, who was once an amazing quarterback, who made plays left and right, now looking like a shadow of his former self in a span of two weeks. They continued to lose close games to Louisville and Northwestern at home, with the icing on the cake getting embarrassed by USC 49-14 to end the season. I remember vividly Brian Kelly screaming at his squad at halftime, delaying the band’s halftime show in the process.

Going from a No. 5 team with National Championship aspirations, to a 7-5 team playing the Music City Bowl, the Irish thankfully landed on somewhat of a good note. This time winning in a nail biter against Les Miles and LSU. However, against this team Golson was nowhere to be found. Rather, the Irish went with Malik Zaire, the lefty sophomore back up quarterback. Another sour note to end the season, Golson would eventually leave for Florida State, funny how life works, huh? Malik is the leader now, a promising young man, he’ll lead us to the promised land, right?

Nope, Malik, after a impressive debut against Texas, has a season ending injury against Virginia, leading the way for Deshone Kizer to take the lead. He played extremely well, leading the Irish to a 10-2 season, only to get demolished by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, there is the problem of who will start next season, Kizer or Zaire? Well, looking back on it now, did it really matter? I don’t have to go into the details of that dreaded 4-8 season, but of course we know that Kizer eventually left early for the NFL. And, Zaire left for Florida, paving the way for Brandon Wimbush, who had a decent career with the Irish as well, only to, again, leave on a sour note, leaving for UCF after he was benched numerous times. For who, do you ask: the all time winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history, Ian Book. Ian was amazing as we all know, but sadly, even he couldn’t get us over that final hump. After he left, Jack Coan took over, a decent year, only to choke again in the Fiesta Bowl after Brian Kelly left too. 

Now we are here, 2022. Marcus Freeman is our head coach and Tyler Buchner was supposed to lead the team, only to get hurt and have Drew Pyne take over…sounds like we’ve witnessed this one too many times, huh? With playoff hopes seemingly dead for this year, we again have to wait another year to finally win it all for the first time since 1988. Still though, it makes you wonder how different things could’ve been if that one simple play went our way.

What if the penalty was never called? Would Notre Dame win out? Would Golson be considered the greatest quarterback in Notre Dame history? Would we win again if Golson didn’t transfer? Would Brian Kelly still be here? Well, I definitely don’t know but it’s funny how the butterfly effect works though, isn’t it?

Contact Gabriel Zarazua at gzarazua@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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Tunney: Top five games of CFB Week 9

Another week of college football brings another slate of games, each with unique stories, traditions and players. In the words of famous sportscaster Brad Nessler, “you can go to every stadium in the country, and never see the same thing twice.”

5. Michigan State @  No. 4 Michigan, 7:30 p.m., ABC, (Michigan -22.5)

This iconic battle is waged for the 115th time this Saturday, as two teams with divergent seasons clash in a rivalry matchup. Michigan is 7-0 and has looked the part of a team willing to challenge Ohio State again for Big Ten supremacy. The Wolverine offensive attack possesses a talented group of wide receivers and strong backfield led by running back Blake Corum. Corum has received some Heisman trophy hype, the prognosticators currently project him with the fourth-best odds to win the award. 

After a good deal of preseason fanfare, Michigan State has had a rocky season, going 3-4. Their offense hasn’t gotten over the loss of NFL running back Kenneth Walker III, although the team still has playmakers. Wide Receiver Jaylen Reed had a game-winning catch against Wisconsin last week. Defensive end Jacoby Windmon has won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice. The Wolverines may be the better team talent-wise, but to achieve their goals they’ll have to get past a team that has been their kryptonite. Jim Harbaugh is 0-2 against Spartan head coach Mel Tucker, and the Wolverines are 4-10 in the last 14 matchups. 

4. Notre Dame @ No. 16 Syracuse, Noon, ABC, (Syracuse -2.5)

After an up and down month, the Irish travel east to central New York to play a surprisingly good Syracuse team. The Irish had the benefit of a get-right game last weekend, beating an inferior UNLV squad 44-21. Throughout the year, tight end Michael Mayer has looked like the real deal; he’s the leading receiver on an Irish team that needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back Audric Estime has run well at times but has struggled with ball security, fumbling three times in his past four games. If the Irish want to upset Syracuse, they will need to take care of the ball. Syracuse is 6-1, coming off of a tight loss to fifth-ranked Clemson. Running back Sean Tucker has been the best player for the Orange this year, which makes head coach Dino Babers’ decision to largely exclude him from the game plan against Clemson all the more confusing. Tucker only carried the ball five times for 54 yards. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has had a good year for the Orange, and if they want to stay in contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl Game, they will need this win. 

3. No. 9 Oklahoma State @ No. 22 Kansas State, 3:30 p.m., FOX, (Kansas State -1)

The Big 12 plays host to another important battle, a dogfight that could potentially decide the second spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. Both teams have lost to TCU, who has taken charge as the best team in the Big 12 thus far. Oklahoma State responded from their double overtime loss to TCU two weeks ago (their only loss of the season) with a huge win over Texas. Quarterback Spencer Sanders is dealing with undisclosed injuries, but he fought through to give the Cowboys an important win. Sanders threw for 391 yards and 2 touchdowns last week.

Kansas State has lost two games, to TCU and a ranked Tulane team, and have shown flashes of being a conference contender. The Wildcats were up 28-10 on TCU at one point before collapsing and allowing a comeback. Kansas State also barely avoided an upset against Iowa State. Quarterback Adrian Martinez also was injured against TCU, and although backup Will Howard filled in admirably, the starter’s health is a paramount concern. Both teams need the game to stay in the battle for the Big 12 Championship. 

2.  No. 19 Kentucky @ No. 3 Tennessee, 7:00 p.m., ESPN, (Tennessee -12.5)

This showdown between two ranked SEC teams has potential to be a classic. Quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Will Levis are two of the most talented in the country for their respective teams, and their showdown on Saturday night is going to be fun. Hooker has been the man behind the reins of an insanely talented offensive attack, and his connection with wide receiver Jalin Hyatt might end up leading the Volunteers to the SEC Championship and beyond. The Volunteers are playing their first conference game since their biggest win in years, a 52-49 win over Alabama. Fans stormed the field, uprooting the goal posts and transporting them out of the stadium into the nearby river. Last weekend, the Volunteers put up 65 points on a hapless UT Martin squad. Kentucky is coming off of their bye week, which allowed their star quarterback to get healthy. Two weeks ago, they earned a key win against a ranked Mississippi State, stopping a losing streak of two games. Kentucky’s philosophy is built on running the football and playing strong defense. If they can somehow get defensive stops this Kentucky team could turn Tennessee’s championship dreams into a nightmare.

1. No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 13 Penn State, Noon, FOX, (Ohio State -15.5)

Ohio State is undefeated and has a claim as the best team in the country. Quarterback CJ Stroud has been scary good, with 28 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. Ohio State has made their living off of having the best wide receiver rooms in the country over the past few seasons and this year is no different. Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming have more than stepped up in the absence of the crown jewel, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Head coach Ryan Day is hopeful that Smith-Njigba can return for his first game since his injury against Notre Dame. 

Last week, the Buckeyes obliterated an Iowa defense that some called the best in the Big Ten, overcoming a flat start to put up 54 points. Penn State is coming off of a big win against Minnesota that keeps them in the Big Ten Championship race (for the time being). That contention is dependent on a win this weekend. If Penn State loses on Saturday, the Nittany Lions and head coach James Franklin will be effectively out of the running. Franklin’s team has talent, and have played the Buckeyes close in recent years. 

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

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

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One game away: remembering the College Football Playoff’s near misses

Tennessee and TCU, both unranked entering the college football season, continued their surprising starts by improving to 7-0 on Saturday. Tennessee did not let up following their thrilling win over Alabama, scoring 52 first-half points and coasting to a 65-24 victory against UT Martin. TCU had a more difficult test in the form of No. 17 Kansas State. After falling behind 28-10 in the first half, the Horned Frogs rattled off four consecutive touchdowns behind another big performance from quarterback Max Duggan to emerge with a 38-28 win.

Both teams remain among the six undefeated FBS teams still standing. But while the other four that are unbeaten — Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson and Michigan — are among college football’s premier programs of the past decade, the excellent seasons from Tennessee and TCU have seemingly come out of nowhere. Tennessee closed last season with 7-6 record but has posted the best offense in the country this season behind quarterback Hendon Hooker, a current Heisman favorite, and Jalin Hyatt, who leads the nation with 12 receiving touchdowns. Last year, TCU fired longtime head coach Gary Patterson midway through a 5-7 season. After poaching new coach Sonny Dykes from in-state rival SMU, the Frogs have already defeated four ranked teams.

Tennessee and TCU may yet falter down the stretch, but it would send major shockwaves through college football if either team were to break into the playoff, given that the elusive four spots have been so consistently hoarded by a select handful of dominant programs. That being said, it has not been uncommon to see less heralded programs on the doorstep of the playoff. These teams have largely been lost to history due to the belief in hindsight that teams like Alabama and Clemson were always destined to reach the final four. In reality, had a few results been different, a host of other programs could have found themselves in the playoff. As Tennessee and TCU continue their attempt to overthrow college football’s hierarchy, here is a look at some of the teams that have never reached the playoff but have come within a single game of doing so.

Honorable Mention: Missouri – 2007 and 2013

While these seasons both occurred slightly before the playoff’s introduction, Missouri holds the ignominious distinction of having been one win away from the reaching the national championship game not once, but twice in the last fifteen seasons alone. Missouri, now a middling program that has posted a 41-43 record since 2015, exemplifies how quickly fortunes can change in college football.

The 2007 season was the most chaotic in recent memory. The early No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams lost in the same week three different times. This opened the door for two-loss LSU to claim the national title, the first champion with multiple defeats since Minnesota in 1960.

Missouri began the season unranked but jumped out to a 5-0 start before suffering their first defeat against Oklahoma. Led by star quarterback Chase Daniel, who finished fourth in Heisman voting, the Tigers rolled to five more wins, setting up a critical regular season finale against No. 2 Kansas, with the winner advancing to the Big 12 Championship. Missouri won 36-28 and was ranked No. 1 heading into conference championship week, needing a win to reach to the national title game. It was not to be, however, as they were bested by Oklahoma for the second time, leaving them to settle for a Cotton Bowl victory.

Fast forward to 2013, expectations were low for Missouri after they posted a losing record the previous season, their first in the SEC. Just as they had six years earlier, the Tigers came out of nowhere, starting the season unranked but finishing 11-1 on the back of an electric offense. No. 5 Missouri faced No. 3 Auburn in the SEC Championship, with No. 4 Alabama idle after ceding their division to Auburn. When No. 2 Ohio State lost in the Big Ten Championship, the door was open for the winner of Auburn and Missouri to sneak into the national title game. Auburn earned the victory, pulling away in the fourth quarter to win 59-42 while compiling an absurd 545 rushing yards. Missouri again won the Cotton Bowl but came up painfully short of their ultimate goal.

TCU and Baylor – 2014

In an alternate universe, TCU could have been national champions in the very first year of the playoff. Entering the final week of the season, the Horned Frogs and Big 12 foe Baylor each held 10-1 records and were ranked No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, despite the Bears having beaten TCU in a 61-58 shootout earlier in the season. TCU closed their slate with a dominant 55-3 win over Iowa State, which seemingly cemented their place in the top four. Baylor matched them by defeating No. 9 Kansas State. When the selections were revealed, though, TCU shockingly dropped to No. 6, one spot behind Baylor, while Ohio State vaulted into the fourth playoff spot. The committee looked good after the Buckeyes rolled to the national championship, but both schools justifiably felt wronged at having not been given a chance at the title.

Iowa – 2015

In recent years, Iowa’s calling card has been their dismal offense. But in 2015, the Hawkeyes were mere seconds away from a playoff berth. Unranked entering the season, Iowa worked their way to a 12-0 record. They were ranked No. 4 entering the Big Ten Championship, a de facto playoff quarterfinal matchup with No. 5 Michigan State. As expected, the game was a defensive slugfest. Iowa’s C.J. Beathard connected with Tevaun Smith for an 85-yard touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes a 13-9 advantage in the fourth quarter. Needing an answer, Michigan State embarked on a 22-play drive lasting over nine minutes and culminating with an L.J. Scott touchdown run that sent the Spartans to the semifinals. Michigan State would go on to lose 38-0 to eventual national champion Alabama, and Iowa’s loss likely spared them from a similar fate.

Wisconsin and Auburn – 2017

Entering conference championship week in 2017, the top of the national rankings looked highly unusual. Auburn held a 10-2 record but were propelled to No. 2 behind with two victories over the top-ranked teams in the country. Wisconsin was the nation’s only undefeated team but was dragged down to No. 4 due to a weak strength of schedule. Both teams would be guaranteed a playoff berth with a win, but neither were able to take advantage. In a rematch of their regular season matchup, Georgia dominated Auburn to win the SEC Championship, while a late interception proved costly in Wisconsin’s 27-21 loss at the hands of Ohio State. Despite losing, Wisconsin was still widely expected to sneak into the playoff, but Alabama received the nod despite not qualifying for the SEC Championship. The Tide went on to win the national championship, while Wisconsin claimed the Orange Bowl crown.

Utah – 2019

The Pac-12 has been often ridiculed for failing to produce elite teams. The conference has not had a playoff representative since 2016, and their best opportunity came from Utah in 2019. The Utes ranked No. 5 entering the Pac-12 Championship after a strong 11-1 regular season. After No. 4 Georgia was demolished in the SEC Championship by the Joe Burrow-led LSU freight train, a Utah victory against Oregon would have sent them to the playoff for the first time. With the stakes at their highest, Utah fell 37-15 to the Ducks and the Pac-12 still awaits another playoff participant.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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