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Moller: Taking a look at the teams in the CFP

On Sunday morning the college football playoff committee announced the College Football Playoff field with Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State being the four teams selected. There was plenty of drama this weekend with notable playoff implications, including USC’s stunning loss to Utah in the PAC-12 Championship and TCU’s overtime loss in the Big 12 Championship that set up this final four. With the four-team field set now, it’s time to take a look at each team.

Georgia

Georgia has been the most consistent team this season, and they have dominated every game this season aside from a close victory against Missouri in October. Quarterback Stetson Bennett has continued to command the Bulldogs offense this whole season. Bennett’s 68.1% completion rate is one of the highest in college football, and he will look to continue that against an Ohio State defense that has struggled with passing defense all season.

The Bulldogs also possess plenty of talent in the ground game with the trio of Kendall Milton, Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh all having over 500 rushing yards this season. In the receiving game, the Bulldogs are led by tight end Brock Bowers, who has 726 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Ladd McConkey has also developed as a reliable option at wide receiver as well.

In last Saturday’s win against LSU, the Bulldogs showed why they are the top-ranked team in the country, putting up 50 points against a formidable LSU defense. It’s going to take a lot to stop Georgia from winning another national title this season, and anything other than a repeat title for Kirby Smart’s team should be considered a disappointment.

Michigan

Although the Wolverines made the playoffs last season, they flew under the radar somewhat this year. The Wolverines, however, have embraced the underdog role this season, and their regular season culminated in a 45-23 drubbing of Ohio State in Columbus. On Saturday, the Wolverines took care of business against Purdue to complete their first 13-0 record in program history. 

The key to the Wolverines’ success at the end of the year has been the play of quarterback J.J. McCarthy. In the win against the Buckeyes, McCarthy had some huge plays and finished the day with 263 yards and three touchdowns. The Wolverines will need McCarthy to continue his hot streak into the playoffs if they want to have a chance at winning the national title.

Running back Donovan Edwards has also carried the Wolverines as of late with over 400 rushing yards in just the last two games. With star running back Blake Corum receiving season-ending surgery, Edwards must continue to be a work horse for the Wolverines in their backfield.

Although the offense has stepped up as of late for the Wolverines, the defense has been the team’s staple this season. The Wolverines rank third in the FBS in total defense, and they have allowed just 277 yards per game and only 4.45 yards per play. 

TCU

The Horned Frogs come into the playoffs as the biggest underdogs after losing the Big 12 Championship game Saturday to Kansas State. Despite the loss, this year has been a year to remember for the Horned Frogs. Quarterback Max Duggan has been the heart and soul of this team, and has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdown passes. Duggan’s season will likely earn him a trip to New York for the Heisman trophy, and if TCU is going to have any chance against Michigan, they will need Duggan to have a career day. 

Running back Kendre Miller has also been a spark for the Horned Frogs on offense this season, as he has averaged 6.2 yards per carry and has totaled over 1,300 yards on the ground this season.

No one is giving TCU a chance against Michigan in the CFP semifinals, but the Horned Frogs are playing with house money at this point. Although they will have a chance to prove themselves in the program’s first ever playoff appearance, the Horned Frogs’ defense must play better than they did against Kansas State if they are going to pull off an upset of Michigan.

Ohio State

Ohio State has arguably had the rockiest of roads to the CFP, and without USC’s loss on Friday night, they most likely would not have made the playoffs. Although the Buckeyes breezed through the majority of their regular season games, they hit a major road bump in their stunning home loss to Michigan at the end of the season. In that game, the Michigan offense gashed the Buckeyes for 252 yards on the ground, despite not having star running back Blake Corum.

Despite the stunning loss, C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes will have a chance to redeem themselves as heavy underdogs against Georgia. If the Buckeyes are going to compete, their defense is going to have to make a complete 180 from the Michigan game, which will no doubt be a challenge against a Georgia offense that ranks seventh in the FBS in total offense. 

In the Michigan game, the Ohio State offense let the team down as well by only scoring three points in the entirety of the second half. Although that was uncharacteristic for an Ohio State offense that averages nearly 500 yards per game, they will face another stiff test against a Georgia defense that led the SEC in yards allowed per game.

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Women’s soccer prepares to host South Bend regional

Friday afternoon, a weekend of soccer will kick off at Alumni Stadium to decide who will be among the final eight teams in the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame will host both their own game with Santa Clara, as well as an earlier contest between Michigan State and TCU to determine who will play the winner of the Irish/Broncos matchup.

Here’s everything you need to know about the three teams Notre Dame will play or might play this weekend in South Bend.

Santa Clara is the Irish’s Round of 32 opponent, and they present an immediate tough task for a Notre Dame squad that glided by Omaha in the Round of 64 without much difficulty. The Broncos have NCAA Tournament experience that few others in the nation can boast. Last year’s squad made the College Cup, and in 2020 they took home the national title. Neither of those Broncos teams were highly seeded, and both took down No. 1 seeds in their tournament runs. 

Izzy D’Aquila leads the charge for Santa Clara. The nation’s top goalscorer, D’Aquila outjumped three defenders and the Cal goaltender to deliver the winning header in the first round of the tournament. She is one of the most dangerous players on the field if she’s able to get the ball at her feet. But for that to happen, Santa Clara needs big games from wingbacks Alyssa Bourgeois and Colby Barnett. That pairing leads the team in just about every chance creation stat possible. They need to break through a stout Notre Dame defense Friday night.

Michigan State, TCU round out quartet

Headlining the earlier game is the No. 4 seed Michigan State. The Spartans have enjoyed a dream season in Jeff Hosler’s second year as head coach. The Spartans won the Big Ten regular season title, continuing a stunning curve of improvement from a 2020 team that finished 1-10-1 and ended the season on a 10-game losing streak. Goalkeeper Lauren Kozal anchors the Michigan State backline and has enjoyed a career year in her final season that has placed her among the nation’s best goalies. Senior forward Lauren DeBeau leads the charge on offense for the Spartans, with a team-high 11 goals as well as four assists.

Looking to end Michigan State’s stellar run is TCU, whose up-and-down results throughout the season make them likely the biggest wild card of the regional. Early on in the season, the Horned Frogs notched perhaps the biggest statement win of the year in college soccer, dismantling then-No. 16 Santa Clara 7-0 in Fort Worth. But from that point on, TCU went just 1-1-2 against ranked teams. That included a 3-0 defeat at the hands of USC. The Horned Frogs have offensive weapons, most notably graduate student forward Messiah Bright, who seems destined for the NWSL once her collegiate career ends. But will they show up against a disciplined Michigan State team that has had a week of rest from a grueling extra-time win in round one?

The South Bend regional kicks off Friday at 2 p.m. at Alumni Stadium when Michigan State takes on TCU. Notre Dame will play the second match of the afternoon, taking on Santa Clara at 6 p.m. Both matches will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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Zwiller: ZeLO’s CFP Rankings and Week 11 Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, onto the picks!

No. 25 Washington @ No. 6 Oregon

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

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

No. 4 TCU @ No. 18 Texas

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

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

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

No. 22 UCF @ No. 17 Tulane

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

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

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

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

No. 9 Alabama @ No. 11 Ole Miss

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

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

Louisville @ No. 10 Clemson

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

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

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

No. 15 North Carolina @ Wake Forest

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

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

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

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

No. 20 Notre Dame @ Navy

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

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

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

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

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Predicting the College Football Playoff committee’s toughest decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Oregon

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

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

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

Verdict: UCLA

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

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

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

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

Verdict: Tennessee

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

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

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

Verdict: USC

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Week 11 of College Football: Top 5 games

5. No. 15 North Carolina @ Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2, (Wake Forest -3.5)

North Carolina has run the table since their loss to Notre Dame, making the Irish win look all the better. The Tar Heels are currently 8-1 and are favorites to win the ACC Coastal division. The line favors Wake Forest, but the Tar Heels are 5-0 on the road this season. UNC quarterback Drake Maye has been lighting it up the entire season, passing for nearly 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. The fact that he is putting up these gaudy numbers as a freshman should be extremely encouraging to Tar Heel fans. Maye is absolutely destroying defenses and could even garner some consideration for the Heisman. Wake Forest is coming off of two straight losses, which has seemingly eliminated them from conference contention. The only thing they have left to play is the role of spoiler; they could derail North Carolina’s hopes for a New Year’s Six Bowl. After a great start to the season, Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has thrown 3 interceptions in each of his last two games. North Carolina has a porous pass defense, so there will probably be holes in the coverage.

4. No. 22 UCF @ No. 16 Tulane, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2, (Tulane -2)

Tulane is the top-ranked team in the Group of Five, which puts them on track for a New Year’s Six game. The Green Wave are 8-1, with a signature win over a Kansas State team that is currently ranked 23rd. Their only loss was a letdown game to Southern Mississippi the week after their upset. Running back Tyjae Spears has been on a tear for the Green Wave, rushing for over 100 yards in each of his last three contests. On the other hand, UCF has a case for being the best team in the state of Florida. The Golden Knights are 7-2 and trail only the Green Wave in the conference standings. Head coach Gus Malzahn has engineered an offensively talented team; UCF has put up 40 points in four of their games this year. Two weeks ago, UCF won their biggest game of the season so far, beating Cincinnati 25-21. Backup Mikey Keene had to lead the Golden Knights to victory, and he also beat Memphis last week by a score of 35-28. 

3. No. 24 Washington @ No. 6 Oregon, 7:00 p.m., FOX, (Oregon -13.5)

The seminal PAC-12 game of the week is a pivotal rivalry contest. Washington needs a win to keep their hopes of a PAC-12 championship alive. The Huskies have shown flashes of an extremely talented team in the first year of the Kalen DeBoer era, but lack a true signature win. Last week, quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. led a game-winning drive to beat a ranked Oregon State team and the Huskies are largely dependent on the play of Penix. In their losses to UCLA and Arizona State, Penix has made crucial mistakes, throwing interceptions in each. The Huskies also have a suspect pass defense due to both injuries and inexperience. Oregon has inspired its fans into once again thinking about a potential playoff bid. Quarterback Bo Nix is having a lot more fun than he did in the season opener, as the Ducks have ripped off eight straight wins since a 49-3 demolition at the hands of Georgia. Nix has 22 touchdowns compared to just 5 interceptions. Last week, the Ducks destroyed a 1-8 Colorado team 49-10. If there is more chaos on the national scene, the Ducks could back their way back into the playoff. However, they have to win out. 

2. No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m., CBS, (Alabama -11.5)

It’s a rare sight to see Ole Miss with the better record in the annual meeting between these two SEC teams. The Rebels are 8-1, but haven’t done it in a very convincing manner. Last week, they needed another monster performance from freshman running back Quinshon Judkins in order to beat a 3-5 Texas A&M. Judkins rushed for 205 yards in last week’s victory, a game he played on his 19th birthday. The Rebels needed a bounce back from their first loss two weeks ago, 45-20 to LSU in which they utterly collapsed after holding a 17-3 lead. The Tide are still sore from their own loss to LSU, a 32-31 overtime classic. After scoring a touchdown to start overtime, LSU responded with a touchdown of their own and scored on a two-point conversion to win the game. Alabama is 7-2, but has lost their games by a combined 4 points. Quarterback Bryce Young was routinely throwing under pressure last week, and an opportunistic Rebels defense needs to try and take advantage of any weakness they can find. Alabama was favored by nearly two touchdowns in their last game, but will the Rebels pull off another upset and send the Tide reeling?

1. No. 4 TCU @ No. 18 Texas, 7:30 p.m., ABC, (Texas -7)

TCU might just be the surprise of the season in college football. In head coach Sonny Dykes’ first season, the Horned Frogs have sprinted out to a 9-0 record (their best start to a season since 2010) highlighted by wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Although they’ve won all their games, they haven’t looked unbeatable. They have faced double-digit deficits twice: down by 18 to Kansas State and by 17 against Oklahoma State. Quarterback Max Duggan has been the architect behind the Horned Frogs’ meteoric rise. Duggan has 24 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions this season. He also has a host of talented receivers to spread the ball around to — nine have a touchdown this year. Texas is coming off of a huge win over Kansas State that keeps them in the race for the Big 12. Star running back Bijan Robinson ran for 209 yards and a touchdown as Texas withheld a Kansas State comeback to win by a touchdown. The defense came through for the Longhorns against Kansas State, forcing a fumble to ice the game. The Longhorns will need a similar effort if they want to win against this high-flying TCU offense.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

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Week 5 college football takeaways

The cost of firing a head coach in today’s college football landscape is higher than ever. Massive buyout payments that come with the early termination of a contract means that schools pay millions of dollars just to get their coaches to leave. After his exit in 2021, former LSU coach Ed Orgeron received a buyout of $17.1 million. In a recent interview, Orgeron acknowledged the massive paycheck he received, joking that his response to losing his job was to ask, “What time do you want me to leave and what door do you want me out of, brother?”

With this huge amount of dead money being par for the course with coaching changes, schools do whatever they can to make it work with their staff. In addition, they only fire their coach if they believe new leadership to be absolutely necessary. A pair of programs that recently parted ways with their head coaches received validation that their decision was correct by earning upset victories with interim coaches at the helm.

In 2018, longtime Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson announced his retirement. For his replacement, the school tabbed former Temple head coach Geoff Collins, with the intention of replacing Johnson’s preferred triple option attack with a more conventional offensive scheme. Less than four full seasons later, the Yellow Jackets are back in the coaching market. Collins’ firing was announced last week after three consecutive three-win seasons and a 1-3 start to this year that did nothing to inspire confidence of a turnaround in the near future. In their first game without Collins, the Yellow Jackets went on the road and stunned No. 24 Pitt. The Panthers outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards. But, an opportunistic defense that forced three turnovers and 157 rushing yards from running back Hassan Hall were enough to scrape out a 26-21 upset victory.

Nebraska had been trying to recapture its 90s magic for nearly two decades when it hired Scott Frost as its new head coach in 2017. Frost, a former national championship-winning Husker quarterback and a former national championship-winning UCF head coach, seemed like a perfect fit in every sense of the word. The pairing ended up being anything but perfect; Nebraska, once a powerhouse, posted losing records in each of Frost’s four seasons and did not qualify for a single bowl. After years of speculation of his seat getting hot, a home loss to Georgia Southern was the last straw and Frost was fired after a 1-2 start to the season. 

In their first game without Frost, Nebraska’s struggles continued in a blowout loss against Oklahoma, but the Huskers turned things around this week, ending their nine-game losing streak against FBS opponents with a 35-21 win over a solid Indiana team. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season will play out for Georgia Tech and Nebraska, but the trajectories for both teams’ seasons have improved significantly since their midseason coaching changes. This week, another high-profile coach was let go when Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst. The Badgers will look to continue the trend of teams improving their play without a permanent coach and they will have their first chance to do so against Northwestern this weekend.

Georgia needs late comeback to escape Missouri

Defending national champion Georgia’s season-opening 49-3 domination of Oregon (which now somehow looks even more impressive given how well the Ducks have played since) gave way to a litany of premature questions about the Bulldogs’ greatness. Is Georgia’s defense somehow even better than last year’s unit, which was one of the greatest of all time? Will quarterback Stetson Bennett, who many expected to be benched last year, win the Heisman? Can anyone beat Georgia (or even score a touchdown against them)?

After a sloppy 39-22 win over Kent State and a nail-biting 26-22 victory against Missouri, during which Georgia trailed by ten early in the fourth quarter, those questions can begin to be answered. No, Georgia’s defense is not better than last year’s, which allowed over twenty points just once (in the SEC Championship against Alabama). No, Bennett is probably not a Heisman contender after throwing for zero touchdowns in the last two games combined. We still do not know if anyone can beat Georgia, but it certainly looks much more plausible now than it did after the Oregon game.

The Bulldogs’ recent performances could simply be a case of them overlooking a pair of weaker opponents, but they revealed a blueprint for how Georgia could be beaten. Georgia out-gained Kent State and Missouri by about 200 yards each, but their turnover margin was a combined -4. This allowed less talented teams to hang around with them, and in Missouri’s case, nearly defeat them. In Georgia’s first three games, all wins by over 30 points, the Bulldogs did not have a single turnover and recorded six takeaways. Their overwhelming talent has thus far given them a large enough margin for error to remain undefeated, even when they fail to take care of the ball. But they could be in trouble later in the season if they lose the turnover battle against an elite opponent.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma stumble again

Every year, we see teams with sky-high preseason expectations fail to live up to the hype. Last season, Iowa State and North Carolina were ranked No. 7 and No. 10, respectively in the preseason AP Poll before finishing with records of 7-6 and 6-7. In 2020 preseason polls, No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Penn State both failed to post winning records.

These teams pop up every year to serve as a stark reminder that no one can really predict how a season will turn out and 2022 has been no exception. Notre Dame began the season ranked No. 5, but a shocking 0-2 start dropped them out of the rankings entirely. After Week 5, it looks like the Irish might have company, as preseason top-ten teams Texas A&M and Oklahoma each suffered their second loss of the season in blowout fashion.

Texas A&M’s playoff chances took a dent in week two when they were upset by Appalachian State. The back-to-back wins against ranked opponents Miami and Arkansas that followed, though, gave the Aggies hope that they could get back in the hunt. Those hopes have now been erased, as they were defeated decisively on the road against Mississippi State, 42-24. Texas A&M’s defense, their calling card earlier in the season, had no answer for the Bulldogs’ dynamic passing attack. Quarterback Will Rogers continued his excellent start to the season by posting 329 yards and three touchdowns. The Aggies could still theoretically win the SEC West, but it is difficult to imagine them beating Alabama this week.

Despite losing their head coach, quarterback and several other key players and recruits, Oklahoma breezed to a 3-0 record in non-conference play and looked impressive while doing so. Everything came crashing down when Big 12 play began, and the Sooners’ conference slate started with consecutive losses against Kansas State and TCU. The TCU loss on Saturday was particularly backbreaking for a team coached by Brent Venables, a renowned defensive specialist; the Horned Frogs scored 41 points in the first half alone en route to a 31-point win, 55-24.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma still have time to right the ship and avoid the ignominious finishes that the teams mentioned earlier experienced, but it is not a good sign that their preseason goals are already out of reach less than halfway through the season.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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College football top games week 6

5. Texas @ Oklahoma, 12 p.m., ABC, (Texas -7)

Sandwiched in between the two weeks of the Texas State fair in Dallas is the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma. The game is almost guaranteed to be a good one as regardless of the quality of the teams, only one game since 2014 has been decided by over ten points. Oklahoma has had a rough past two weeks, losing to both Kansas State and TCU after rising as high as sixth in the rankings. Head coach Brent Venables, who is seen as a defensive whisperer, needs to work some magic to get this Sooners defense back to the level Oklahoma fans expected. Texas also could welcome back quarterback Quinn Ewers, who hasn’t played since getting injured versus Alabama in the second week of the season. The Longhorns fell victim to an upset bid from Texas Tech two weeks later, but rebounded with an 18 point win over West Virginia to get to 3-2. Both fan bases are some of the most devoted in college football, and whichever head coach loses this game will get a lot of heat. Can Oklahoma stop their slide? Or, will Texas reassert themselves as a contender in the Big 12? 

4. No. 8 Tennessee @ No. 25 LSU, 12 p.m., ESPN (Tennessee -2.5)

After losing to Florida State in heartbreaking fashion in week 1, head coach Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers have won four straight games to sneak into the bottom of the Top 25. In their SEC victories, the Tigers have come back from 13 points against Mississippi State and a 17 point deficit against Auburn. Quarterback Jayden Daniels has carried LSU at times, leading them on pivotal drives to help regain leads. The defense has also made plays, forcing key turnovers. The next game is clearly the toughest on LSU’s schedule so far. Tennessee has earned a pair of big wins against Pitt and Florida, allowing them to skyrocket into the top 10. Quarterback Hendon Hooker has been a playmaker for the Volunteers, averaging nearly 300 yards passing per game. The Volunteers also have the benefit of coming off of a bye, allowing them to prepare for the mobility and improvisational skills of Daniels. Wide receiver Cedric Tillman, one of the best pieces for Tennessee, is questionable to play. Getting him on the field would be a huge boost for Tennessee as they go on the road to one of the toughest places to play in college football. 

3. No. 16 BYU @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC, (Notre Dame -4)

BYU has shown flashes of brilliance this season while also dealing with some inconsistent play. After winning their first game easily, they took Baylor down to the wire, winning in double overtime. They then got blown out by Oregon, but have responded with two wins over inferior competition in Wyoming and Utah State. Although the Cougars won, in each game they have failed to put together four quarters worth of quality football. If they want to beat Notre Dame and keep the goals they have for this season alive, they can’t sleepwalk at the start of this game. They do have the benefit of quarterback Jaren Hall, one of the most exciting players to watch in college football. Notre Dame’s back seven will have to step up to the challenge against another prolific passing offense. The Irish have largely looked good against the pass, allowing just 21 points to Ohio State and playing well enough versus North Carolina to put the game out of reach. There are still offensive questions, although some have been put to bed for the time being after a 45 point performance against North Carolina. Furthermore, the Irish are coming off of a bye week, allowing for more practice opportunities and a chance to get healthy. 

2. No. 11 UCLA @ No. 18 Utah, 3:30 p.m., FOX, (Utah -4)

UCLA, led by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, just knocked off a previously unbeaten Washington team last week. It was the Bruins’ first win over a top-15 team since 2014, and a statement win for head coach Chip Kelly. Thompson-Robinson’s skills as a mobile quarterback in addition to running back Zach Charbonnet has helped make the UCLA backfield dynamic and fun to watch. The offensive line has more than held its own through the first five games. Although UCLA only won by eight, Washington never threatened; their fourth quarter rally was only good enough to make the box score look better. After Utah’s three point loss at Florida to begin the year, the Utes have responded with four blowout wins, the most impressive being a 42-16 win over Oregon State last week. Quarterback Cameron Rising is also a skillful runner and passer with a lot of weapons surrounding him. Sophomore Clark Phillips III caught three Beaver passes for interceptions. Their defense has looked much improved and they will need all of it to stop UCLA. This is a game that could be a deciding factor in the quest for a conference championship berth. 

1. No. 17 TCU @ No. 19 Kansas, 12 p.m., FS1, (TCU -6)

If someone told me that I would be ranking TCU-Kansas as the number 1 game this week at the beginning of the season, I would have said that I have a better chance of being struck by lightning. Nevertheless, this game is an undefeated Top 25 showdown with College Gameday in town. Kansas has been the feel-good story of college football. The Jayhawks are 5-0 for the first time since 2009. Head coach Lance Leipold has been the architect of a masterful turnaround. Quarterback Jalon Daniels looked like a dominant player in the first four games of the season, although he was bottled up against Iowa State. Kansas still found a way to beat Iowa State thanks to one of their best defensive performances in years. TCU has been led by its overwhelming offensive attack on the way to averaging over 40 points in its first four games, all of them wins. They are ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2019. Quarterback Max Duggan threw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns in a romp over Oklahoma, leading to him being named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week. This is the first time Kansas has hosted College Gameday, but TCU is 6-1 during these high-level games.

Contact Joseph Tunney at jtunney@nd.edu.

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Crow: Three takeaways from Week 4 in College Football

The Big 12 is officially up for grabs

Through four weeks of the college football season, we are at the stage where conference hierarchies typically begin to emerge and pecking orders come into focus. At the very least, it should now be clear which teams are legitimate conference championship contenders and which are not. Even that cannot be said for this year’s Big 12, which feels more wide open than ever after Saturday’s results.

The presumptive favorite in the conference had previously been No. 6 Oklahoma, winners of six of the last seven Big 12 championships. That presumption came crashing down on Saturday, as the Sooners were upset by Kansas State in Norman, Oklahoma behind a dominant five-touchdown performance from Wildcats quarterback Taylor Martinez, a Nebraska transfer. Likewise, No. 22 Texas had a strong start to the season with a near-victory against Alabama, but it was ultimately defeated in overtime by rival Texas Tech. Suddenly, Kansas State and Texas Tech are both 1-0 in Big 12 play with head-to-head advantages over Oklahoma and Texas, respectively, leaving the Sooners and Longhorns with a significant amount of ground to make up.

No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Baylor are likely the current Big 12 favorites, but they face off next Saturday, and a Baylor loss would saddle them with an 0-2 conference record while teams like Kansas (who can usually be penciled in for last place prior to the start of the season) and TCU remain undefeated. The conference’s “worst” teams may be Iowa State and West Virginia, yet it would be no great shock to see either string together a few wins and find themselves in the hunt for a Big 12 title. Iowa State’s resume includes a win over a solid Iowa team, and the Cyclones’ only loss was by one-possession against Baylor. West Virginia started 0-2 with close losses against a ranked Pitt team and a should-be-ranked Kansas team. The Mountaineers have since turned their season around with a pair of victories that includes Thursday’s 33-10 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

All of this is to say that it is anyone’s guess who will win the Big 12. Maybe December’s championship game will pit Oklahoma against Oklahoma State, or Baylor against Kansas State, or Kansas against TCU. There is certainly an element of excitement that comes from conferences having one or two clear favorites. The season-long buildup to a single game that could alter the entire playoff race, like Alabama-Georgia or Ohio State-Michigan, creates a special sense of heightened drama unique to a sport in which the regular season carries so much weight. If chaos is what you seek, though, look no further than the Big 12, which is sure to deliver it in abundance throughout the rest of the season.

Mixed bag for ‘basketball schools

One of the off-season’s strangest stories was the feud between two Kentucky head coaches, men’s basketball’s John Calipari and football’s Mark Stoops, that arose after Calipari referred to Kentucky as a “basketball school.” While the comment was not without validity, given the school’s illustrious history on the hardwood and comparatively dismal track record on the gridiron, taking a jab at another program within the Kentucky athletics umbrella felt unnecessary and in poor taste. Stoops quickly came to his team’s defense, noting that the football program is on the rise while its basketball counterpart has struggled as of late. Notably, Kentucky football has won ten games twice in four seasons after last doing so in 1977, while the two most recent men’s basketball seasons ended with a missed NCAA Tournament and a first-round tournament loss to Saint Peter’s.

Kentucky has taken care of business through the early stages of the football season, currently sitting at 4-0 and ranked No. 7 as Stoops has made good on his word. Ironically, given the unusually high amount of discourse about what qualifies as a basketball school, the six schools widely considered to be college basketball’s “blue bloods” all entered week four with a 3-0 record. While some, like Kentucky, stayed hot, others saw their perfect start to the season come crashing down.

The Wildcats played host to Northern Illinois on Saturday and used 17 consecutive second-half points to break open a game that was tied at halftime. Kentucky star quarterback Will Levis threw four touchdown passes in a 31-23 win that did not earn any style points but kept the Wildcats in lockstep with a red-hot Tennessee team in the battle to be Georgia’s biggest SEC East challenger.

Further west, a pair of 2022 Final Four participants squared off as Kansas hosted Duke in front of a sold-out crowd in Lawrence. The Jayhawks continued their surprising resurgence in a 35-27 victory as quarterback Jalon Daniels continued to build his Heisman case, compiling over 400 yards and five touchdowns. Even further west, UCLA remained perfect with a dominant 45-17 win on the road against Colorado. The Bruins have benefited from a forgiving non-conference schedule and will have their first true test when they host No. 15 Washington in a critical Pac-12 battle next Friday.

Indiana and North Carolina joined Duke in suffering their first losses of the season, both of which could be primarily attributed to defensive struggles. Indiana surrendered 38 first-half points on the way to a 45-24 loss on the road against Cincinnati. The Tar Heels hosted Notre Dame in Chapel Hill and allowed a previously struggling Irish offense to gain 576 yards as they coasted to a 45-32 win. As the season kicks into high gear, the next few weeks will reveal if the rise of the blue bloods in football is just a flash in the pan, or if this really is, to the dismay of Coach Calipari, the year of the football school.

Top teams show signs of vulnerability

A common critique of college football is that it lacks parity, that the same handful of teams compete for the national championship every year. This notion mostly holds true, and this season, teams like Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State already appear to be closing in on playoff lock status. Beyond that trio, however, the next tier of contenders has provided more questions than answers, and several top-ten teams were put to the test in week four.

No. 4 Michigan began its season with three consecutive blowout wins, though the legitimacy of their dominance was questioned due to an extremely weak nonconference slate. There now appears to be some truth to those concerns after the Wolverines were played tight by Maryland in a 34-27 win in their conference opener. Similarly, No. 5 Clemson faced its toughest opponent to date in No. 21 Wake Forest and required two overtimes to escape Winston-Salem with a 51-45 win. Clemson’s first few games established its offense as a relative weakness, but it was the defense that struggled against Wake, as Deacon quarterback Sam Hartman torched the Tigers to the tune of 337 yards and six touchdowns. Clemson showed encouraging signs of offensive improvement but will need to sort its defensive issues out in a hurry as they prepare to face No. 10 NC State this week.

Elsewhere, No. 7 USC featured one of the nation’s best offenses during the season’s first three weeks but struggled to move the ball against a subpar defense as they clawed out a 17-14 win over Oregon State. Kentucky also picked up their fourth win, using a second-half surge to beat Northern Illinois, but Oklahoma, and No. 10 Arkansas, were not as lucky. The Sooners fell at the hands of Kansas State while a potential game-winning Razorback field goal that bounced off the top of the goalpost before falling short proved costly in a 23-21 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M. It is difficult to say that college football is moving toward greater parity when another Georgia-Alabama championship matchup looms; but this season promises a great deal of shakeups near the top as the race for the elusive fourth playoff spot continues.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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