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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Zwiller: ZeLO predicts the blue bloods in Week 4

With the third week of college football, ZeLO now boasts a record of 190-58 (76.6%). However, this weekend, the model went 54-18 (75%), so it was a slight dip from the prior weekends. I upped the in-season adjustments this week, so now the model is even more responsive to the USCs and Texas' of the world. Hopefully, that will help to improve the model's performance this weekend. 
Now, onto the picks!

Maryland at No. 4 Michigan

As a Michigan fan (ducks to avoid rotten tomato), I have been following the Wolverines' season closely. Michigan started the year strong, with a record of 3-0 and an average margin of victory of 49.6. Nevertheless, any team should do reasonably well against a schedule of Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn. I did a little experiment to see how well most teams would do against that schedule. Of every single team in college football, 117 would be favored against CSU, 130 against Hawaii and 125 against UConn.

In other words, Michigan has not played anyone of consequence. So that is why I picked this game. ZeLO currently has Michigan with a 75.3% chance of victory.  If Michigan is as good as ZeLO thinks, they should get a solid win. If not, Maryland might expose the Wolverines.

No. 5 Clemson at No. 21 Wake Forest

Like Michigan, Clemson has not played anyone of note, so they look like a reasonably dominant team to ZeLO. Unlike Michigan, however, Clemson has looked fairly unimpressive, with the Tigers blowing out Georgia Tech after a slow start, a weak showing against Furman and an (okay) win against Louisiana Tech. 

Clemson enters conference play this week, and they start with No. 21 Wake Forest and then No. 12 NC State the week after. In other words, much like Michigan, it is time to find out what precisely the Tigers are made of. 
I think Clemson is a bit of a paper tiger — mascot pun fully intended — and at least one of their next two opponents should unmask them. The Tigers' offensive production has been lackluster, with ZeLO ranking them 27th offensively (defensively, they rank fifth). 

Clemson has a 62.9% chance of victory against Wake, which is pretty good, considering Clemson is the road team. I think that number is a shade too high, and it would not surprise me if this is a closer contest than ZeLO expects and if the Tigers were to lose straight up.

No. 22 Texas at Texas Tech

Texas is arguably one of the biggest benefactors of my projection-live stats updates. Originally the model was not at all impressed with the Longhorns, having them as a middle-of-the-road team in the Big 12. Suddenly, Texas is one of its stars, and now Texas is projected as a top-2 or top-3 Big 12 squad. Their in-state opponent, Texas Tech, is by no means a bad team. Tech ranks just outside the top 50, with Texas ranking 38th overall. This should be a good game (in the eyes of ZeLO), with the Longhorns being the favorite to win (56%).

No. 3 Ohio State at Wisconsin

Ohio State seems to be fitting a bit of a trend for this week's picks. They are certainly a good team. The question is more "how good are they actually?" Ohio State has not played anyone of consequence so far (and I include Notre Dame in that statement, ZeLO ranks them 72nd.)

Moreover, while Wisconsin may not be a ranked team, they are not a poor team. ZeLO has the Badgers with the nation's number one defense, and their narrow loss to Washington State is their only blemish on the year. 
With Ohio State heading on the road for the first time this season against a conference opponent who should give the Buckeyes a hard time on offense. It will be time to see how good the Buckeyes are. 

No. 7 USC at Oregon State

If Texas was the team that benefited second most from the model's new projections system, then USC is without question the primary benefactor. The Trojans have been an offensive juggernaut this season, and ZeLO has them ranked as the 10th-best offense in the nation. That mark is likely held back by the model's pre-season projections, which has the Trojans as an above .500 team (though one that had a chance at a solid bowl game). 

ZeLO is now singing a different tune, with the Trojans ranked as the second-highest team in the conference (only Utah is higher at 10th). The Trojans are also the odds-on favorite to make the conference championship.  Just because ZeLO likes USC does not mean that it thinks they are a lock against Oregon State. However, thanks to being the road team, ZeLO has the Trojans as just a slight favorite (51.3%).

In all fairness, the distinction is that USC is the road team. If the Beavers were on the road, it would be a somewhat different story.

Notre Dame at UNC

That Notre Dame is a +2 underdog despite opening up as a -1 favorite is surprising. As good as UNC has looked on paper, the Tar Heels boast wins against Florida A&M, a shootout with Appalachian State and a narrow win against Georgia State. The Tar Heels looked impressive in zero of those games, looking great offensively but atrocious defensively. I see the Tar Heels as a bit of a paper dragon (or would it be paper ram?). 

I honestly think that ND can win this game. They have the defense to slow down UNC, and the lackluster offense might find new life against a UNC defense that would be lucky to stop a pee-wee football team. 
However, you are not here for my takes. You are here for ZeLO's takes. And like I said way back in August when I first wrote about what the model predicted for ND, this game should be a struggle for the Irish. In fact, because of the two teams' respective performances, UNC is now the favorite to win the match. The Tar Heels have a 60.3%-win probability and an excellent chance to beat the spread.

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