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Key Games in the Last Week of College Football’s Regular Season

Maybe you need to silence the cousin who insists on saying the Ohio State University, or appease the sister-in-law from Cincinnati who is tired of the university down Interstate 71 being overlooked.

Perhaps there is the brother who is certain, just as some of his fellow fans have been almost every season since the Reagan administration, that this is Georgia’s year, or the aunt who went to Texas but requires a reminder that there are other (and, this season, far better) teams in the Big 12 Conference.

The end of college football’s regular season rarely brings out the best in any of us, so when better to consider conflicting opinions and revisionist history than at Thanksgiving?

It’s largely up to you to figure out the holiday’s other arguments — mashed potatoes, though, are definitely better than sweet — but here’s a cheat sheet for the top teams in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Throw in a few gratuitous jabs at the Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 Conferences, neither of which have teams in the playoff hunt, and it should be enough to get you to dessert.

All times Eastern.

At Georgia Tech (3-8) on Saturday. (Noon on ABC)

In the first few years of Coach Kirby Smart’s tenure in Athens, the Georgia faithful sometimes wondered whether the school had tapped the right person to lead the Bulldogs. Alabama fans, who had watched Smart’s long apprenticeship under Nick Saban, counseled patience.

Those worries have faded mightily this season. With the nation’s top defense — Georgia has allowed an average of 7.5 points and about 236 yards per game — any offensive shortcomings have been easy to overlook. Just this week, Nakobe Dean, a junior who has recorded seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this season, was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, presented to the game’s best linebacker.

The Bulldogs have not won a national title since the 1980 season. But the team managed back-to-back shutouts in Southeastern Conference play this season, a feat it had not achieved since that championship run.

At No. 5 Michigan (10-1) on Saturday. (Noon on Fox)

The Game is coming back in grand style.

A year after the pandemic forced the cancellation of one of the most fabled rivalries in sports, Ohio State’s grudge match against Michigan, a trip to the Big Ten Conference championship game will be on the line on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Buckeyes muscled past this season’s early worries: Although Ohio State lost by a touchdown at home to Oregon, which Utah took apart on Saturday night to drop the Ducks to No. 11 from No. 3, Coach Ryan Day’s team humiliated Purdue and, over the weekend, a then-No. 7 Michigan State.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud is a contender for the Heisman Trophy, largely because he has completed more than 71 percent of his passes and thrown 36 touchdowns while leading the country’s top offense.

The Buckeyes are averaging almost 560 yards a game, 30.6 yards more than Pittsburgh in second.

At Auburn (6-5) on Saturday. (3:30 p.m. on CBS)

It is generally unwise to count the Crimson Tide out of any national title conversation. Still, Alabama, which routed Ohio State last season to win the championship, has sometimes seemed out of sorts this fall.

There have been big wins — it is Alabama, after all — but also a loss at Texas A&M and one-touchdown escapes over a better-than-usual Arkansas and an absolutely abysmal Louisiana State. And an Iron Bowl date at Auburn is no cakewalk.

But the sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, also considered a Heisman contender, has Alabama’s offense averaging almost 502 yards and Saban’s defense, including the linebacker Will Anderson Jr., is the second-best in the SEC.

At East Carolina (7-4) on Friday. (3:30 p.m. on ABC)

No team from a Group of 5 league has ever reached the playoff. Cincinnati, a member of the American Athletic Conference, just might do it. A signature win, 24-13, at Notre Dame, which is now ranked sixth, certainly helped.

On Friday at East Carolina, Desmond Ridder will be hard-pressed to replicate his performance against Southern Methodist over the weekend, when he completed 17 of his 23 passes, logging 274 yards and three touchdown passes.

He also ran for a score and caught a touchdown pass. Yes, really.

Hosts No. 2 Ohio State (10-1) on Saturday. (Noon on Fox)

Cincinnati’s standing aside, there has perhaps been no bigger debate around this season’s playoff rankings than what to make of Michigan.

The Wolverines barely lost at Michigan State on Oct. 30 but soon found themselves ranked ahead of the Spartans because the playoff committee deemed Michigan “a more complete team.”

And Michigan is indeed very good: No. 9 in the country in total defense, No. 23 in total offense and powered by an offensive line that has been the nation’s stingiest at allowing tackles for loss. Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, who share the Big Ten’s lead for total sacks with 10 apiece, make up the first-ever Michigan duo to amass double-digit sack counts in a season.

Ohio State, though, is by far the season’s biggest test for the Wolverines, who have had just one win this season against a team that is still in the playoff rankings. Michigan has beaten Ohio State just twice since 2001, most recently in 2011.

At Stanford (3-8) on Saturday. (8 p.m. on Fox)

Three of Notre Dame’s wins were by 3 points, so it has been something of a wonder that the Fighting Irish have pulled together a 10-1 record. Thank a sterling defense that has allowed just 9 points in three November games.

Isaiah Foskey, a defensive lineman, is responsible for 10 of Notre Dame’s 38 sacks, and the team has 21 takeaways this season. And there has been plenty of scoring from the defense, which has managed multiple touchdowns in two games this season. (The Notre Dame defense has actually outscored entire opposing teams, 12-9, this month.)

Michael Mayer, a tight end, stays busy when the offense is on the field and has caught 55 passes for 663 yards, while the tailback Kyren Williams has run for another 928.

Hosts No. 10 Oklahoma (10-1) on Saturday. (7:30 p.m. on ABC)

The Cowboys are coming off the finest defensive performance of Coach Mike Gundy’s 17 seasons leading the team — Oklahoma State conceded just 108 total yards to Texas Tech on Saturday — but they are about to meet Oklahoma, the Big 12’s highest-scoring offense.

Not that Oklahoma State’s offense is lackluster: In their last four games, the Cowboys have averaged about 482 yards and 41 points. Their offense is among the most balanced in the Big 12, but Tay Martin has logged at least 100 receiving yards in four games this season.

Saturday’s slate will decide Oklahoma State’s opponent in next weekend’s Big 12 title tilt. If Oklahoma wins, the Sooners and the Cowboys will meet in Arlington, Texas. If Oklahoma loses and No. 8 Baylor gets past Texas Tech, the Cowboys will play the Baylor team it beat by 10 points in October.

Hosts Texas Tech (6-5) on Saturday. (Noon on FS1)

Although Dave Aranda is a defensive-minded coach — he was Louisiana State’s defensive coordinator when the Tigers won the 2019 season’s national championship — Baylor’s offense gains more yards per game than any other Big 12 team. The Bears favor the rush, running more than 400 plays on the ground this season and picking up almost six yards per attempt.

The star of the rushing attack was not in Baylor’s backfield in 2020; he was not anywhere on the offensive side of the ball, actually. But Abram Smith, who made four starts at linebacker last season, leads this year’s team with 1,249 rushing yards.

The Bears have not won a Big 12 title since 2014. They could play for one next weekend, though.

At Mississippi State (7-4) on Thursday. (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)

Ten-win seasons don’t come around Oxford very often: Mississippi is aiming for its third since 1972, and its inaugural 10-win regular season.

The first college football team known to have been 100 percent vaccinated against the coronavirus fell to Alabama and Auburn, but Mississippi also beat Arkansas and Texas A&M with the SEC’s most prolific offense by yardage.

Matt Corral, the junior Mississippi is pushing to win the Heisman, is one of three quarterbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision who has thrown at least 15 touchdowns and rushed for 10 or more. Braylon Sanders has been a favorite target and is averaging 22.1 yards per reception, best in the SEC.

Thursday’s Egg Bowl will test Mississippi’s defense, as Mississippi State and Coach Mike Leach run an Air Raid offense that leads the SEC in passing yards.

At No. 7 Oklahoma State (10-1) on Saturday. (7:30 p.m. on ABC)

The lone Big 12 program ever to reach the playoff, Oklahoma will head to its rivalry showdown in Stillwater focused on simply making the conference championship game.

It has been an odd road to 10 wins. The Sooners survived Tulane, 40-35, to open the season. The next week, Oklahoma scored 76 and held Western Carolina to zero. Then came some narrow victories over teams like Kansas State and West Virginia. But Oklahoma did not lose until Nov. 13 at Baylor.

Spencer Rattler, a preseason all-American, lost the starting quarterback job in mid-October. His replacement, Caleb Williams, has thrown for 1,418 yards and 15 touchdowns. Despite the turmoil, Oklahoma has assembled the most points-happy offense in the Big 12, no surprise under Coach Lincoln Riley, who is regarded as one of the country’s best offensive play callers.

The Sooners will visit Oklahoma State with some confidence since they are on a six-game winning streak against the Cowboys.

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Bob Blitz Held the NFL to Task Over the Rams’ Relocation

In a separate deposition in October 2020, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell was pressed repeatedly on the question at the heart of the lawsuit: Did the N.F.L.’s team owners ignore their own relocation guidelines when they voted to allow the Rams to move? Goodell gave elusive responses on whether the owners had considered each of 12 predetermined factors or if they’d voted merely because a Los Angeles deal was available.

“And I will say it again that I think the ownership was very responsible in considering all of the various factors and really understanding the key issues and ultimately made a decision which is in the best interest of the N.F.L.,” Goodell said, according to a partial transcript of the deposition.

The realization that an answer like that was unlikely to satisfy a jury of Missouri residents, combined with the prospect of several N.F.L. owners being called to testify, made settling the case a more pragmatic option than opening a trial on Jan. 10, just weeks before the Super Bowl is scheduled to be played at SoFi Stadium, the splashy $5 billion venue in Inglewood, Calif., that Kroenke built after moving the team west.

In deciding to settle for $790 million, the N.F.L. closed its responsibility to Blitz and a city that has lost not just the Rams, but also the Cardinals, who left for Arizona after the 1987 season. But the league provided precedent for other scorned cities.

“The host cities may actually begin to gain leverage back,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports and gambling lawyer who has tracked the case.

For the N.F.L., the agreement ensures that a public rendering won’t happen and keeps private the juicy details of league business contained in the many documents pertaining to the lawsuit. It also ensures that the backbiting between team owners stays in house.

Before the league opted to settle, Kroenke and the other team owners appeared to be at each others’ throats as he, according to multiple news outlets, attempted to free himself of the indemnification agreement that held him liable for legal expenses and potential damages related to relocation litigation.

Now, Kroenke may have to pay for most or all of the settlement.

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China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda

When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.

Beijing seems to be relying on a two-pronged approach of maintaining the silence and waiting for the world to move on. The approach suggests that the country’s sprawling propaganda apparatus has limited options for shifting the narrative without drawing more attention to the uncomfortable allegations Beijing hopes would just disappear.

On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.

These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.

“The central propaganda bureau does not dare go out on its own about a former Standing Committee member,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper, referring to Mr. Zhang’s position in the body that holds ultimate power in the party. “It would have to be approved by Xi Jinping.”

“For them, this is not just a propaganda matter, but also an issue of national security,” continued Mr. Deng, who now lives in the United States.

The level of censorship Beijing deployed to shut down discussion of Ms. Peng’s allegation has little precedent, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

To the Chinese authorities, the plan of action for now appears to be one of inaction. On overseas sites like Twitter and Facebook that are blocked in China, the response has been muted and fragmentary. When Beijing-backed journalists have addressed Ms. Peng on overseas social media sites, they have studiously avoided mentioning the nature of her accusations, or their target.

Instead, they have sought to put an end to the questions about Ms. Peng’s whereabouts, releasing photos and videos of the tennis star that seemed designed to show that she was safe despite having disappeared from public life. Ms. Peng also appeared in a live video call with the leader of the International Olympic Committee that only raised more concerns.

To some, the apparent stage-managing of Ms. Peng was a reminder of the authorities’ use of forced confessions and other video testimony from detainees for propaganda. In 2019, a state run news service ran a “proof of life” video of Abdurehim Heyit, a prominent Uyghur folk poet and musician, to quell international concerns that he had died in an internment camp.

When Peter Dahlin, a Swedish activist, was detained by the authorities in 2016, he was forced to speak in a Chinese propaganda video about his so-called crimes. He said in a recent interview that he saw the state media’s gradual release of photos and videos of Ms. Peng as evidence that Beijing was monitoring her movements mainly to silence her while waiting for the outcry to die down.

“She is obviously under custodial control,” Mr. Dahlin said. “Everything she does will be scripted from beginning to end; she will be told exactly what to do, how to act, how to smile.”

A waiting game has helped Beijing defang attacks from individual critics in the past, be they dissidents or sports stars. When Hao Haidong, a retired Chinese soccer star, called for the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party in 2020, officials purged records of his career and waited as he faded from memory. Though Ms. Peng brings more international backing, Chinese officials may be betting the social media cycle of shock and anger will eventually dissipate.

For Beijing, the concern is that the blowback could interfere with the upcoming Winter Olympics, which China is hosting.

“They have to placate not just the usual critics in the West, but also decidedly apolitical tennis stars and sporting associations overseas, while at the same time burying all mention of Ms. Peng’s original charge,” said Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia and author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.”

“It’s no surprise that the propaganda system is floundering,” he said.

In a strange turn, the only recent post about Ms. Peng that remains on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, is from the French Embassy in China. It calls on Beijing to respect its commitments to combating violence against women. But the seemingly curated comments on the post accused France of meddling in China’s affairs. Along similar lines, some Chinese journalists took to Western social media sites to question the motives of those who expressed concern about Ms. Peng.

“Can any girl fake such sunny smile under pressure? Those who suspect Peng Shuai is under duress, how dark they must be inside,” Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalist Global Times tabloid, wrote on Twitter.

The narrative that Ms. Peng is being used by hostile foreign forces to undermine China has been echoed by other state media employees on Twitter. The posts have done little to appease concerns outside China.

“There’s no narrative even to really distract; there’s nothing substantive beyond character attacks on the West and Western media,” said David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project, a research program in Hong Kong. He added, “This is really the best they’ve been able to come up with.”

Within China, it remains unclear how many people are aware of the controversy. On Baidu, a Chinese search engine, queries for “Peng Shuai” spiked to nearly two million on Nov. 3, the day after she posted her accusation, but have since fallen to the tens of thousands. Ms. Peng’s frozen Weibo account, which does not appear in search results for her name, has gained 59,000 followers since her post — a blip in a country where top celebrities have tens of millions of followers.

Mr. Xiao, the research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, is the founder of China Digital Times, a website that monitors Chinese internet controls. His group has tracked hundreds of keywords, some with only the faintest connection to Ms. Peng, that had been blocked from posts and searches. Only the most sensitive topics — like Xi Jinping, China’s leader; and the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 — have such long lists of blocked terms, he said.

In the weeks since, censors have begun to fine-tune their approach. Some broad keywords, like “tennis,” have been restored in searches. Still, Mr. Xiao said, the wide gulf between what can be said outside China and what can be said inside the country could continue to plague attempts to control the topic.

“They know they cannot feel secure. The Great Firewall leaks,” he said, using a term that refers to China’s blocks and filters that keep out foreign social media. “Millions of people jump the wall to read about it.”

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.

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Brian Kelly Leaves Notre Dame for LSU

Brian Kelly will leave Notre Dame to become the football coach at Louisiana State, the latest in a series of changes at some of the country’s most storied college football programs.

The news was confirmed Tuesday morning by L.S.U.

The hiring follows the move of Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to Southern California. Both shifts surprised the college football world, where coaches do not regularly leave elite programs voluntarily, and created enticing vacancies at the universities Riley and Kelly left behind.

The Fighting Irish finished the regular season 11-1 this year and, if a top team loses, could earn a berth in the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame was ranked sixth in the most recent rankings for the four-team playoff. The new rankings will be released on Tuesday night.

Kelly had seemed like an institution at Notre Dame after 12 years in the top job. He had a national championship game appearance in the 2012 season and a 113-40 overall record. (The wins in the championship game season were later vacated by the N.C.A.A. after a trainer was found to have done coursework for players.) This season, Kelly surpassed Knute Rockne with the most wins as a coach for the university.

As unusual as it is for a head coach with Kelly’s success to leave a program that is still in the playoff hunt, his move could potentially position him to finally win a national championship, something he could not do at Notre Dame. Kelly lacks a top tier bowl victory, with losses in the Fiesta, Cotton and Rose Bowls, along with the national championship game loss.

And Notre Dame, despite Kelly’s elite recruiting (he has produced a top-20 class every season since taking over the head coaching job in 2010), appeared severely outmatched in its recent playoff appearances, losing to Alabama and Clemson by a combined 44 points.

Louisiana has one of the most ripe recruiting grounds in the country. L.S.U. has had a class outside the top 10 only twice since 2010. Kelly will have access to as much talent as he has seen.

L.S.U. won the national championship after the 2019 season, only to fall to 5-5 in 2020. Coach Ed Orgeron announced this would be his last season in October, when his team was 4-3. The Tigers currently stand 6-6. Like his predecessor, Les Miles, he found that not even a national title guaranteed long-term job security in Baton Rouge.

L.S.U. reported that Kelly would be paid $95 million over 10 years, plus incentives, a significant increase from a salary believed to be in the $3 million range at Notre Dame.

“I could not be more excited to join a program with the commitment to excellence, rich traditions, and unrivaled pride and passion,” Kelly said in a statement that L.S.U. released Tuesday morning. He added: “I am fully committed to recruiting, developing, and graduating elite student-athletes, winning championships, and working together with our administration to make Louisiana proud. Our potential is unlimited, and I cannot wait to call Baton Rouge home.”

Scott Woodward, the university’s athletic director, called Kelly “the epitome of a winner.”

Reports had initially linked L.S.U. with Riley, who over the weekend denied he would take the job before he moved to U.S.C. There also had been in-state support for the University of Louisiana coach Billy Napier, but he chose to go to Florida.

Luring Kelly from Notre Dame, though, was an even bigger surprise.

Kelly started his career at Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he won two Division II national titles. He then spent three years at Central Michigan and four at Cincinnati, culminating in an undefeated regular season. That landed him the Notre Dame job.

The hiring of Kelly at L.S.U. helps keep the Southeastern Conference at the center of the college football universe: The conference has recently added the powerhouse teams Texas and Oklahoma, and its members Alabama and L.S.U. have won four of the seven national championships in the playoff era.

Another Southeastern Conference team, Georgia, is undefeated and No. 1 in the country this year. It will face Alabama (11-1), third in the playoff rankings, in the conference championship game on Saturday in Atlanta.

Alan Blinder and Alanis Thames contributed reporting.

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