Ward’s Winners: Week 3

By James Ward

Week in Review:

Wild Endings: Oklahoma overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit against Tennessee to win in double overtime. The Volunteers led the Sooners 17-0 in the second quarter, but Baker Mayfield turned it on in the second half. Saturday night’s game was Tennessee’s biggest blown lead in Neyland Stadium history.

In the battle of the two best Group of Five schools, BYU’s Tanner Mangum hit Mitchell Juergens on fourth-and-7 with under a minute to play to knock off Boise State. Tanner Magic, as CBSSports.com’s Tom Fornelli referred to him, did it again and the Cougars actually look like a better team with Mangum as the quarterback.

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer hit Will Fuller for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left on the clock to propel the Fighting Irish to a win against the Virginia Cavaliers. The win was bittersweet, as Notre Dame lost their exceptional starting quarterback Malik Zaire for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle. Kizer threw a perfect pass to Fuller for the game-winning score, but no one knows for sure if Kizer can be a suitable replacement for Zaire.

SEC West Struggles: In a game that evoked memories of Appalachian State’s upset against Michigan in 2007, Jacksonville St. almost pulled off an upset for the ages against Auburn. The Tigers scored in the final minute of regulation to force overtime, essentially eliminating any doubt that Auburn would actually lose the game – Jacksonville State wasn’t going to win overtime. Even with the win, the Tigers tumble 12 spots in this week’s AP poll.

On Wednesday, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema criticized Ohio State’s schedule. On Saturday, the Arkansas Razorbacks lost to the Toledo Rockets. Former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely, now starting for Toledo, led the 21-point underdogs over the Razorbacks and the Rockets defense held the vaunted Arkansas running attack to 103 yards rushing on 3.3 yards per carry. Good things don’t usually happen to coaches who criticize other school’s schedules.

AP Poll Movers and Shakers: Musical chairs in the top-10 of the AP Poll this week. Oregon dropped from No. 7 to No. 12. in this week’s poll, after a loss to Michigan State. Auburn dropped 12 spots in the poll to No. 18, thanks to a tough game against FCS opponent Jacksonville State. The rest of the top-10 teams remained the same, but Michigan State, Baylor, USC, Georgia and Notre Dame are in different spots. Florida State and UCLA crack into the top-10. BYU, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State are in the top-25 after being unranked last week.

 Top Performers:

Nick Chubb (19 rushes for 189 yards): Last year’s SEC freshman of the year is off to a torrid start so far this season with 309 yards rushing through two games. Chubb is averaging a whopping 8.8 yards per carry. In college football, running backs often pile on their early season yard totals against weak early season opposition, but the Vanderbilt defense might be one of the stronger defenses in the SEC.

Dalvin Cook (30 rushes for 266 yards & 3 touchdowns): The 266 yards rushing is the second highest total ever for a Florida State running back. Jimbo Fisher will rely heavily on Cook this season, especially if quarterback Everett Golson continues to be inconsistent. If Cook stays healthy this year, he could finish with some serious statistical totals and a potential trip to New York in December.

Matt Johnson (36 of 55 passing for 491 yards, 6 TDs & 1 INT): If you’ve read this column in recent weeks, you’ve read about Matt Johnson. Through two games against Power Five opponents, (Tennessee and Maryland), Johnson has thrown for 915 yards leading the prolific Bowling Green passing attack. Johnson got hurt in Week 1 last year, but in 2013, he led BGSU to the MAC Championship against Jordan Lynch’s previously undefeated Northern Illinois team.

Games to Watch:

Auburn at LSU: After one game, it looks like Les Miles is content with an offense that relies heavily on Leonard Fournette. Fournette is the best back in college football, so there’s nothing wrong with that game plan, but if LSU wants to play meaningful games in November, Brandon Harris will have to play better than he did on Saturday night against Mississippi State. Harris completed 9 of 14 passes for 74 yards on Saturday, while only running for 48 yards. Auburn’s defense gave up over 400 yards to an FCS school last week, so maybe the Auburn defense is the remedy that Harris needs to get going this year.

Can Jeremy Johnson turn it around? Johnson has already thrown five interceptions through games. Last year’s starter Nick Marshall threw seven interceptions in the entire season. To say that Johnson has been a disappointment so far would be an understatement. Most experts believed that Johnson would have an immediate impact, but that has not been the case so far this season. Expect LSU’s strong defense to make Johnson’s life miserable on Saturday in Baton Rouge.

Ole Miss at Alabama: This game pits the two best teams in the SEC West, and maybe the SEC, against each other. Ole Miss currently leads the nation in scoring, but the Alabama defense is 738 times stronger (sort of an inexact number) than that of Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State. Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly has looked strong so far, but the Alabama defense he’ll face on Saturday night might be the best defense he matches up against all year.

Stanford at USC: Before any games had been played in the 2015 College Football Season, both of these teams were expected to contend for bids to the Pac-12 title game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Now through two games, USC has looked every bit the championship contender, while Stanford has struggled dramatically on offense. The Cardinal lost Week 1 to Northwestern after scoring just six points. Their win in Week 2 against UCF didn’t impress me either – UCF lost in Week 1 to FIU.

Since the Harbaugh led Stanford team defeated USC in 2007, this game has become one of the best rivalries in college football. And although both teams appear to be headed in different directions this season, this game is the quintessential “throw out the records when these two teams play.” The Cardinal and the Trojans have split their last four matchups with all four games decided by less than eight points. Having said all of that: USC’s offense is great this year and Stanford can’t score. Unless the Cardinal pitch a perfect game on defense, this game could be a low scoring affair with the Trojans still covering the spread.

Ward’s Winners:

Georgia Tech (-2.5) at Notre Dame: You can’t lose your star quarterback and be the same team, and Georgia Tech would be a difficult opponent for Notre Dame with a healthy Malik Zaire. The Yellow Jackets might be the most underrated team in all of college football. Georgia Tech has scored 134 points, which is tied for second in the FBS in points scored through the first two games of the season. In recent years, Notre Dame has had issues stopping Navy’s triple option and Georgia Tech’s triple option is a definite upgrade over the Midshipmen’s rushing attack. Also, the Irish defense had issues stopping a pedestrian offense last week in Virginia, so there is no chance that they can stop Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.

BYU (+17) at UCLA: A matchup between the two best freshman quarterbacks in the country. Josh Rosen and Tanner Mangum. An 18-year-old phenom vs. a 22-year-old freshman who before taking over for Taysom Hill in Week 1, hadn’t played in a football game in four years. UCLA has eviscerated its previous two opponents efficiently, without much doubt in the outcome of either game, while BYU has won their two previous games in miraculous fashion. UCLA might be BYU’s toughest foe all season, but a win or even a close game for the Cougars and they will stake claim as the top Group of Five team. BYU is too good to lose to UCLA by three scores, and the BYU defense is too good to get beaten by a freshman quarterback by three scores.

Texas Tech (+12) at Arkansas: Texas Tech, behind sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes, has a high-powered passing attack that has averaged 64 points a game through the first two weeks of the college football season. Mahomes has won the Big 12 offensive player of the week award three games in a row, dating back to last year against Baylor. The problem with this matchup is Tech’s defense – a defense that got slaughtered by Arkansas’ rushing attack in last season’s matchup. Arkansas will look to come out strong after their loss to Toledo, but can a team that lost to Toledo actually win big against a team that will have no problems putting up points. I say no.

Last Week: 1-2-0

Season Record: 2-4-0

James Ward is the Associate Producer of the DA Show, as well as the Executive Producer of CBS Sports Radio Weekends. On Saturdays, you can find him in studio producing Eye on College Football and catching as many games as possible. Check him out on Twitter (@JamesWardCBS).

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