Ward’s Winners: Week 5

By James Ward

Week in Review:

Michigan Back on Top: The Michigan Wolverines broke into the AP Top 25 for first time under Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines dismantled the No. 22 BYU Cougars 31-0 on Saturday and following the game Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said Michigan was the best team they’ve faced all year. BYU has played Nebraska, Boise State and UCLA already this year, so Mendenhall’s words have merit. After Utah’s drubbing of Oregon Saturday night in Eugene, the Wolverines early season loss to the Utes doesn’t look so bad. Harbaugh has already made his imprint in Ann Arbor. Can the Wolverines play spoiler to Michigan State and Ohio State later in the season?

This Time it’s the Punter: Two weeks ago, Texas made a magical comeback against California, where they almost rallied back from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit. If you remember, Texas senior kicker Nick Rose missed the extra point with time expiring and the Longhorns lost by one point. On Saturday, it was the Texas punter that gifted a victory to the opposing team. The game was tied 27-27 with under a minute to go before an expected overtime when Longhorns punter Michael Dickson fumbled the snap and then rushed to kick it away. The punt went less than ten yards and Oklahoma State promptly won the game on a short field goal. Texas now stands at 1-3 after two straight defeats in heartbreaking fashion.

Where’s the Defense: Heading into Saturday night’s game in Lubbuck, the over under total between TCU and Texas Tech was listed somewhere between an exorbitant 79.5-82 points. The over hit with 10:53 left to go in the fourth quarter and the total points for the game was 107 points. Sure, this many points scored makes for an exciting and entertaining college football game, but where is the defense?

Top Performers:

Leonard Fournette (26 rushes for 244 yds & 2 TDs): Ok, so I have officially copied-and-pasted Leonard Fournette into my “Top Performers” category every week for the rest of the season. Fournette ran all over the Syracuse Orange on Saturday, and his statistics on the day don’t include an 87-yard touchdown run that was negated because of an illegal formation penalty. Through three games, Fournette is Hershel Walker, Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson and any other all time college football running back, but it’s still only three games.

Josh Doctson (18 rec for 267 yds & 3 TDs): In a game in which there were 107 points scored, there will be some inflated statistics. Doctson was Trevone Boykin’s go-to receiver against the Red Raiders. Doctson tied a Big 12 record for receptions in a game and his yards set a new TCU record, but perhaps his biggest impact Saturday night was the tipped pass on the final play that landed right in Aaron Green’s hands to win the game for TCU.

Christian McCaffrey (30 rushes for 206 yards): This is the performance everyone was expecting out of Christian McCaffrey when the season began. In recent years, Stanford has loved their power running backs, able to carry the ball 30 times a game like Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. With Kevin Hogan’s inconsistencies, Stanford’s win total will have a direct correlation to McCaffrey’s success running the ball. The Cardinal are not losing when McCaffrey rushes for over 200 yards.

Games to Watch:

West Virginia at Oklahoma: On paper, this game looks like a battle to decide the third best team in the Big 12. But with TCU’s defensive liabilities and Baylor’s unknown because they haven’t played anyone yet, the winner of this game could be the best team in the Big 12 – especially because both West Virginia and Oklahoma have good defensive units. The Mountaineers have allowed just 23 points so far this season, after allowing just six points to Maryland last weekend, but Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine and Sterling Shepard might be the best QB/RB/WR combo in the country. The Sooners are 3-0, but last week’s win against Tulsa was too close for comfort after Tulsa scored 14 points in the final 1:10 of the first half and the game against Tennessee was a win because of the Volunteers epic collapse in the fourth quarter. Both teams should be players in the Big 12 this season.

Texas Tech and Baylor: How is Baylor a three score favorite over Texas Tech at a neutral site? Well, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes could potentially miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury. The Red Raiders lost last week to TCU at home on a miraculous touchdown with 23 seconds left to go in the game. TCU and Baylor are comparable opponents, and unlike TCU, Baylor hasn’t played anyone so far this season. Baylor is looking to put up 700 yards of total offense for the fourth straight game behind Seth Russell and Shock LInwood, and although Texas Tech’s defense might not be able to stop the Bears attack, the Red Raiders offense will put points on the board if Mahomes is healthy. Without Mahomes, Tech doesn’t stand a chance against the Bears.

Ward’s Winners:

Alabama (+2.5) at Georgia: As it stands right now, Alabama will head into their game between the hedges as underdogs for the first time in their last 72 games, according to Odds Shark. Alabama has the best front seven in college football while Georgia has the most dynamic rushing attack in college football led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Grayson Lambert has two (!!!) incompletions in the last two games on 35 passes, finally living up to the preseason hype, but Nick Saban’s pass defense is an entirely different animal. Remember, Lambert struggled against Vanderbilt in Week 2, which was easily the best defense he’s faced all season. In the past, this has been a game that Alabama has won while Mark Richt’s Georgia teams have come up short. Until that changes, give me Alabama all day long.

Notre Dame at Clemson (+1): So far this season, Notre Dame has been able to withstand seemingly every insurmountable injury. Once Malik Zaire went down for the season, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson became the best quarterback in the ACC. It also pushed the inexperienced DeShone Kizer into the limelight. Kizer will start in Death Valley on Saturday night and has been steady so far through three games, but he hasn’t faced a defensive front like the Tigers – especially a defense that has had two weeks to prepare for C.J. Prosise. Brian Kelly’s record with a freshman quarterback is nearly invincible at 17-1, but Saturday night will be too much for the Irish.

Arizona State at UCLA (-13.5): If you watched UCLA last weekend against Arizona, you saw one of the ugliest primetime college football games in recent memory. Much like Florida State/Clemson from 2013, the game was over before most of America had hit their couches. Arizona State struggled against USC last weekend in Tempe, in a game where the Trojans looked like one of the best teams in the Pac-12 – the game was 35-0 at the half. I don’t think this game is any different. UCLA and USC are rising in the Pac-12 South, while Arizona and Arizona State are dropping fast. If UCLA plays up to it’s potential, they should blow out the Sun Devils at home.

Last Week: 2-1-0

Season Record: 6-6-0

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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