By James Ward

Week in Review:

The Year of the RB: Ok – name as many high performing college football running backs as you can in ten seconds: Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Utah’s Devontae Booker, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise, Baylor’s Shock Linwood and Alabama’s Derrick Henry.  That was ten seconds and I could’ve named more.  Fournette is poised to become the first running back Heisman Trophy winner since Mark Ingram in 2009, but there are so many other running backs putting up impressive seasons.  This is undoubtedly the year of the running back.

Agony in Ann Arbor: This was the “where were you when…” moment of the 2015 College Football season.  By now, everyone reading this blog has already seen the play, so there is no reason to dissect it any further.  Instead, I will tell you where I was when Michigan State beat Michigan with no time left on the clock.  I was producing “Eye on College Football” with Rich Ackerman and Jody Mac.  We had just hit the final commercial break of the show, assuming Michigan would win the game.  Jody and I were having a conversation in the studio talkback about some of the games from earlier in the day.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Michigan State player (later identified as Jalen Watts-Jackson) streaking down the sideline into the end zone.  I started jumping up and down, and yelling, even though I am not a Michigan or Michigan State fan and I didn’t pick the game.  The Kick Six.  Hail Flutie.  Statue Left.  The Miracle at Michigan.  Agony in Ann Arbor was another classic college football ending.

Top Performers

Seth Russell (20 of 33 for 380 yds & 5 TDs and 14 rushes for 160 yds & 1 TD): Russell’s stat line on Saturday looks like something out of a video game, as he combined for 540 yards of total offense against a decent West Virginia defense.  Russell became only the second Baylor quarterback (Robert Griffin III) to throw for over 300 yards and run for 100 yards in the same game.  Bryce Petty’s former backup currently leads FBS quarterbacks in passing touchdowns and quarterback rating while also rushing for over 50 yards a game.

Christian McCaffrey (25 rushes for 243 yds and 4 TDs): McCaffrey rushed for a school-record 243 yards, breaking Toby Gerhart’s school record of 223 yards.  McCaffrey finished with 369 all-purpose yards, including a 96-yard kickoff return that set up another score for the Cardinal as they beat UCLA eighth straight time.

Corey Coleman (10 rec for 199 yds and 3 TDs): The Baylor Bears wide receiver caught his 16th touchdown of the season on Saturday against West Virginia, breaking the Bears season record with half a season left to play.  After the game, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said, “(Coleman is) the best player in college football. You can put me on record with that.”  Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards caught 27 touchdown passes in 1998 and that record is within reach for Coleman in the Bears offense.

Ward’s Top 8:

The season is officially at the halfway point and that means team rankings are relevant.  Now that teams have played five or six games, the rankings carry weight.  Teams are who they are, and although they can move up or down with a good or bad week, you won’t see Auburn at No. 6 or Georgia Tech at No. 16 like you did in the AP Preseason Poll.   I have a hard time with preseason polls and early season rankings because so much of it is dependent on last year’s play and early season overreaction.  So here it goes – the first edition of Ward’s Top 8:

  1. Utah (6-0): Is there a team with better wins than Utah? They beat Michigan, Cal and Arizona at home and blew out Oregon in Eugene. The Utes play smash mouth football behind star running back Devontae Booker, who may be the most underrated player in the country. This week against USC in LA will be another challenge.
  1. Ohio State (7-0): Is Ohio State the most talented team in the country? Yes. Are they the best? They haven’t played that way. While the Buckeyes are 7-0, they are just 2-5 against the spread – meaning they have played below than their potential.
  1. Baylor (6-0): The Bears have scored over 56 points in every game this season, and both quarterback Seth Russell and wide receiver Corey Coleman are putting up prolific numbers. Through six games, their lowest margin of victory is 24 points. The Bears are averaging an unreal 719.7 yards of offense per game.
  1. Alabama (6-1): Even with one loss, Alabama looks like the best team in the SEC following a huge win over previously undefeated Texas A&M in College Station. A show down with LSU next week will determine the SEC West Champion.
  1. Clemson (6-0: The best team in the ACC also has the best quarterback in the ACC. Deshaun Watson threw for 420 yards against Boston College last weekend, a defense that hadn’t allowed a 200+ yard passer before Saturday. The Tigers need to run the table to win the ACC, but that means beating Florida State on November 7th.
  1. TCU (7-0): The TCU offense is scary good, but TCU defense is not. For now, the Horned Frogs are outscoring their opponents – I understand, that’s the objective – but their defense is giving up 31.25 points per game in conference play, and that’s against Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
  1. LSU (6-0): The Tigers have the best player in college football in Leonard Fournette, but they also have one of the worst passing attacks among the top teams in college football. Simply put; Brandon Harris hasn’t been good enough to be the quarterback of a top team. Against the Gators on Saturday night, Harris completed 13 of 19 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Was Saturday’s game against Florida a turning point for Harris?
  1. Stanford (5-1): On Thursday, after the Cardinal beat up on the UCLA Bruins, multiple college football writers said that Stanford’s early season loss to Northwestern was beginning to look like Ohio State’s early season loss last year to Virginia Tech. Christian McCaffrey ran for 243 yards against the Bruins and in the year of the running back, he’s close to the top of the list.

Ward’s Winners:

Duke (+2.5) at Virginia Tech: Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer is expected to make his return on Saturday against the Duke Blue Devils.  Brewer broke his collarbone against Ohio State in the first game of the season.  In his absence, the Hokies stumbled to a 3-4 record, but somehow, they are favored against Duke on Saturday afternoon at home.  Meanwhile in Durham, Duke is ranked in the AP Top-25 Poll again this week and they head to Blacksburg feeling refreshed from an off week.  The Blue Devils defense is fourth in the nation overall behind All-American safety Jeremy Cash, so I wouldn’t expect Brewer to make an immediate impact in his return.  Duke is a program that has been overlooked and undervalued in recent years.  Duke is 22-4 in its last 26 regular season games, while also winning 11 of their last 12 road games, but somehow they are underdogs to a Virginia Tech team that has lost three of their last four games this season.  Duke will win this football game.

Penn State (-6) at Maryland: Maryland is awful.  They are a bad football team.  They are close to the bottom of the Big Ten in total offense and total defense.  Mike Locksley makes his coaching debut for Maryland, taking over for Randy Edsall.  Locksley’s winning percentage as a head coach is .071.  Seriously.  Is Penn State a good football team?  Not really, but with Christian Hackenberg at quarterback and Carl Nassib at defensive end, Penn State has the two best players in the game by far.  Last year, Maryland refused to shake hands with Penn State at the coin toss and then proceeded to beat the Nittany Lions on a late field goal.  Penn State will look for revenge from last year’s game.  Also, in-state rivals Pittsburgh and Temple are both in the AP Top-25 Poll this week, providing PSU coach James Franklin with extra motivation for his underachieving football team.

Utah (+3.5) at USC: This line doesn’t make sense to me.  In my opinion, Utah is the best team in college football right now.  Conversely, USC has lost two games in a row – to Washington at home and Notre Dame on the road – and interim coach Clay Helton is making his home debut as Trojans head coach.  USC was expected to make a push for the College Football Playoffs behind RS senior quarterback Cody Kessler, but at 3-3 on the year, they are essentially eliminated from the playoffs.  On top of all of that, USC wide receivers Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell Jr. may miss the game because of injury.  The Utah defense plays physical, stout and is tied for second in the FBS lead with 13 interceptions.  They held Cal’s high-powered offense to 24 points and forced Jared Goff into throwing five interceptions.  USC also allows 167.5 yards per game rushing, which figures to be a good matchup for Utah’s star running back Devontae Booker.  Take the points, but Utah should win this football game.

Last Week: 3-0-0

Season Record: 11-10-0

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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