By James Ward

Week in Review:

Three Out: On Saturday, three teams were eliminated from the College Football Playoffs. If you spent all Saturday watching college football like me, two of these teams should jump out at you right away: Florida State and Utah. When the Seminoles lost to Georgia Tech on the last minute play now called Block Six, they were eliminated because I think the only chance an ACC team has in getting into the playoffs, is by finishing undefeated. If Florida State wins out, their loss on Saturday to a sub .500 Georgia Tech team will keep them out of the playoffs.

If you read this column last week (why wouldn’t you?), you’d know I loved Utah to win against USC. Well, I was wrong. Utah got smoked by USC, and looked like a team that had been overrated all season. Because of the way they lost, I think that Utah will be kept out of the College Football Playoffs – especially with the way Stanford has played down the stretch.

The third team eliminated from the playoffs actually won on Saturday, and won big, but they received devastating injury news following the game, as star quarterback Seth Russell broke a bone in his neck and will be out for the remainder of the season. Former top recruit and true freshman Jarrett Stidham will take over for Russell in Baylor, and although some people think that the Bears won’t miss a beat, I think it is impossible to expect the same offensive fortitude. Jamelle Holieway and Cardale Jones are the exceptions. How has BYU looked without Taysom Hill and a true freshman in his place? Baylor needs to win out to have a shot to make the playoffs and with matchups still on their schedule against TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, I don’t think that is possible.

Top Performers:

J.T. Barrett (14 of 18 for 223 yds & 3 TDs and 13 rushes for 101 yds & 2 TDs): The Buckeyes won by their largest margin of the season on Saturday against Rutgers, and that was largely due to the play of J.T. Barrett. Barrett’s ability to run the football is on par with any of the top rushing quarterbacks in the country and his throwing accuracy is equally as impressive. The Ohio State offense is better with Barrett at quarterback and the Buckeyes finally look capable of repeating as national champions.

Deshaun Watson (15 of 19 for 143 yds & 1 TD and 8 rushes for 98 yds & 1 TD): If the season ended today, Deshaun Watson would be in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Watson’s statistics won’t be as gaudy as TCU’s Trevone Boykin, but if Clemson keeps winning, he has to be a Heisman finalist. Watson has already eclipsed last year’s production, a season in which he missed significant time due to injury, and with Florida State’s loss, the ACC is Clemson’s to lose.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (8 rec for 143 yds and 1 TD): Statistically speaking, Smith-Schuster’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but if you watched USC’s game against Utah, he was undoubtedly the MVP of the game for the Trojans. USC quarterback Cody Kessler looked for Smith-Schuster on third down often, and the two connected for many conversions. Not only does his quickness jump off of the screen, but his punishing stiff arm of Utah cornerback Dominique Hatfield went viral and encapsulated the Trojans victory over the Utes in just one GIF.

Ward’s Top 8: 

  1. Ohio State (8-0): The Buckeyes have been No. 1 every week in the AP Poll so far this season, but last week was the first week where they looked like the No. 1 team in the country. The change to J.T. Barrett at quarterback looked like it refreshed the Buckeyes, as they rolled over Rutgers.
  1. Clemson (7-0): Clemson played a perfect game against Miami, handing the Hurricanes their worst lost ever. Like, ever ever. The Tigers could’ve put up 80+ points, but Dabo Swinney respectfully didn’t run up the score. Clemson looks like the most complete team in the country.
  1. Baylor (7-0): Baylor beat Iowa State on Saturday, but they also lost quarterback Seth Russell for the rest of the season with a neck injury. Russell has been a Heisman contender and the Bears best player this season. Baylor’s season now rests in the hands of true freshman Jarrett Stidham, one of the top quarterback recruits from last year.
  2. Alabama (7-1): The Crimson Tide played their closest game of the season on Saturday against Tennessee, but they finished the game and scored when they needed to against a Volunteers defense that was able to limit the Alabama offense to 19 points despite almost 400 yards of offense. Bama still looks like the best team in the SEC, but LSU is waiting for them next weekend.
  3. LSU (6-0): Brandon Harris looked good at quarterback for the second straight week, passing for a career high in yardage against Western Kentucky. However, the LSU defense did look suspect to a good passing game, as Hilltoppers quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns. For record watchers: Leonard Fournette’s yards per game are decreasing, as Harris becomes more of a factor in the offense.
  1. TCU (7-0): Last week was an off week for the Horned Frogs, but the injury to Baylor quarterback Seth Russell made them the favorites in the Big 12 Conference. If TCU can stay healthy on offense, they should win the conference.
  2. Stanford (5-1): Saturday was another impressive showing by the Cardinal in a Pac-12 matchup, this time against Washington, as Stanford remained undefeated in conference play this season. A win against Washington State on Saturday will essentially clinch the Pac-12 North division title. Christian McCaffrey has now rushed for over 100 yards in five straight games.
  1. Michigan State (8-0): The Spartans make their debut in “Ward’s Top 8” taking Utah’s place after the Utes got blown out by USC (#vegasknows). The Spartans still haven’t played a complete game and only led Indiana by two points heading into the fourth quarter on Saturday, but undefeated is undefeated.

Ward’s Winners:

USC (-5.5) at California: Two weeks ago, Cal headed to Utah at 5-0 and ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll. After consecutive losses to Utah and UCLA, the Golden Bears’ once promising season is starting to resemble 2014, where they started 4-1 and then lost six of their last seven games. USC, on the other hand, played their best game of the season against Utah – a game in which the Trojans looked as talented as any team in the country. Last week, the Trojans defense forced Utah quarterback Travis Wilson into throwing four interceptions. The big key in this game for USC is putting pressure on Cal quarterback Jared Goff and forcing him into turnovers. For all of Goff’s success, he has thrown nine interceptions this season in seven games. Everyone remembers Ed Orgeron’s success as an interim coach at USC, which started with a loss to Notre Dame before the Trojans won five straight games. Can Clay Helton replicate that success? I’m not sure, but I do think USC is a way more talented football team than Cal. These teams look like they are heading in opposite directions.

Clemson (-10) at North Carolina State: The Clemson Tigers haven’t played a close game in almost a month since their victory against Notre Dame, and the Tigers haven’t lost to an unranked team since 2011, winning 35 straight against unranked opponents. Can the N.C. State Wolfpack buck this trend? The Wolfpack are 5-2 overall this season, but just 1-2 in conference play with losses to Virginia Tech and Louisville, and a win against the cellar dwellers of the ACC – Wake Forest. The Tigers’ biggest issue with this game is it’s potential trap game implications, as Clemson faces Florida State next week in Death Valley, but Dabo Swinney is a chief motivator and the Tigers will show up to play, and show up to make a statement against a mediocre ACC opponent. The Tigers know that they likely need to finish the regular season undefeated in order to make the College Football Playoffs, but for a Clemson team that has been dominant so far this season, N.C. State shouldn’t be one of their biggest tests. Clemson will win easily.

Notre Dame at Temple (+10): Temple, Houston and Memphis are all lumped together at the top of the AAC. The three schools are combined 4-0 against Power Five opponents on the season. Houston beat Louisville earlier in the season while Memphis beat Kansas in September and won against Ole Miss two weeks ago in their matchups against Power Five opponents. Both Louisville and Ole Miss were double-digit favorites against Houston and Memphis respectively before being upset. Having already upset Penn State this season, the Owls look to knock off two Power Five opponents (I know Notre Dame isn’t in a Power Five conference, but they satisfy that requirement for non-conference play and for the sake of this argument). The Temple defense is one of the best in the country, especially against the run, allowing only 91.9 yards per game, good for sixth in the nation. I won’t predict an upset, but Temple won’t get blown out. Their defense is good enough to keep them in the game and I expect this game to be decided in the fourth quarter.

Last Week: 1-2-0

Season Record: 12-12-0

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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