Ward’s Winners: Week 10

By James Ward

Week in Review:

College Football Playoff Chatter: The first edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings was released on Tuesday. The committee voted Clemson the best team in the country through the first nine weeks of the college football season, which no one outside of Columbus would dispute. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney dismissed the rankings and said according to The State in South Carolina, “The only poll that we’re excited about is Dec. 6, and I promise you we’ll have the biggest poll party you’ve seen. We’ll open up Death Valley and serve pizza to everybody. That’ll be a time to celebrate a poll. Until then, it doesn’t matter.” Free pizza? I might have to find my way down to Death Valley in December.

So does the poll matter on November 3rd? If you look at the first poll from last year, the top-4 teams were Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss, and only FSU made the College Football Playoffs. The other three teams from last year’s playoffs were all on the outside looking in of the top-4 of last year’s first poll. Oregon was ranked No. 5, Alabama was No. 6 and Ohio State was No. 16. As usual in sports, it’s not where you start, but where you finish.

In addition to providing transparency to the public, the rankings also give writers, analysts and hosts conversation topics. However, the rankings are irrelevant until December. As we saw last year, the committee bumped Ohio State into the final four and dropped TCU from the playoffs in the final rankings because the most important aspect is winning a conference championship. The standings in early November have a way of sorting themselves out after the first weekend of December.

Top Performers:

Deshaun Watson (23 of 30 for 383 yds & 5 TDs and 14 rushes for 54 yds & 1 TDs): If you read my preseason predictions, you remember how high I was on Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers.  Watson has been healthy and it is no surprise that Clemson is on top of the college football world after the release of the first College Football Playoff Ranking.  His stats will never be on par with the quarterbacks in the Big 12, but he’s completing over 70% of his passes and has 24 total touchdowns.

Gunner Kiel (15 of 15 for 319 yds & 5 TD): With the success of Houston, Memphis and Temple this year, there has been a lot of talk this year about the American Athletic Conference.  The quarterback in the conference with the most potential to play in the NFL is Kiel, the former Notre Dame top recruit.  On Saturday, Kiel was 15 for 15, which were the most completions without an incomplete pass in the last 20 years, and according to USA Today’s Paul Myerberg on Twitter, “Kiel’s QB rating vs. UCF of 388.64 is just off the single-game record of 403.4,” making it one of the best games in FBS history.

Trevone Boykin (32 of 47 for 388 yds & 3 TDs and 11 rushes for 84 yds & 1 TDs): West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said after the game that Boykin is the best player in college football.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Right now, Boykin is the best player in the Big 12 and TCU’s national title hopes rest squarely on his shoulders.  Boykin currently averages 431.4 yards per game of total offense with 28 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns.  Boykin is looking to improve on last year’s fourth place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.

Ward’s Top 8:

  1. Ohio State (8-0): The Buckeyes remain at No. 1 this week, as five of the eight teams in “Ward’s Top 8” were off this weekend. The bye week became a story for Ohio State because starting quarterback J.T Barrett was cited for operating a motor vehicle while impaired. Dumb move for the Buckeyes quarterback, but it shouldn’t hurt Ohio State on the field.
  1. Clemson (8-0): It wasn’t easy, but the Tigers beat N.C. State by two touchdowns on Saturday furthering their record to 8-0. The College Football Playoff Rankings said the Tigers were the top team in college football, but last year’s inaugural top team when the rankings were released was Mississippi State. A win on Saturday against Florida State, compiled with their win against Notre Dame, would give Clemson the two best wins in the country. 
  1. Baylor (7-0): Baylor was also off last weekend, giving Coach Art Briles an extra week to prepare new quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The Bears head to Manhattan, Kansas and Bill Snyder Family Stadium, giving the true freshman a tough test in the first start of his career.
  2. Alabama (7-1): The first College Football Playoff Rankings were released and the biggest outcry was Alabama’s inclusion in the top-4 with one loss. The Crimson Tide’s balance is something that not many teams in college football can compete with, combining power rushing and a strong, tough defense. If Alabama can beat LSU on Saturday, they can prove they belong in the top-4.
  3. LSU (7-0): The Tigers are the lone undefeated team in the SEC, but after an off weekend last week, LSU heads to Tuscaloosa for their most difficult game of the season. Although LSU is ranked higher in all of the major polls, including the College Football Playoff Rankings, the Tigers are a touchdown underdog against the Crimson Tide. Can Leonard Fournette lead the Tigers to a victory in T-Town?
  1. TCU (8-0): The Horned Frogs beat up on West Virginia, but remain at No. 6 because four of the five teams ahead of them didn’t play last week. Trevone Boykin is the man and the quarterback position could be the major difference between TCU and Baylor down the stretch for the Big 12 Championship.
  2. Stanford (7-1): Close game on Saturday for the Cardinal against Mike Leach’s Washington State team. Stanford now has a two game lead in the Pac-12 North standings and still look like the team to beat out of the conference. Stanford faces Colorado this week, after the Buffaloes put an upset scare into UCLA on Halloween.
  1. Michigan State (8-0): Undefeated is undefeated, especially in the Big Ten, and until Michigan State loses a game, they will be in “Ward’s Top 8.” Pregame.com says that Michigan State is No. 7 in The Vegas Rankings, but they have yet to put in a complete game, dominant performance. The Spartans were off last week, but face Nebraska on Saturday.

Ward’s Winners:

Duke (+8) at North Carolina: The Blue Devils and the Tar Heels in a meaningful football game? That’s right. Even though Duke lost last week to Miami, in a game in which the refs completely botched the final play of the game, the Blue Devils can still win the Coastal Division of the ACC if they win out, and that starts Saturday with North Carolina. This game will be low scoring as both Duke and North Carolina have stingy defenses. Duke is ninth in the country in total defense yards per game, led by their pass defense that ranks eighth in the country. North Carolina is one of the hottest teams in the country, but Duke’s defense behind All-American safety Jeremy Cash should keep the Blue Devils in this game. At one point in this series, the Tar Heels won 21 of 22, but Duke has won two of the last three matchups and in both wins, the Blue Devils were underdogs. Eight points is too many points.

Iowa (-7) at Indiana: Iowa is in the top 10 in both the College Football Playoff Rankings and the AP Top 25, and they have a legitimate chance to go undefeated in the regular season, but they are a just touchdown favorite against Indiana on the road on Saturday. Iowa runs the ball and runs the ball often, and that will be a problem for the Hoosiers. Indiana ranks 12th in Big Ten Conference with 166.5 yards per game allowed on the ground and the Hoosiers are last in the conference in total defense, giving up over 500 yards per game. Indiana started the season strong with four straight wins, but since then, they have lost four games in the Big Ten. While the Ohio State and Rutgers losses were close, the Michigan State and Penn State losses were not. Indiana won’t be able to stop Iowa on the ground behind Akrum Wadley, Derrick Mitchell and LeShun Daniels, and I don’t think this game will be close.

Michigan State (-5.5) at Nebraska: Michigan State has somehow made it to November still undefeated and while the Spartans margin of victory hasn’t been good in reference to the spread – they’re just 2-6 on the season A.T.S – this line against a bad Nebraska team is definitely manageable. Nebraska is struggling through a lost season under first year coach Mike Reilly, so much so that former Nebraska great Tommie Frazier accused the Cornhuskers of quitting in the second half against Purdue on Twitter. Nebraska staged a bit of a fourth quarter comeback so the final score wasn’t indicative of the game’s competitiveness between the two teams. If the Spartans win out, they are in the Playoffs, but right now there are two 1-loss teams ahead of Michigan State. A win over Nebraska on Saturday will help the Spartans chances towards playing in the playoffs, but Michigan State should cover the points if they play up to their capabilities.

Last Week: 3-0-0

Season Record: 15-12-0

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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