By James Ward

Week in Review: 

College Football Playoff Chatter: This week’s playoff rankings were released and to the surprise of no one, Alabama moved up to the No. 2 spot after a dominating victory over LSU, the previously ranked No. 2 team. This means that a one-loss Alabama team is now ranked ahead of five unbeaten FBS teams. In the previous BCS system, one loss was thought to eliminate a team from the national championship game, but the committee adds the human element, or the eye test. If you’ve watched college football all season, you know that Alabama is one of the best teams in the country. The committee looked past Alabama’s early season loss to Ole Miss, even though the Rebels have since lost to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas, because the Crimson Tide have been juggernauts since the loss to the Rebels. It’s not SEC bias. Alabama has passed the eye test.

Last year, the committee had TCU ranked No. 3 heading into the final rankings of the season, but Ohio State jumped the Horned Frogs in the final rankings. TCU beat Iowa State in the final week of the season 55-3, but still got usurped by the Buckeyes. This year’s approach seems to be to wait until the Big 12 sorts itself out before anointing a Big 12 team worthy of making the College Football Playoffs. The Big 12 schedule is back loaded, as Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU essentially play a four team round robin to close out the season. If either Oklahoma State or Baylor emerges unscathed, expect them to be in the playoffs, but I don’t expect the committee to rank a Big 12 team above No. 5 until the end of the season.

Top Performers:

Derrick Henry (38 rushes for 210 yds & 3 TDs): On the biggest stage of the day and in a battle of the two best running backs in college football, Henry played the game of his life under the lights in Tuscaloosa. CBS Sports college football analyst Gary Danielson said during the game, “I believe we may have a new Heisman front runner in Derrick Henry,” and I don’t believe it to be hyperbole. Right now, Leonard Fournette and Henry are one and two in the Heisman race, an award that hasn’t gone to a running back since 2009.

Marquise Williams (23 of 35 for 494 yds & 4 TDs and 7 rushes for 30 yds & 1 TD): The Tar Heels put a beating on the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon, and that attack was led by Williams, the senior quarterback. Williams had passed for 404 yards at halftime, which is a UNC school record. His 494 yards passing and 524 total yards were the most ever in North Carolina football history.   Williams also became the first Tar Heel ever to break the 500-yard mark.

Ward’s Top 8:

  1. Clemson (9-0): After the Tigers beat Florida State convincingly on Saturday and clinching a spot in the ACC Title Game; they now have the top spot in Ward’s Top 8. With wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, Clemson passed both tests on their light ACC schedule. The committee has Clemson ranked No. 1, so unless the Tigers slip up against Syracuse, Wake Forest or South Carolina, they will be in the College Football Playoffs.
  1. Ohio State (9-0): Another game started by Cardale Jones in which the Buckeyes do not cover the spread. Good news for Ohio State fans: J.T. Barrett will back under center on Saturday against Illinois. The most talented team in the country has only played up to expectations with Barrett at quarterback. 
  1. Alabama (8-1): The Crimson Tide won their biggest game of the season on Saturday night against LSU, and the final score was not indicative to how much Alabama dominated the Tigers. The Alabama defense held Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette to 31 yards rushing on 19 carries, with a long run of 18 yards. That means that Bama held Fournette to 13 yards on 18 carries outside of his long run for the day. Saturday was an absolutely commanding performance by the Crimson Tide defense, en route to their best victory of the season.
  2. Baylor (8-0): Do I believe in the Big 12? I’m not sure. But the Playoff Committee certainly doesn’t believe in the Big 12. Baylor is the highest ranked Big 12 team and sits at No. 6 in the most recent playoff rankings, and even Iowa jumped the Bears this week. I see a clear dividing line between teams No. 1-3 and the next tier of teams, so why not put Baylor at No. 4.   Their offense has been prolific so far this season, averaging almost a full yard per play more than the second team in the country.
  3. Stanford (8-1): The Cardinal move up to No. 5 after TCU and LSU both lost on Saturday. At this point in the season, the Pac-12’s playoff hopes rely entirely on Stanford finishing out the season with one loss, but the Cardinal absolutely look capable of running the table. Christian McCaffrey is having a great season and was once on pace to break Barry Sanders all purpose yards record.
  1. Notre Dame (8-1): The Irish only have one loss, and it’s to No. 1 Clemson, but they have played a lot of close games against inferior opponents – games against Virginia, Georgia Tech and Temple were all decided by less than eight points, teams that a good Notre Dame team should mash. I’m not naïve, I know a one-loss Notre Dame team will make the playoffs, but they will be heavy underdogs against Stanford in the final week of the season.
  2. Oklahoma State (9-0): Impressive performance by the Cowboys against TCU as they jump into Ward’s Top 8 for the first time this season. The Pokes limited an explosive Horned Frogs offense to just 29 points and only nine points before halftime. Oklahoma State needs to win out to make the playoffs, but they have Iowa State this weekend in a clear trap game before their matchup against Baylor next Saturday.
  1. Iowa (9-0): The Hawkeyes’ schedule was under fire a few weeks ago because they hadn’t played anyone of merit, but suddenly Northwestern is 7-2 and Wisconsin is 8-2, and both teams that Iowa defeated convincingly are ranked in all of the major polls. The Hawkeyes have been led by their rushing attack, but quarterback C.J. Beathard played terrific last week against Indiana.

Ward’s Winners:

Florida (-7.5) at South Carolina: It’s hard to pick the Gators after a win against Vanderbilt last week in which Florida scored only nine points. One thing is for sure; the Gators’ legitimate chance to win the SEC disappeared when Will Grier was suspended for the season, because Treon Harris isn’t good enough to lead the Gators to victory. Florida’s only loss came on a fake field goal against LSU, while South Carolina’s only SEC win came against conference doormats Vanderbilt. I don’t expect Florida to put up a ton of points against South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have no ability to put up points against the Gators No. 6 defense in the country, allowing just 288.8 yards per game. It might be ugly, but Florida will cover.

Michigan (-12.5) at Indiana: Last week, Michigan beat up on Rutgers, a team that Indiana lost to at home in Bloomington two weeks ago.  Indiana kept it close against Iowa last week, losing by a touchdown, but that is how the Hawkeyes play football.  The Hawkeyes play close games. If Michigan is better than an opponent – and they are a lot better than Indiana – they lay the wood on them, see: BYU, Northwestern, Maryland and Rutgers.  Indiana is 0-5 in the Big Ten, and after starting 4-0, they are now 4-5 on the season.  Indiana has been able to put up yards with their up-tempo attack led by quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard, but this Michigan defense is the No. 2 ranked defense in the country – allowing only 240 yards per game, while ranking No. 2 in rushing defense and No. 3 in passing defense. Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock had his best game of the season last week against Rutgers and if he shows up play again, this game will get ugly early.

Alabama (-7.5) at Mississippi State: I am rolling with the Tide. Alabama looks unbeatable right now and while Mississippi State has been much better than expected this season, they have beaten below average SEC opponents, winning against Kentucky, Missouri and Auburn. So far this season, Alabama have been impressive on the road, beating Wisconsin by 18, Georgia by 28 and A&M by 18. I see Mississippi State the way I saw Texas A&M earlier in the season. They have a good record, but they haven’t played anyone. Last week, Missouri rushed for 215 yards against Mississippi State. If Mississippi State can’t stop Mizzou on the ground, how can they stop Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide? It’s quite simple: they cant.

Last Week: 1-2-0

Season Record: 16-14-0

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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