Ward’s Winners: Week 12

By James Ward

Top Performers:

Baker Mayfield (24 of 34 for 270 yds & 3 TDs and 15 rushes for 76 yds & 1 TD): The Oklahoma offense has been awesome this year under first year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, running a version of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. Mayfield’s story is fascinating. He walked on at Texas Tech and won the Big 12 Freshman OPOY, but when the Red Raiders didn’t offer him a scholarship, he left the program. Mayfield then transferred to Oklahoma, walked on to the football team and now has the Sooners poised for a possible College Football Playoff berth after a massive victory over Baylor in Waco.

Keenan Reynolds: (2 of 9 for 81 yds & 1 TD and 14 rushes for 137 yds & 4 TDs): Reynolds rushed for four touchdowns to bring his career total to 81, putting some distance between Montee Ball’s previous record of 77 touchdowns. Nebraska’s Eric Crouch held the previous record for a quarterback with 59 rushing touchdowns, which Reynolds eclipsed last season. Behind Reynolds, Navy is vying for the Group of 5 bid to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game in their first year in the AAC.

Derrick Henry (22 rushes for 204 yds & 2 TDs): With over 200 yards rushing in three of the last four games, Henry has now eclipsed LSU’s Leonard Fournette as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Not only has Henry passed Fournette in the Heisman race, but also, he is only 16 yards behind him for total rushing yards on the season. Fournette was the dominant running back in the first half of the college football season, but Henry has dominated the second half and that’s what counts.

Ward’s Top 8:

  1. Clemson (10-0): This week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, “There is absolutely no pressure being the No. 1 team in the country. This is fun.” The Tigers have certainly played like they’re having a lot of fun. The Syracuse game was closer than expected, but there was never any doubt that Clemson would win.
  2. Alabama (9-1): The Crimson Tide might be the best and most complete team in the country. Barring a hiccup against Auburn in the Iron Bowl or Florida in the SEC Championship game, Alabama is playoff bound, but right now, I would pick the Crimson Tide by double digits in both of those games.
  1. Ohio State (10-0): J.T. Barrett started and the Buckeyes beat Illinois 28-3. When Barrett starts, Ohio State looks like a national championship contender. The Buckeyes best win so far this season was against Penn State in Columbus or Virginia Tech in Blacksburg (yet somehow, Iowa and Clemson have played weak a weak schedule), but that changes this weekend when Ohio State hosts Michigan State.
  1. Oklahoma (9-1): The Sooners are the best team in the Big 12 because they play defense. Oklahoma is the top ranked defense in Big 12 play, allowing 18.9 points per game and 325.4 yards per game, about 8 points per game and 67 yards better than second ranked Texas. Their only loss on the season came against the Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry, which can be looked past if the Sooners beat TCU and Oklahoma State to close out the season. A one-loss Oklahoma team will make the College Football Playoffs.
  2. Notre Dame (9-1): The Committee is backing the Fighting Irish because their only loss came to No. 1 Clemson, but I am hesitant to put them in my Top-4. Notre Dame doesn’t have a signature win. They have beaten two teams in the most recent incarnation of the playoff rankings, Navy (No. 16) and USC (No. 24), and until last week against Wake Forest, Notre Dame had yet to have a runaway game against inferior ACC opponents. Boston College this weekend and I think you know where I’m leaning.
  1. Oklahoma State (10-0): After a no-doubt victory over TCU two weeks ago, the Cowboys struggled against Iowa State last week in Ames and squeezed out a late victory in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma State has Baylor and Oklahoma at home to finish out the regular season, but with TCU struggling down the stretch and Baylor potentially suiting up a banged up Jarrett Stidham on Saturday, there is still doubt as to whether an undefeated Oklahoma State will play in the College Football Playoffs.
  2. Iowa (10-0): Iowa remained unbeaten after a victory against Minnesota. All of this talk about the Hawkeyes’ light schedule, but that is more of an indictment on the Big Ten than anything else. Iowa beat Wisconsin and Northwestern, which were their two toughest opponents on this year’s schedule. Since September, I’ve said that the Big Ten West was just playing for the chance to lose to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but with the Buckeyes’ struggles plus Iowa’s ability to win close games week after week, that might not be the case.
  1. North Carolina (9-1): The Tar Heels crack into Ward’s Top 8 for the first time all season, and why not, they have won nine games in a row. In the last two weeks, North Carolina has beaten Duke and Miami by a combined score of 125-52. That’s 125 points in two ACC games. If the Tar Heels can stay hot heading into the ACC Championship game, a Clemson win might not be concrete.

Ward’s Winners:

Northwestern (+10) at Wisconsin: If I were to set this line, I would’ve made Wisconsin a 5.5 point favorite. Ten points is too many points for a matchup of these evenly matched teams. Northwestern running back Justin Jackson is one of three running backs in the Big Ten with over 1000 yards rushing on the season, and while the Wisconsin run defense has been excellent all season, so has the Northwestern defense. Both the Badgers and the Wildcats have been involved in low scoring games all season, and there are elements in the forecast, as Madison is being threated with snow on Friday night into Saturday morning. Wisconsin is 8-2 on the season, but just 4-6 against the spread, showing that they have been able to put opponents away. I think the Badgers will win the game, but 10 points is too much for a game between two comparable teams.

Navy (-12) at Tulsa: The Navy triple option is clicking right now behind record-breaking quarterback Keenan Reynolds, as the Midshipmen have rushed for 777 yards over the last two games. Seriously. They have rushed for almost 800 yards against previously unbeaten Memphis – a team that beat Ole Miss – and SMU. The biggest takeaway from the SMU game for me from the Navy perspective was their ability to limit the SMU offense and for all of the Mustangs struggles this season, scoring points hasn’t been an issue. Navy is undefeated in the AAC this season, with their only loss coming against Notre Dame in South Bend. Tulsa’s defense has had issues stopping the run this season, allowing 220.6 yards per game. This isn’t a good matchup for Tulsa and Navy should run the ball up and down the field all day.

Notre Dame and Boston College (+16.5): Boston College is 3-7 this season, but it isn’t because of their defense. The Eagles have the No. 1 ranked defense in the country by a wide margin, only allowing 236.5 yards per game. To give you an idea of how strong the Boston College run defense has been this season, the Eagles are No. 1 in the country in rushing defense, ahead of No. 2 Alabama by six yards per game. Alabama has the best front seven in football, and BC’s run defense is outperforming the Crimson Tide attack. Boston College is also second in the country in preventing the big play, allowing only 15 plays of 40 yards or more so far this season. The Eagles limited Florida State to just 217 total yards and 14 points earlier in the season, including checking Dalvin Cook for 54 yards rushing, his lowest output for the season. As for Notre Dame, aside from last week against Wake Forest, they have played close games. The Irish have been unable to put opponents away. What does this all mean? Notre Dame might score, but it will be not be on big, quick players. This game will be ugly, especially because Boston College’s offense isn’t very good, but it will be close. 

Ward’s Winners – Friday Night Special:

Cincinnati (-2.5) at South Florida: One of my favorite stories of the 2015 College Football season has been the play of the American Athletic Conference. Houston, Temple, Memphis and Navy have all been national stories throughout the season. The Cincinnati Bearcats haven’t been a national story this year, but Houston coach Tom Herman said last week on Eye on College Football that an NFL scout told him before Houston’s game against Cincinnati, that the Bearcats have the most NFL talent in the AAC. Former Notre Dame top recruit and now Cincy quarterback Gunner Kiel has thrown for over 300 yards in each of the last four games, including 523 yards against Houston two weeks ago. Although USF is coming off an upset win against Temple, in which the Bulls became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010, Cincinnati has too much talent to lose to USF.

Last Week: 2-1-0 (10-5 in the last 5 weeks)

Season Record: 18-15-0

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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