By James Ward
Ward’s Top 8:
- Clemson (12-0): The dream season for the Clemson Tigers continued with a victory over South Carolina in Columbia, just their second win in the last seven chances against the Gamecocks. The game was close in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers managed a victory and a perfect regular season record. I said at the beginning of the season that Deshaun Watson, “is the best player in college football that the average college football fan hasn’t heard of (yet).” After 12 straight victories, everyone knows about Deshaun Watson.
- Alabama (11-1): The Crimson Tide would be having an all-time season, if not for the early season loss to Ole Miss, where the Rebels caught every break and proverbial bounce of the ball. Running back Derrick Henry is the current Heisman Trophy favorite and the Alabama defense behind new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is the No. 2 ranked defense in the country in almost every statistic. The SEC is having a down season, but Alabama might be the best team in the country.
- Oklahoma (11-1): When the Sooners beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday night and clinched the Big 12 title; they also solidified their case to make the college football playoffs. Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State will all finish in the top-25 of all the major rankings, giving Oklahoma the best collection of wins in the country. This year, the Big 12’s lack of title game wont matter to the committee and the Sooners will play for the championship.
- Iowa (12-0): Undefeated in the Big Ten. Iowa heads into the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan State as underdogs, but their season has been impressive and unexpected. Led by a powerful rushing attack, the Hawkeyes playoff hopes are contingent on beating Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
- Michigan State (11-1): In their two biggest games of the season, the Spartans beat Michigan and Ohio State without leading at any point of either game in regulation. But in order for Michigan State to make the Big 10 Championship game, the Spartans needed to beat Penn State in the final week of the regular season. They did, and did it convincingly, and now the Spartans head to the Big Ten Championship Game with momentum capable of carrying them to a national championship.
- North Carolina (11-1): The Tar Heels are on an impressive 11-game winning streak and pundits around the country are wondering if North Carolina has a chance to upset No. 1 Clemson in the ACC Championship. I think they do. The Caroilna offense is explosive behind quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood. If UNC can beat Clemson, they should be in the top four with a chance to play for a national title.
- Stanford (10-2): The Cardinal might be the best team on the outside of the college football playoffs. Barring a cavalcade of upsets, the 2-loss Stanford team will not make the college football playoffs, even if they USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Quarterback Kevin Hogan and running back Christian McCaffrey have had tremendous seasons following an opening week loss to Northwestern.
- Ohio State (11-1): Last week against Michigan, the Ohio State Buckeyes played their best game of the season. Finally. But unless there is total chaos on Championship Weekend, Ohio State will not have a chance to defend their national title. A team that will most likely break the record for the most players drafted into the NFL will look a lot different next season.
Temple at Houston (-6): A lot on the line in this game as the winner most likely plays in a New Year’s Day bowl game. Ohio State vs. Houston in the Fiesta Bowl? That would be a matchup enjoyed by college football fans. Anyway, Houston is the better team. They are 2-0 against Temple since the AAC inception, and 2-0 against the spread. After three down games in a row against Cincinnati, Memphis and UCONN, Houston beat up on Navy last week, defending the triple option perfectly while also managing to put up 52 points in a convincing win. The Cougs are averaging 42 points per game on the season behind almost 500 yards of total offense led by Greg Ward Jr, their dual threat quarterback. Houston’s run defense is No. 13 in FBS, which doesn’t bode well for Temple who relies heavily on running back Jahad Thomas. This game will be close, but I like Houston to cover.
Florida and Alabama (-17): Bold prediction: The Gators won’t score against the Crimson Tide, barring a defensive touchdown. The Gators had trouble scoring against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic in November, and Florida was almost shut out last week for the first time since 1988 before a fourth quarter safety. Seventeen points is a lot in a championship game, but I have watched the Gators closely over the last month, and they are just not a good football team. Treon Harris has been a negative at quarterback since Will Grier was suspended for PEDs. Florida’s strong point all season has been their defense, but Dalvin Cook rushed for 183 yards against the vaunted Gators defense last week. What can Derrick Henry do behind a better offensive line? Saturday night will be Henry’s final opportunity to show Heisman voters that he is deserving of the trophy, so in short: A lot more. Alabama needs to essentially score 20 points to cover this large spread, but I think they do it easily.
Michigan State and Iowa (+3.5): Everyone is picking Michigan State to win this game and cover, so I am picking Iowa. The Hawkeyes success has been discounted all season, but I believe in Iowa. They play football the way it is supposed to be played, with power running, behind a fullback and a massive offensive line. Hawkeyes running back Jordan Canzeri is healthy and should have a big impact on this game. I am not enamored with Connor Cook or the Michigan State offense. I have seen them play a lot this year, and last week against Penn State was the Spartans’ first wall-to-wall dominant effort of the season. These teams are evenly matched and a field goal will decide the game. I like the Hawkeyes to pull off the upset.
Last Week: 2-1-0 (15-7 in the last 7 weeks)
Season Record: 23-17-0
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).