Ward’s Winners: Week 4

By James Ward 

Overrated/Underrated:

Louisville: Heading into last weekend’s game against Florida State, I wondered how the Cardinals would play against a top-tier opponent. Louisville aced that test and handed Florida State the school’s worst loss since joining the ACC. Underrated. 

Tennessee: I hate to rehash an overrated/underrated so early in the season, but I’ve heard many pundits say that Tennessee is still the favorite to win the SEC East. They have played Appalachian State, Virginia Tech and Ohio and are lucky to be 3-0. This week is a huge SEC test for the Volunteers against the Gators. Overrated. 

Mark Dantonio: Who are the best coaches in college football? Nick Saban. Urban Meyer. Jim Harbaugh. Dabo Swinney. David Shaw. Bob Stoops. Brian Kelly. How many names would you get to before you said Mark Dantonio? Since 2010, the Spartans have gone 67-9 and won three Big Ten Titles. It’s time we start mentioning Dantonio among the elite coaches in college football. Underrated. 

Western Michigan: Last week, the Broncos beat Illinois 34-10 in Champaign. After beating Northwestern in Week 1, the Broncos now have two wins against Big Ten teams this season. There are teams in the Big Ten that won’t win two conference games. Underrated.

Big 12: Through three weeks, Baylor and West Virginia are the only undefeated teams left in the Big 12. Oklahoma lost to Ohio State, all but eliminating the Sooners from the College Football Playoffs. Texas allowed 50 points to Cal on Saturday night and with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looming, a loss in October is inevitable. Overrated.

D.J. Pumphrey: In Week 2 against Cal, Pumphrey rushed for 281 yards and passed Marshall Faulk for the most rushing yards in San Diego State history. For his encore last week, he ran for 220 yards against Northern Illinois. Pumphrey is already ranked 29th in FBS career rushing yards and with just 725 yards, he will move all the way up to 6th place. Underrated.

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. San Diego State jumped to No. 22 in this week’s AP Top-25 Poll. The Aztecs are in the middle of a 13-game winning streak and have not lost a game since September 26, 2015. Check out Aztecs head coach Rocky Long on CBS Sports Radio’s Eye on College Football this weekend.
  1. Ole Miss lost to Alabama at home last week and blew a 21-point lead. It was the Rebels second blown lead of that magnitude this season. Ole Miss became the third FBS team to lose two 21-point leads in the same season, and it only took the Rebels 3 games.
  1. North Dakota State beat Iowa on Saturday. For the Bison, it was their six consecutive win against an FBS opponent, including five straight against the Power Five. Since 2011, the Bison have gone 74-5 including five straight FCS Championships.

Ward’s Winners:

Florida (+6.5) at Tennessee: Last week, the Gators beat the Kentucky Wildcats for the 30th straight game, extending the nation’s longest active winning streak by one FBS team over another FBS team. This week, the Gators look to extend another winning streak in the SEC. Dating back to 2003, Florida has won 11 straight matchups against the Tennessee Volunteers. The last time Tennessee beat Florida, Casey Clausen was quarterbacking the Volunteers. So it’s been a long time.

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio was injured last week against North Texas and will miss this Saturday’s game in Knoxville. Former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby will start for the Gators and I don’t think he is that much of a downgrade from Del Rio. While the line is undoubtedly larger because of Del Rio’s injury, his status doesn’t change Florida’s decided advantage against Tennessee. The Gators defense through three games has allowed 14 points. If that number doesn’t impress you, maybe this will: UMASS’s touchdown drive in Week 1 was aided by two 15-yard personal foul penalties and Kentucky’s garbage time touchdown drive in Week 2 was aided by another personal foul penalty. The Gators currently have the top ranked defense in the country and although three games isn’t a large sample size, I think they have the talent on defense to keep it up.   I’m not sure if Florida can score behind Appleby, but their defense will have no problem stopping Tennessee’s one-dimensional offense. This will be an ugly game, but I like Florida to keep it close. 

LSU (-3.5) at Auburn: From one Purdue transfer to another: While Purdue transfer Austin Appleby makes his first start for the Gators against Tennessee, another former Boilermaker quarterback Danny Etling will make his second start for LSU. Two seasons ago, both were battling for the Purdue starting quarterback job and this week, both are starting for SEC teams. No one will mistake Appleby or Etling for Drew Brees or Gary Danielson, but Etling is a huge upgrade at LSU over former starter Brandon Harris. If Etling can throw the ball at all and give defenses the threat of a passing game, star running back Leonard Fournette will excel. Fournette has already put up sick numbers in his LSU career with Harris and Anthony Jennings at quarterback, and Etling is already better than both of those guys.

For Auburn, Jordan-Hare Stadium should be one of the best home field advantages in college football, but the Tigers have lost 7 straight home games against Power Five opponents. This week, Gus Malzahn announced that Sean White will start again for Auburn this weekend. In two games against Clemson and Texas A&M, White is a combined 28 for 48 for 266 yards and zero touchdowns. Not exactly a formula for success. Last year against Auburn, Leonard Fournette ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns. In order for Auburn to win, they will have to score AND stop Fournette, and they haven’t demonstrated the ability to do either.

Wisconsin at Michigan State (-5): Last week, Michigan State handed Notre Dame their second loss of the season. At one point in the game, Sparty led 36-7 before thwarting a fourth quarter Notre Dame comeback. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Michigan State, as they only returned ten starters from last year’s playoff squad, but suddenly freshmen Raequon Williams and Donnie Corley are making plays. Last week, Williams sacked Notre Dame quarterback Deshone Kizer in a pivotal moment of the game and Corley caught his first career touchdown pass.

Wisconsin running back Corey Clement is questionable to play against Michigan State. If Clement sits, they will be without their best offensive player. Also of note, the Badgers have two other running backs listed as questionable. Through two games, Michigan State has been more than capable of stopping the run, limiting Notre Dame to 57 yards rushing last week. While the Badgers strength is their running game, the Spartans will be able to stop the Wisconsin rushing attack, especially with the injury concerns.

Last Week: 2-1

Season Record: 6-3

Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 36-21-0

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