By James Ward
Lamar Jackson: The Louisville quarterback has accounted for 25 touchdowns this season through four games. Only two schools, Louisville (obviously) and Michigan have scored more than 25 offensive touchdowns. Underrated.
Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson: A massive regular season quarterback duel on Saturday night and I know we are all prisoners of the moment, but this is one of the biggest regular season quarterback matchups in recent memory. Since 2000, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy in 2008 are the only quarterbacks to finish 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy voting that also faced off in the regular season. Underrated.
Mitch Trubisky: There’s been so much talk about Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Deondre Francois in the ACC, but the Tar Heel quarterback Mitch Trubisky is really slinging it. In his last two games, Trubisky has thrown for 885 yards on 81% completions with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. Underrated.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder this week after losing to Duke. Notre Dame came into the season ranked No. 10 in the AP Preseason Poll, but after giving up 33.5 points a game through four weeks, they are 1-3. Can the Irish limit the big plays this week against Dino Babers’ new Syracuse offense? Overrated.
USC: Another one of college football’s historically great programs is having a rough season. After hiring interim coach Clay Helton, the Trojans may be suffering from buyer’s remorse and it’s possible there is another coaching change at USC this season. In other news, there are plenty of tickets available for the Notre Dame-USC rivalry game in November. Overrated.
5-Star Quarterback Recruits: Quarterback Blake Barnett has decided to transfer from Alabama. The former five-star recruit is undoubtedly looking for more playing time after Jalen Hurts is clearly the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. According to the 247 Sports Recruit Rankings, Barnett and Josh Rosen were the only five-star recruits at quarterback in 2015. Former Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen was the only five-star recruit on 247 Sports’ 2014 recruiting list. Hopefully for the SEC, Shea Patterson and Jacob Eason spend more than one season at their respective schools. Overrated.
Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:
- When Nick Saban became the head coach at Alabama, most people thought it was another temporary position for a coaching nomad. When Les Miles was fired this week at LSU, Saban became the longest tenured coach in the SEC. Four championships in 10 seasons is impressive, but Saban staying in one place for 10 years might be more impressive.
- There are three matchups of AP top-10 teams this week. (Stanford/Washington, Clemson/Louisville & Wisconsin/Michigan) Ralph Russo of the Associated Press says this is the most since Oct. 12, 2002.
- Taysom Hill has spent parts of five injury filled seasons as the starting quarterback of the BYU Cougars. Including his two-year LDS mission, Hill is now seven years removed from graduating high school. Bryce Brown, Matt Barkley Trent Richardson and Manti Te’o were all top recruits from Hill’s graduating high school class.
Toledo at BYU (-3.5): BYU in Provo against a Group of Five team is almost always a win for the Cougars. BYU has three losses this season by a combined seven points to UCLA, West Virginia and Utah. While a 1-3 record to start the season isn’t good, BYU’s losses have come against teams with a combined 9-2 record. According to TeamRankings.com, the Cougars have played the 13th hardest schedule in all of college football, while Toledo has played the 125th hardest (or 4th easiest) schedule in college football. Also, historically, Toledo is just 1-6 in Mountain/Pacific time zones in the last 20 years.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is one of my favorite players to watch in college football. He plays the quarterback position like a pinball, bouncing back and forth between defensive players and looking for contact. Hill rushed for over 100 yards last week against West Virginia in his best game of the season. Hill has eclipsed the 100-yard mark nine times in his college career and while injuries have slowed him down significantly, he still looks for contact. Toledo is off to a great start, but Hill and the Cougars are too much for the Rockets.
Wake Forest (+11) at North Carolina State: The Demon Deacons are 4-0 this season and although their level of competition hasn’t been especially strong, they beat Duke and Indiana on the road. I wanted to pick Wake Forest last week against Indiana, where they were over a touchdown underdog, but injuries to starting quarterback Kendall Hinton and running back Cade Carney scared me away from making the pick. (Not only did they cover, but they also won the game.) Last year’s starting quarterback John Wolford played well and Matt Coburn rushed for over 100 yards for the second straight game, and I am back on the Demon Deacons’ bandwagon.
The Wolfpack are in no position to be favored by 11 points over anyone, much less a conference team with an undefeated record through four games. Dave Clawson excelled at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, and now has Wake Forest at 4-0 for the first time since 2006 when they won the ACC Title. I’m buying in on Dave Clawson’s Wake Forest team against a mediocre, underachieving North Carolina State team that consistently has NFL talent, but never contends for the ACC Atlantic. As bad as Wake Forest has been in recent years, these teams are 5-5 in their last ten meetings. This game will be close.
Louisville at Clemson (+2): Clemson has lost two home games in five years, but they are home underdogs to Louisville this weekend because of the Cardinals dominance so far this season. Clemson is actually an underdog for the first time since Sept. 21, 2014. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the biggest story of the 2016 college football season, but don’t sleep on Clemson. Deshaun Watson and the Tigers were headliners last year and although they haven’t dominated this season, they have done nothing to mar their chance at repeating as ACC champs. Watson hasn’t run the ball as much this season, but it has seemed like the Tigers have been protecting him for games like this Saturday night.
While Clemson undoubtedly has the most talented collection of offensive players in the country, it’s their defense that has carried them to a 4-0 start. The Tigers defense is capable of containing Jackson, and after playing on Thursday last week, they’ve had more than a week to prepare for the Cardinals star quarterback. Florida State’s defense was unable to stop Lamar Jackson, but in hindsight, that shouldn’t have been surprising after Ole Miss stormed out to an early lead. The Clemson defense limited Georgia Tech’s prolific triple option rushing attack to less than 100 yards last week and they’ll make enough plays to keep this game close into the fourth quarter. In a close game in the fourth quarter, Deshaun Watson will be ready to play.
Last Week: 0-3
Season Record: 6-6
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 36-26-0