Ward’s Winners: Week 8

By James Ward

Overrated/Underrated:

Big 12 Expansion:  This week, the Big 12 elected not to expand, ending perhaps one of the most annoying college football stories in recent memory.  Instead of increasing revenue across the board, the Big 12 decided to remain status quo.  Big 12 expansion was an epic waste of time.   Overrated.

The AAC:  When the Big 12 announced the conference was not expanding, the conference hit the hardest was undoubtedly the American Athletic Conference.  AAC commissioner Mike Aresco talked with Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com and spoke about the decision.  Aresco mentioned the notion of the Power Six, instead of the Power Five. The AAC, behind the recent success of Houston, Navy, Temple and Memphis, currently has a large national profile.  Another New Year’s Six Bowl Bid for the conference would further this point.  Underrated.

Washington State: In week 1 of this column, I called the Cougars my sleeper team for the 2016 college football season.  They immediately lost their first two games to Eastern Washington and Boise State, and my pick looked like another stupid preseason prediction.  Don’t look now, but the Cougars are 3-0 in the Pac-12 with consecutive wins against Oregon, Stanford and UCLA.   Quarterback Luke Falk is putting up impressive passing numbers and looks to be a dark horse Heisman contender.  Underrated.

Power Five Coaching Positions:  Darrell Hazell was fired this week as Purdue head coach, which got me thinking:  There are some jobs in the Power Five that aren’t worth taking for young, up-and-coming head coaches.  With the increase in television exposure, there are many head coaching jobs in Group of Five conferences more advantageous than bottom Power Five positions.  In recent years, Boise State, Houston, Navy, Marshall, Western Michigan and San Diego State have all made runs at national prominence, while Purdue has struggled to compete in conference against the toughest competition in college football.  Overrated.

October Rankings:  What team was the first ever No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings?  Mississippi State.  On Oct. 28, 2014, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the playoff rankings, but on Dec 7, 2014, they were ranked No. 7 and on the outside o the College Football Playoff.  While the current playoff contenders are clearly Alabama, Clemson, Washington and the Ohio State/Michigan winner, chaos is likely.  Remember, this is college football.  Overrated.

 Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. Notre Dame is fully immersed in one of the worst seasons in program history. Since 1964, Notre Dame has won at least five games in every season except 2007, when the Irish went 3-9 under Charlie Weis.  Notre Dame is currently 2-5 with Miami, Army & Virginia Tech at home and USC & Navy on the road left on their schedule.  All five of their remaining opponents have more wins, which makes a 4-8 season look increasingly likely.  The Irish aren’t exactly living up to their preseason No. 10 expectations.
  1. Barring a major upset, Ohio State and Michigan will square off in The Game as top-5 teams for the 11th time in history. Five of the previous ten matchups as top-5 teams happened in the 1970s when Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes patrolled the sidelines.
  1. Alabama has outscored USC and Tennessee 101-16 this season. In the two games against his former schools, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has led the Crimson Tide to dominant victories.  Is it time for the former boy wonder to get another shot as a head coach?

Ward’s Winners:

South Florida (-6.5) at Temple:  The South Florida Bulls are a team I’ve kept an eye on all season.   After starting last season 1-3, the Bulls rallied and won seven of their final eight games en route to a bowl bid.  This year, South Florida is 6-1 with their only loss against Florida State, in a game that was competitive.  With Houston losing to Navy, the Bulls have a legitimate chance at the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid.  The Bulls are 3-0 in the AAC this year and they have won six games overall by an average of 25 points.  On the other side, Temple has been extremely inconsistent.  Two weeks ago, the Owls collapsed against Memphis and last week, the beat UCF on a last second touchdown.  This isn’t last year’s Temple squad, a team that almost upset No. 9 Notre Dame.  Last year’s Temple team was better than this year’s team, and USF beat that Owls team by 21 points.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack are two of the best skilled players in the AAC.  Flowers is second in the country in rushing yards at the quarterback position behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.  Flowers and Mack rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in rushing yards in the AAC.  The Bulls’ dynamic duo has 16 rushing touchdowns combined.  In previous years, Temple has been great against the run, but this year the Owls are allowing 149.9 yards per game on the ground.  In week 1, Army rushed for 329 yards against the Owls.  Another strike against the Owls is the play of quarterback Phillip Walker.  Walker has 10 interceptions, which could pose a problem against a ball-hungry Bulls defense.  The Bulls will win by double digits.

NC State (+19) at Louisville:  After losing to Clemson and almost losing to Duke, Louisville is no longer the dominant offense from September.  NC State almost (and should have) beat Clemson last week and the Wolfpack are on the verge of cracking the AP Top-25.  NC State has lost both meetings to Louisville since the Cardinals joined the ACC, but both meetings were close in the fourth quarter.

Football is a game of matchups and the matchups in this game are very balanced.  The Wolfpack have the top ranked run defense in the ACC, which also ranks fifth in the country, allowing just 95.3 yards per game on the ground.  Conversely, Louisville has the top ranked run offense in the ACC and third ranked run offense nationally.  This game is strength against strength.  NC State running back Matt Dayes has rushed for over 100 yards in five of the six games this season.  Louisville has been pretty good at stopping the run, but the game plan for Dave Doeren’s NC State team will be to keep Lamar Jackson off the field by running the ball and controlling the time of possession.  Given all of these factors, 20 points is a lot of points and NC State will keep this game close

Syracuse (+4.5) at Boston College:  Boston College has lost 11 straight ACC games, losing their last two by a combined score of 105-10.  Since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Eagles have been favored in four out of 19 ACC games and they covered in just one of those games.  While Boston College has struggled in ACC play, Syracuse has been surprisingly competitive.  The Orange beat No. 17 Virginia Tech last weekend for their first win against a ranked team since 2012.  Dino Babers’ high-powered Baylor style offense has been good so far for the Orange, as Syracuse put points on the board against Louisville and Notre Dame.

Syracuse sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey has been very good so far and believe it or not, the Orange have the No. 9 ranked passing offense in the country.  The Boston College defense has always been their strength under Steve Adazzio and while the Eagles defense is highly ranked again, they have struggled against ACC opponents.  Clemson and Virginia Tech had over 450 yards of total offense and a mediocre Georgia Tech offense had 320 yards.  In addition, Syracuse totaled 561 yards of offense against Virginia Tech last week.  Following the win against Virginia Tech, Syracuse is trending upward and it’s hard to not to enjoy the way that first year head coach Dino Babers is leading the Orange.  Boston College has lost a lot lately and until they win an ACC game, they have no business being favored against any conference opponent. 

Last Week: 2-1

Season Record: 11-10

Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 41-30-0

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