By James Ward
Kentucky: In September, Mark Stoops was on the verge of becoming another ex-Wildcats head coach unable to lead Kentucky out of the SEC basement, but then Kentucky started winning. The Wildcats are 4-2 in the SEC with games against Georgia and Tennessee in the upcoming weeks. If Florida slips up, a Kentucky/Alabama SEC Championship is entirely possible. Underrated.
Big 12 Unbeatens: Baylor and West Virginia both entered play last Saturday without a loss, but West Virginia lost to Oklahoma State in the early window and Baylor lost to Texas later in the afternoon and within hours, the Big 12’s playoff chances were shattered. Without an undefeated team, the Big 12 will surely be shut out of the College Football Playoff, but it isn’t because the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game, it’s because the Big 12 isn’t good enough to make the playoff. Overrated.
Friday Night Lights: The Big Ten’s new television contract will include six Friday night football games in 2017, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune. Michigan and Penn State have both already said they will not play Friday night games, while Northwestern and Illinois have expressed interest in hosting these games. The Friday night games will be good exposure for some of the lesser Big Ten schools and I think it’s a good idea. Underrated.
CFB Playoff Rankings: The first College Football Playoff rankings came out this week and while they are a great topic of debate and discussion, these rankings are essentially worthless. In 2014, Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss were the top four in the first rankings, while Ohio State (the eventual champion) was ranked No. 16. Only Florida State finished the season among the top four teams. In 2015, both Clemson and Alabama were ranked in the top four in each of the College Football Playoff rankings, but the other two spots fluctuated. LSU and Ohio State were both in the top four in the initial rankings, but both schools finished outside of the College Football Playoff. If the past results are a good indicator to the future, the final rankings will be much different than this week’s rankings. Overrated.
Ward’s Playoff Rankings:
- Alabama: The Crimson Tide are the clear No. 1 team at this point in the college football season. As previously mentioned, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way all year, but right now, Alabama looks unstoppable.
- Clemson: The Tigers remain undefeated while failing to play at close to the level of last year’s College Football Playoff Championship runner-up squad. This team will easily finish the regular season without a loss, setting up a potential rematch with Alabama in the championship game.
- Michigan: If you didn’t watch the game and only saw the box score, you’d think Michigan State hung with the Wolverines on Saturday afternoon. That was not the case. Michigan dominated Sparty and the pendulum in the rivalry and in the Big Ten has swayed to Ann Arbor. In Jim Harbaugh’s second season, Michigan is the Big Ten’s best hope for a national championship.
- Washington: The Committee left the Huskies out of their inaugural rankings, but if the Huskies remain undefeated, they’ll be in the playoff. Washington is one of the most balanced teams in college football.
First Four Out:
- Ohio State: Losing to Penn State cost the Buckeyes an undefeated season, but a win against Michigan on Nov. 26 and Ohio State is back in the conversation for the College Football Playoff. The big question for the Buckeyes surrounds their wildly inefficient offense and their inability to score in recent weeks.
- Texas A&M: The committee has the Aggies at No.4 and while Texas A&M is clearly the second best team in the SEC; they are not the fourth best team in the country. In order for A&M to play for an SEC Championship, the Aggies need to win out and Alabama has to lose two of their last four games. Not happening.
- Wisconsin: The Badgers have played one of the hardest schedules in college football and they’re still standing with two losses. Wins against LSU, Iowa and Nebraska, as well as competitive losses to Michigan and Ohio State makes Wisconsin the best two-loss team in the country.
- Louisville: Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals (Band name?) have been one of the major storylines for this year’s college football season, but right now, their most impressive win was against Florida State and the Seminoles are 5-3.
Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:
- Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is the first player in ACC history to throw for 15 touchdowns and run for 15 touchdowns in a season, and the Cardinals still have at least five games left this season. With just four more rushing touchdowns, Jackson will become the sixth player in college football history with at least 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Tim Tebow, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jordan Lynch.
- Michigan Wolverines versatile weapon Jabrill Peppers has 4 offensive touchdowns this season, the same amount of touchdowns Charles Woodson had in his 1997 Heisman campaign. Woodson was a lockdown defender who poached Peyton Manning’s Heisman Trophy because of his offensive production. Can Peppers do the same to Lamar Jackson?
- Last week, San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey moved into 5th place all-time on the NCAA rushing yards list with 5,741 yards. Pumphrey trails Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Tony Dorsett and D’Angelo Williams in career rushing yards. At his current pace of 183.6 yards per game, Pumphrey is on track to pass Dayne and become the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher in the Aztecs final regular season game. Much like Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds last season; let’s find a way to get Pumphrey to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Texas at Texas Tech (+3.5): Texas beat Baylor last week, halting the Bears’ undefeated season. The Longhorns are riding high and they head to Lubbock as favorites, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Longhorns are 0-3 this season on the road and have no business being favored in this game. So far this season, the Longhorns have been road favorites in two of their three road games (8-point favorites against Cal and 1-point favorites against Kansas State). While the Longhorns have improved in Austin, they are a bad road team.
Texas Tech continues to put up prolific numbers on offense behind Patrick Mahomes, who leads the nation in passing yards. Conversely, Texas is No. 73 in the country in passing yards allowed per game, and that’s after limiting Baylor last week. Mahomes and the Red Raiders will put up points against the Longhorns, and even with Texas running back D’Onta Foreman pilling up the yards against this suspect Red Raiders defense, the game will be close in the fourth quarter. Texas and Texas Tech are two evenly matched teams, but take the home underdog to cover.
Alabama (-7.5) at LSU: Last year, in the middle of Leonard Fournette’s Heisman Trophy season, LSU faced off against Alabama. (Fournette won the Heisman, right? I only watch college football in September and October.) The Crimson Tide held Fournette to just 19 carries for 31 yards, and 18 of his 31 yards came on one play. The Crimson Tide dominated the Tigers on both sides of the ball, and Alabama running back Derek Henry stole Fournette’s September Heisman from the LSU sideline.
Alabama has been Fournette’s kryptonite. In two games against Alabama, Fournette has only averaged 2.75 yards per carry and 55 yards per game. Against everyone else, Fournette has averaged 6.69 yards per carry and 131.1 yards per game. (Thanks to Ross Dellenger of the Advocate in Baton Route, Louisiana for doing the math.) Bad news for Fournette and the Tigers: This Alabama defense is the best in college football and the front seven is one of the best defensive fronts in college football history. More bad news for Fournette: Alabama will be fully rested after last week’s open week. The Tigers have played better under Coach Orgeron, but it’s impossible to pick against Alabama given their recent dominance. LSU quarterback Danny Etling is still the best option for the Tigers, but he won’t scare the Alabama defense after the Crimson Tide shut down Joshua Dobbs and Trevor Knight in previous weeks. This game will be close, but Alabama will pull away in the second half.
Utah State at Wyoming (-5.5): Fresh off Wyoming’s upset win against conference foes and previously undefeated Boise State, the Cowboys welcome the Utah State Aggies to Laramie. Wyoming scored 30 points against Boise State last week, which is the highest output against the Broncos all season. The Cowboys are now 4-0 in the Mountain West Conference and are poised to square off against San Diego State in the MWC Championship Game. On the other side of the coin, Utah State has one conference win and it came at the expense of former Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, who was fired following the loss.
Wyoming’s strength is their ability to run the ball behind Brian Hill, who is the second in the country in rushing yards behind San Diego State superstar Donnel Pumphrey. Utah State played San Diego State last Friday night on CBS Sports Network and Pumphrey torched the Aggies defense for 223 rushing yards. While Hill isn’t Pumphrey (Let’s face it, who is?), they will be able to move the ball at will on the Aggies defense. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl will make sure there is no letdown for his team following their upset against Boise State. The Cowboys will win this game easily.
Last Week: 0-3
Season Record: 12-15
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 42-35-0