Ward’s Winners: Week 11

By James Ward

Overrated/Underrated:

Dan Mullen: Life after Dak Prescott has been difficult for the Bulldogs, but last week Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald became the third SEC quarterback (Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel) in the last 20 years to pass for 200 yards and rush for 175 yards in Saturday’s upset win against Texas A&M. (Lamar Jackson has done it four times since the start of last season.) Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen has made a living developing quarterbacks and Fitzgerald looks to be his next project. Underrated.

Texas A&M: The Aggies got stomped by Mississippi State this weekend and the College Football Playoff committee dropped them four spots to No. 8 in the newest playoff ranking. The Aggies have struggled in three consecutive SEC games, losing to Alabama and Mississippi State while also barely beating Tennessee in overtime. While there is plenty of talent in College Station, there is no reason the Aggies should be ranked in the top 10.  Overrated.

LSU:  The Tigers hung with the best team in the country for three and a half quarters, and the committee dropped them 11 spots in the newest College Football Playoff Rankings. LSU continues to struggle on offense outside of Leonard Fournette, but their defense is one of the best in the nation. Underrated.

D’Onta Foreman: At his weekly press conference, Charlie Strong was asked if he and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert were the only two people in the state capable of stopping Foreman. Against Texas Tech, Foreman rushed the ball 33 times for 341 on 10.3 yards per carry with 3 touchdowns and it actually looked like he could’ve had a bigger game. Underrated.

Ward’s Playoff Rankings:

First Four:

  1. Alabama: The Crimson Tide can win shootouts and they can also win slobberknockers. Last weekend’s game against LSU was ugly and awesome, and the Crimson Tide defense limited Leonard Fournette to 17 carries for 35 yards. Quarterback Jalen Hurts took over in the fourth quarter and Alabama continues to look like the clear No. 1 team in the country.
  1. Clemson: The Tigers slapped Syracuse with a reality check this weekend with an empty your bench, 54-0 beatdown. Four quarterbacks threw passes for Clemson as they continue to roll through their ACC schedule.
  1. Michigan: Another non-competitive Big Ten game for the Wolverines. In five of their six Big Ten games, the Michigan defense has held their opponent to less than 10 points. The Wolverines will cruise to 11-0 before The Game on Nov 26.
  1. Washington: The committee finally gave the Huskies the deserved props and ranked them No. 4 in this week’s rankings. Washington is one of the most complete teams in college football, but a matchup with a revitalized USC this week is another test.

First Four Out:

  1. Ohio State: On Saturday against Nebraska, the Buckeyes showed how dominant and assertive they could be on both sides of the ball. Ohio State made top-10 Nebraska look like a middle of the road Group of Five team, but inconsistency has been Ohio State’s issue all year. Will they finally play up to their potential?
  1. Auburn: After Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State, the Auburn Tigers became the second best team in the SEC. The Tigers have won six in a row after the Hot Seat Bowl against LSU and a win the Iron Bowl against Alabama would put the Tigers in the College Football Playoff.
  1. Louisville:  Bobby Petrino is doing his best to show the dominance of the Louisville offense, but it has come at the price of some people accusing him of running up the score. Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson played three quarters against Boston College despite leading 38-0 at the half.
  2. Wisconsin: The best two-loss team (sorry, Auburn) in the country continues to win ugly. The Badgers offense isn’t very good, but they are the favorite to face Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game.

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. With the new Heisman Trophy odds this week, Las Vegas has essentially given the award to Lamar Jackson. Jackson is now 1-30 favorite after opening the season at 100-1. As I mentioned in Week 1, the Heisman Trophy winner is rarely a favorite heading into the season and this year is no exception.
  1. Michigan State is in danger of going from first to last in the Big Ten in consecutive years. The Spartans are 0-6 in the Big Ten after winning the conference championship last season. In 2000, Northwestern tied for the Big Ten regular season title with Michigan and Purdue. The following year, the Wildcats went 4-7 and finished in last in the Big Ten. Since 2000, this is the only instance of last to first in the Big Ten.
  1. Outside of Alabama, Michigan has the most physical defense in the country, but just how physical have the Wolverines been this season? In the Wolverines nine games, the opposing starting quarterback has been knocked out of the game six times. In addition, Colorado and Michigan State played three quarterbacks against the Wolverines. Iowa’s C. J. Beathard is next up for Michigan. (h/t @DennyKapp) 

Ward’s Winners:

Penn State (-7) at Indiana: The Nittany Lions are in the middle of a program rejuvenation under the once embattled James Franklin. After a 2-2 start, there was chatter in State College about whether or not Franklin was the right man to bring the Penn State football program back to national prominence. Since then, the Nittany Lions have won five straight including an upset win against Ohio State and blowouts of Maryland, Purdue and Iowa. Penn State is also No. 10 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking. Indiana has been solid this year with a 3-3 record in the Big Ten, but their conference wins came against three teams with two combined conference wins.  If Penn State wants to be considered among the Big Ten elite, a dominant win against Indiana is necessary.

After all the preseason hype surrounding Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley might be the best running back in college football. If the Hoosiers want to stay close in this game, stopping Barkley is paramount. In their lone matchup against an elite offensive team, the Hoosiers allowed almost 300 yards rushing to Ohio State. On the other side of the ball, Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow is tied for the national lead with 13 interceptions. The Hoosiers will be bowl eligible with another win, but this is not a good matchup for Indiana. Expect Penn State to remain hot and beat Indiana by at least 10 points.

South Carolina (+11) at Florida: Luke Del Rio returned last week for Florida against Arkansas, but once again the Gators offense struggled. Del Rio is injured again and former Purdue transfer Austin Appleby is back at quarterback for the Gators. The Gators offense has struggled all year, but the Florida defense has carried them to a 6-2 record. However, Florida’s defense showed cracks (see: fault lines) against Arkansas last week and Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis, CeCe Jefferson, three of Florida’s best defensive players, will most likely miss the game. This is not a good week for Florida to face one of the upcoming SEC teams.

South Carolina is miraculously in contention for the SEC East crown despite starting 1-4 in conference play and most of that is due to the play of freshman quarterback sensation Jake Bentley. Bentley was one of last year’s top quarterback recruits and actually skipped his senior year of high school to enroll at South Caroilna early and play for the Gamecocks. Bentley is 3-0 as a starter in Columbia with a 73% completion percentage, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. In Bentley’s second career start, he led the Gamecocks to an upset against Tennessee. Take the points, but a South Carolina upset is definitely on the table.

Auburn (-10) at Georgia: The Auburn Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country right now and point blank; Georgia isn’t very good. With a 5-1 record in the SEC, Auburn has put themselves back into national contention with an impressive display of offense led by quarterback Sean White and running back Kamryn Pettway. Last week, Pettway became the 10th Auburn player since 2009 to rush for over 1000 yards, but an injury has him listed as day-to-day heading into Saturday’s game. If Pettway is unable to play against the Bulldogs, Auburn has a stable of running backs more than capable of running all over Georgia’s defense. Remember, this is an Auburn team that ran for 543 yards against an Arkansas defense that also held Florida to 12 yards rushing.

On the other side of the ball, Auburn’s defense is one of the more underrated defenses in college football. Auburn is No. 9 in the country in points allowed per game and that includes limiting Clemson, LSU, Mississippi State and Arkansas to less than 20 points. Georgia freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has been pretty good so far this season, but he’s still developing and the Auburn pass rush led by Carl Lawson has the potential to wreck this game. This game will show the major discrepancy between the SEC East and the SEC West.

Last Week: 2-1

Season Record: 14-16

Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 44-36-0

James Ward is the Associate Producer of the DA Show, as well as the Executive Producer of CBS Sports Radio Weekends and Sunday Morning Football. 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).

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