Ward’s Winners: Championship Weekend

By James Ward

Overrated/Underrated: 

SEC: Alabama is the best team in the SEC and the nation, but who is the second best team in the SEC? Auburn is No. 14 and Florida is No. 15 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings and LSU and Tennessee are the only other SEC teams in the Top-25. From top to bottom, the SEC is the worst conference in the Power Five this season. Overrated.  

Navy: The Navy Midshipmen scored 75 points last week on the road against SMU and following the game, Navy Sports Information Director Scott Strasemeier posted a great nugget on Twitter. Navy dressed 74 players against SMU and 73 players got into the game. The only player who didn’t get into the game was the punter. Underrated.

D’Onta Foreman: The Texas running back became the latest college running back to rush for over 2000 yards in a season. According to College Football Reference, the feat has been done 27 times. Alabama running back Derrick Henry ran for 2219 yards last season, but thanks to the College Football Playoff, Henry played in 15 games. Foreman ran for 2028 yards in just 11 games and he declared for the NFL Draft this week. Underrated.

Ward’s Playoff Rankings:

First Four:

  1. Alabama: With all of the discussion and controversy surrounding the College Football Playoff rankings, the No. 1 seed has never been in doubt. Alabama has been the No. 1 team in the country since preseason and barring a Florida upset in the SEC Championship game, the Tide will be the top seed in the playoff.
  1. Ohio State: The Game delivered on all of the hype as the Buckeyes beat Michigan in overtime. Despite not playing in the Big Ten Championship this week, Ohio State will make the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.
  1. Clemson: The Tigers have played down to their opponent all season, but the good news for Clemson is the rest of their games will be against top teams. Deshaun Watson has thrown the ball better in recent weeks and he will undoubtedly run the ball more as the games gain importance. It’s no surprise that Watson’s two biggest rushing outputs were against Louisville and Florida State.
  1. Washington: The Huskies punished Washington State in the Apple Cup and looked like the dominant team from earlier in the season. If Washington plays like they did against Stanford and Washington State, they can beat anyone.

First Four Out:

  1. Wisconsin: The Badgers are favorites in the Big Ten Championship game (and Wisconsin is better than Penn State), but they are still on the outside of the College Football Playoff. Unless Clemson or Washington lose in their respective title games, Wisconsin will head to Pasadena and play in the Rose Bowl.
  1. Michigan: Quarterback Wilton Speight returned on Saturday against Ohio State, but he committed three costly turnovers including a fumble near the goal line that cost the Wolverines points. The Wolverines had 24 of 25 starting players earn all Big-Ten honors, but they are currently in third place in the Big Ten East.
  1. USC: After a loss to Utah in his starting debut, quarterback Sam Darnold has won eight straight and the Trojans are playing as well as anyone in college football. Unfortunately for USC, the first half of the season still counts, but they will be Pac-12 favorites next season.
  1. Colorado: The Buffaloes have two losses this year and in both of them star quarterback Sefo Liufau was limited with an ankle injury. If Colorado beats Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game, this injury should be taken into account and the Buffaloes should play in the playoff.

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

  1. This week, Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers won the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year, the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year and the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year awards. No surprise there; Peppers is one of the most dynamic players in college football. Here’s something surprising: When Peppers intercepted Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett on Saturday, it was the first interception of his career.
  1. Alabama is the clear No. 1 team in the country and that success is largely because of their defense. How dominant is the Tide defense? Alabama hasn’t allowed a touchdown since Oct. 22 against Texas A&M. In November, Alabama played LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn and didn’t allow a touchdown.
  1. Despite Louisville losing to Houston and Kentucky to close out the regular season, Lamar Jackson is still on pace to win the Heisman Trophy. While his offensive numbers are extremely impressive, Jackson has been sacked 38 times, which is more than any other quarterback in the Power Five.

Ward’s Winners:

Temple at Navy (-3): The AAC Championship features two teams that play drastically different styles of football. Navy runs a triple-option offense behind quarterback Will Worth, who has rushed for over 100 yards in seven straight games. Temple’s offense is balanced behind senior quarterback Phillip Walker and running backs Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead. Both teams come into the AAC Championship game with winning streaks intact, Navy has won four straight while Temple has won six straight. During the Navy win streak, the Midshipmen are averaging over 50 points a game and while Temple has one of the best defenses in the country, stopping the triple-option attack is an entirely different technique. Temple lost to Army earlier this season, and the Cadets run a very similar triple-option offense compared to Navy.

The number is small and the game is in Annapolis, and Navy has been an absolute juggernaut. The Middies have a home winning 15 straight and 23 or their last 25 home games, including home upsets this year against Houston and Notre Dame. Navy hasn’t lost a home game since Sept 27, 2014. While both teams are playing well (duh, it’s a championship game), I don’t think Temple will be able to stop Navy on offense.

Oklahoma State (+11) at Oklahoma: Bedlam is the de facto Big 12 Championship game for the second straight season and for two evenly matched teams, this line is enormous. Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have prolific Big 12 offenses and sputtering defenses, but the Cowboys defense has showed some life in recent weeks. In Oklahoma State’s last game, the defense shut down Kenny Hill and TCU, limiting the Horned Frogs to six points – another game where the Cowboys were huge underdogs for no reason. This game will be decided by two highly productive quarterback to wide receiver combinations: Oklahoma has Baker Mayfield to Dede Westbrook and Oklahoma State has Mason Rudolph to James Washington.

In recent years, Oklahoma State has been prone to losing games they should win (see: Central Michigan Hail Mary), but no one is more susceptible to that than Bob Stoops. The Sooners were no shows earlier this season against Houston and Ohio State, and while they have played to an undefeated record against the Big 12, they had close calls against TCU, Texas and Texas Tech. Mike Gundy is one of the most underrated coaches in college football and the Cowboys will be ready for the Sooners this week. While Oklahoma has won 13 of the last 15 meetings, the last two games in Norman went to overtime. This game will be close throughout, so take the points.

Penn State & Wisconsin (-2.5): The Big Ten Championship game this year will decide the third best team in the conference, behind Ohio State and Michigan. Penn State and Wisconsin each faced off against both Ohio State and Michigan. The Badgers lost both games by a touchdown each and Penn State split, beating Ohio State and losing to Michigan by 39 points. The Nittany Lions are in this game because they beat up on the bottom of the Big Ten, while the Badgers beat LSU in the season opener.

Earlier in the season, Wisconsin was a team with an above average defense and a below average offense, but in their last three outings, the Badgers have scored 42.7 points per game. The Wisconsin defense is No. 7 in the country overall in yards per game and No. 3 in the country in rushing yards per game, which doesn’t bode well for a Penn State offense behind running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley is the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year, but he is banged up with a leg injury heading into Saturday’s game. Penn State’s rushing attack will have issues scoring on Wisconsin, as the Badgers defense limited Minnesota’s Rodney Smith, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, Iowa’s Akrum Wadley and Ohio State’s Mike Weber & Curtis Samuel to less than 50 yards rushing in each game. It’s been a good season for Penn State, but Wisconsin will show they are the clear No. 3 team in the Big Ten.

Last Week: 1-2

Season Record: 19-20

Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 49-40-0

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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