By: James Ward
J.T. Barrett: I was dead wrong about Barrett last week heading into the game against Penn State. I thought his inability to throw the ball downfield would cost the Buckeyes, but Barrett threw for 338 yards, going 33-of-39 with four touchdowns, as well as running for 95 yards on the ground. Barrett won the game for the Buckeyes. Underrated.
Bryce Love: The all-world Stanford running back missed last week’s game against Oregon State, and the Cardinal offense struggled immensely. They survived the game 15-14 on a last-minute touchdown, but Love’s absence actually helped his Heisman status. Underrated.
Florida Football: Jim McElwain is out as Gators head coach, after winning two SEC East titles in his first two years in Gainesville. Is it time to lower expectations for Florida? Overrated.
Ward’s Playoff Rankings:
1. Alabama: Nick Saban’s dominance in college football is remarkable and the Crimson Tide are once again the best team in college football. The committee gave Saban more fuel to motivate his team by putting them at No. 2 in the first rankings.
2. Georgia: The committee put the Dogs as the No. 1 team, but I can’t put them above the Crimson Tide. If Georgia and Alabama played this weekend on a neutral field, the Bulldogs would still be at least a 4-point underdog. Georgia is the second best team in the country, but let’s not get crazy and put them at No. 1.
3. Notre Dame: Brian Kelly’s squad looked to be in for another long season after he snapped at a reporter after a loss to Georgia at home in September, but the Irish currently have one of the most physically bruising rushing attacks in the country. Win out and they’re in the playoff.
4. Oklahoma: The Sooners’ win over Ohio State in Columbus has carried them to this point, but with games against Oklahoma State and TCU in the next two weeks, their playoff hopes are very much TBD.
5. Ohio State: Last weekend’s win against Penn State was the first step towards a Big Ten Championship. J.T. Barrett has improved immensely and he’s the key to the Buckeyes cracking the top-4.
6. Wisconsin: The Badgers are the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten, but they have played just two teams with winning records. Should Wisconsin win outright and win the Big Ten Championship, they’ll be in the College Football Playoff, but it’ll be interesting to see how they fare when the competition steps up.
Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:
1. Boston College has three straight ACC wins and the Golden Eagles are one of the hottest teams in the country, largely because of the play of running back play of AJ Dillon. His grandfather, Thom Gatewood, is a College Football Hall of Famer who was the first African-American captain in Notre Dame football history. (h/t: @RichAckerman)
2. Iowa State is the talk of the college football world after last week’s win against TCU, their second win against a top-five school in October. The Cyclones are perennial bottom dwellers in the Big 12. In fact, they haven’t won a conference championship since 1912, when they were in the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
3. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the most highly touted running backs in college football right now, but the Nittany Lions back is just 25th in the nation in rushing yards.
Florida at Mizzou (-3): One thing about this matchup is for sure: the Missouri Tigers will throw the ball with success against the Gators. Quarterback Drew Lock averaged 363 yards through the air in October, and that includes 253 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia. Lock has thrown for 28 touchdowns against just eight interceptions on the season. The Missouri offense has averaged 45.5 points per game in their last four, and while I don’t expect them to score 40 against a decent Florida defense, the Gators are incapable of going blow for blow with the Tigers.
Florida will have a new head coach, a new lead running back and a new quarterback heading into Saturday. Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is now the interim head coach, with virtually no shot at becoming the full-time guy at Florida. He also has no chance to fix Florida’s “broken” offense, which is last in the SEC in first downs, before heading to Columbia. Leading rusher Malik Davis is out for the season with a knee injury, so the Gators will rely on Lamical Perine, who isn’t as much of a big-play threat. Former Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire looks to be the starter Saturday, which is also good news for the Missouri Tigers. If Mizzou scores two touchdowns in the first quarter, this game could be over by halftime. Pick: Mizzou (-3)
Oklahoma (+2.5) at Oklahoma State: The Sooners have dominated the Cowboys in Bedlam, as Oklahoma is 86-18-7 in the rivalry’s history. Since Mike Gundy took over as head coach at Oklahoma State, the Pokes are 2-10 against the Sooners. When handicapping a matchup, there’s a lot more to it than just trends, but some have wondered if the Pokes are actually cursed in this series. Pokes quarterback Mason Rudolph had his worst passing game of the season last week against West Virginia, and there were reports out of Stillwater that he was battling multiple injuries. Last season against the Sooners, Rudolph had one of the worst games of his career. While the offensive numbers favor Oklahoma State in this game, they aren’t playing as well as they were earlier in the season and I think those numbers are a little inflated.
In Lincoln Riley’s two biggest games as a head coach, the Sooners won on the road against Ohio State and held off a Texas team gunning for an upset. This is also Baker Mayfield’s last Bedlam game and when reporters told him the Sooners were underdogs, he had a legendary response. Mayfield has a 72.5 completion percentage, while throwing for 23 touchdowns to just three interceptions. One thing is certain: Mayfield will have a huge game. Last week against Ohio State, Saquon Barkley rushed for just 44 yards. If Mayfield plays well against Oklahoma State, he could leap Barkley in the Heisman race. Boomer Sooner. Pick: OU (+2.5)
UCF (-14.5) at SMU: Two touchdowns and a hook is a lot, but Central Florida has obliterated their competition this season. The Knights are 6-1 against the spread, with their only loss coming last week to Austin Peay when they failed to cover 43.5 points (they won by 40 and scored 73 points). Head coach Scott Frost has instituted the Oregon offense at UCF and they’ve demolished all of their in conference opponents, by an average margin of 29.25 points. The Knights were ranked No. 18 in the first College Football Playoff, and while they have no chance to reach the top 4, drubbing their opponents is the only way to increase their rankings and get an automatic New Year’s Day bowl bid.
Last week for the second straight week, SMU had to rally from behind to win. If the Mustangs fall behind early to UCF, the Knights will win by 30+ points. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton was recognized as a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award this week, given to the best college quarterback in the nation. Milton quarterbacks an offense that averages almost eight yards a play, which is a ridiculous number. The Knights are undefeated and have won all of their games by at least 10 points. While SMU’s offense is explosive, UCF is a notch above and they should be able to cover this number on the road. Pick: UCF (-14.5)
Last Week: 2-1
Season Record: 16-12
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 74-59-0
James Ward is 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).