By: James Ward
Baker Mayfield: After two seasons in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, Mayfield seems to be in good position to finally win the award. His will to win games is impressive. Underrated.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes beat Ohio State last weekend 55-24 in Iowa City. I’m not sure what’s more surprising, Iowa scoring 55 or the Hawkeyes beating the Buckeyes by 31 points. One thing that’s not surprising is Kirk Ferentz’s team playing well in a big spot. Underrated.
Big 12: Every season the Big 12 gives us contenders in September and pretenders in November, and Oklahoma State is this year’s version. The Cowboys looked invincible early in the season, but their Bedlam loss clinches another disappointing season that began with legitimate national championship hopes. Overrated.
Ward’s Playoff Rankings:
1. Georgia: This Georgia team just feels different. In six SEC games, the Bulldogs are out scoring their opponents 236-62, but Auburn is a huge test this weekend.
2. Alabama: The Crimson Tide are dominating college football again, but the injuries are mounting. Two more linebackers went down last week against LSU and eventually these injuries could be insurmountable.
3. Notre Dame: The Irish have one of the most difficult schedules in the country, but with wins against NC State and USC in recent weeks, they are in position to make the College Football Playoff without a conference championship game.
4. Oklahoma: An epic win against Oklahoma State last weekend put quarterback Baker Mayfield ahead of Saquon Barkley for the Heisman Trophy. The Sooners defense will likely lose them another game this season, but Mayfield is capable of beating anyone.
5. Washington: Last week’s college football chaos seemed to open the door for a one-loss Pac-12 Champion to make the playoff. Their loss to Arizona State earlier in the season appears to be the anomaly.
6. Wisconsin: I am still not buying the Badgers as a potential playoff team, but an undefeated Power Five champion is a lock for the College Football Playoff. They should cruise to the Big Ten Championship.
Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:
1. In the state of Florida, UCF, USF, FIU and FAU are all bowl eligible and playing for conference championships. While Miami is undefeated and playing their most important game of the season this weekend, it’s no sure thing Florida and Florida State play in the post season. The Seminoles have 35 consecutive bowl appearances, the longest bowl streak in the nation.
2. Washington punt returner Dante Pettis broke an NCAA record last weekend with his ninth career punt return for a TD. Not a bad week for the Pettis family as Dante’s father Gary won the World Series with the Houston Astros as their third base coach.
3. Nick Saban’s largest margin of defeat in his time as Alabama head coach is 14 points, and it’s happened three times in his 10+ years in charge. After last week’s blowout loss to Iowa, Urban Meyer and Ohio State have three losses by more than 14 points (including two losses of 31 points) in their last 10 games. Saban’s dominance is unbelievable and unparalleled.
Washington (-6) at Stanford: With just one loss, the Washington Huskies are now back in the playoff race as the Big Ten and Big 12 continue to both battle in separate wars of attrition. The Huskies one loss of the season is the only game in which they didn’t score at least 30 points. Following last week’s 38-6 beat down over Oregon, the Washington offense is performing again. In addition, Dante Pettis has four punt return touchdowns on the season and at this point; it’s the norm for him to take one to the house.
Meanwhile, Stanford is suffering from some of the worst quarterback play in the Power Five. Quarterbacks Keller Chyrst and KJ Costello have one game of 200 plus yards of total offense between them this season. The Cardinal lost last week to Washington State on the road, and needed a last second touchdown to beat basement dwelling Oregon State the previous week. The Cardinal faces a defense that stacks up against any defense in the country. The Huskies defense has a 84.3% stop rate, an advance metric that measures the success rate of offensive plays. In addition, the Washington defense is first in the country using yards allowed per game. Stanford’s offense is entirely on the shoulders of running back Bryce Love, who has at least one 50-yard run in every game this season. Love is still banged up and the short week won’t do him any favors. The Huskies haven’t allowed a play of longer than 36 yards all season. Washington will limit Love from making any big plays and the Huskies will show they are still the class of the Pac-12. Pick: UW (-6)
Duke at Army (+3): It pains me to pick against Duke, but after five straight losses, it is just the right thing to do. Over the last three games, the Duke defense has given up an average of 250.3 yards per game on the ground. The Blue Devils face an Army offense that lives on the ground. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has not completed a pass in five of Army’s nine games this season, but he’s No. 10 in the country in rushing yards. The Black Knights shut out Air Force and pulverized the Falcons with their ground game last week, rushing for almost 400 yards. As impressive as the ground attack was for Army, shutting out a high-powered Air Force offense was an equally impressive feat.
While the Blue Devils defense is shaky, the defensive unit is much better than their offense. Duke has lost five straight heading into this matchup, largely because quarterback Daniel Jones insists on throwing the ball to the other team once a game in inopportune times. In three of the last four games, Jones’ completion percentage is less than 45%, which is almost impossible to believe. Army is already bowl bound, but they haven’t shown any signs of passivity and their first nine win season since 1996 is within reach. These are two teams headed in opposite directions. Go Army. Pick: Army (+3)
Notre Dame (-3.5) at Miami: I liked this number a lot more without the hook (obviously) but I think Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams will cause a lot of problems for an overrated Miami defense. The Canes played extremely well last week against Virginia Tech, but it was their most complete game of the season. Meanwhile, the Irish have been stomping opponents with a physical rushing attack that features a bruising offensive line behind two potential top-10 NFL Draft picks. The Irish ran for 380 yards last week against Wake Forest, with Adams running for just 22 yards after getting injured in the first quarter. Notre Dame ranks No. 5 in the country in rushing yards per game, behind three triple option teams and Arizona.
Miami has the nation’s longest winning streak, with their last loss coming to Notre Dame last year in South Bend. The Hurricanes squeaked by Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina, and quite frankly – they’re lucky to still be undefeated. Losing running back Mark Walton put immense pressure on quarterback Malik Rosier and so far, Rosier has been up and down. Last week the Hurricanes won despite an 11 for 22 passing performance by Rosier, including three interceptions. Notre Dame is playing as well as any team in the country right now, and while Miami is having a nice turnaround, the Canes are about to get run over by a locomotive. Pick: ND (-3.5)
Last Week: 2-1
Season Record: 18-13
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 76-60-0
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).