Ward’s Winners: Week 9

By: James Ward

Overrated/Underrated:

Notre Dame: When the Irish lost to Georgia and head coach Brian Kelly snapped at a reporter after the game, it looked like Notre Dame was in for another long season. But after a one-sided beatdown against USC, the Irish are dreaming about a College Football Playoff berth. Win out, and they’re in. Underrated.

Anthony Miller: The Memphis Tigers wide receiver is simply winning games for his squad. In the last three games, Miller has 35 catches, 492 yards and six touchdowns. Miller is one of the most underrated players in the nation. Underrated.

Jonathan Taylor: Last week, the Wisconsin running back matched an FBS record for fewest games to reach 1000 rushing yards by a freshman. The former three-star recruit almost went to Harvard before heading to Madison, and now he’s one of the reasons why the Badgers are on track for their second straight Big Ten West title. Underrated.

The Year of the Quarterback: In just eight weeks, the year of the quarterback has taken a sharp turn off course. USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen were all thought to be top-five picks in next year’s NFL Draft, and while that’s still possible, their respective teams are all out of contention for conference championships. Overrated.

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:

1. With last week’s loss to Penn State, Jim Harbaugh is now 2-3 in his last five games against ranked opponents. While Harbaugh and the Wolverines have won more games than his predecessor, Michigan needs to win the big game before they’re considered back as a national power.

2. With a dominant performance against Texas Tech, Iowa State broke into the AP Top-25 for the first time since 2005. Something I never thought I’d type: Huge game for the Cyclones against TCU in Ames this weekend with Big 12 title ramifications.

3. The FAU Owls are off to a 4-3 start in Lane Kiffin’s first season as head coach. In a win against North Texas last weekend, FAU had 804 yards of total offense, a Conference USA record. It’s only a matter of time before Kiffin gets another shot at a big time coaching job.

Ward’s Winners:

Oklahoma State at West Virginia (+7.5): The Mountaineers are one of the most underrated teams in college football this season, and Will Grier is one of the best quarterbacks in the country flying under the radar. Grier is on fire, with seven straight 300-yard passing games as well as back-to-back five touchdown performances. The Mountaineers are 2-1 against the spread at home (they failed to cover 62 points against Delaware State), and 2-1 against the spread in Big 12 play, with their only loss against the number versus Baylor last week. Morgantown, WV is one of the great home field advantages in college football because of the rowdy crowd, but also because of the traveling distance for their Big 12 opponents.

In two Big 12 matchups on the road this season, Oklahoma State has played close games against inferior opponents. Last week against Texas, quarterback Mason Rudolph failed to throw a touchdown for the first time this season. The Mountaineers have one of the best pass defenses in the Big 12 and they should be able to limit the Cowboys offensive attack. But if Rudolph gets going, Grier and David Sills, the leading touchdown receiver in the country, should be able to keep up. West Virginia will keep this game within one score. Pick: WVU (+7.5)

Penn State (+6.5) at Ohio State: Last year, the Nittany Lions upset the then No. 2 Buckeyes en route to a Big Ten Championship, yet the College Football Playoff selection committee elected to put Ohio State in the playoff. Ohio State already has one loss and the Buckeyes likely need to win out to make the College Football Playoff. On the other side, Penn State knows their margin is small as they experienced the human element of the selection committee firsthand last season. A different sort of revenge is on the mind of both teams.

Ohio State has won five straight games after the loss to Oklahoma in September. In those five wins, quarterback J.T. Barrett has averaged 268 passing yards per game, while throwing 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those are great numbers and Barrett has alleviated much of the concern surrounding the Ohio State passing offense. However, these numbers are hollow. Barrett has shredded bad defenses, with only Army ranking in the top-70 of passing yards allowed per game (and even those numbers are hollow, as Army limits possessions by the other team because they run the ball so often). The Penn State defense is top-10 in the country in sacks and passing yards allowed per game, and the Nittany Lions defense has just allowed three passing touchdowns all season. Penn State will force Barrett to beat them down field and I still don’t think he is capable of doing that. Also, this game could be Saquon Barkley’s Heisman moment – he’s had 38 carries for 293 yards for 7.70 yards per carry against Ohio State in his career. Take the points, but I think Penn State can win this game. Pick: PSU (+6.5)

Georgia (-14) and Florida: A rivalry game with a double-digit spread is almost always an underdog play, but these two teams are headed in opposite directions. The Gators have won the last three meetings of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, including the 2014 matchup, where Florida won outright as a 10-point underdog. But that Florida team isn’t taking the field on Saturday. The Gators will be facing a Georgia team that’s outscored their SEC opponents in a Nick Saban-esque fashion of 170-45 through four games this season.

The Gators are averaging 23.7 points per game, while being held under 20 against their three strongest opponents. The Bulldogs are allowing just 12.6 points per game on defense, good enough for fourth in the FBS. I think it’s a real possibility Georgia pitches a shutout on Saturday. The Florida offense has been broken all season and the Georgia defense won’t offer any relief. Florida wide receiver Josh Hammond said this week about Georgia, “They might be the No. 3 team in the country, but they can’t beat Florida.” Not a good look for a receiver with 11 catches this season. The Bulldogs will roll the Gators and show why Georgia is the second best team in the nation. Pick: Georgia (-14)

Last Week: 0-3
Season Record: 14-11
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 72-58-0

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).

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