By: James Ward
Ward’s Playoff Rankings:
1. Oklahoma: While the Sooners don’t have a great defense, they have the best quarterback in the country and an incredibly explosive offense. Baker Mayfield wins football games.
2. Clemson: The Tigers are the consensus No. 1 team in the country, but I am still concerned about Clemson versus a team like Oklahoma, where they’ll be forced to score a lot of points.
3. Wisconsin: The Badgers finished the regular season undefeated in the Big Ten, which is an amazing accomplishment no matter their strength of schedule. If the Wisconsin defense is able to shut down the Buckeyes on Saturday, maybe they’ll finally get the credit they deserve.
4. Auburn: If Jarrett Stidham can continue to play at the level he’s demonstrated the past few games, the Tigers are a title contender. However, an injury to Kerryon Johnson might be too much for Auburn to overcome.
5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide are still the most talented team in college football, but barring chaos on championship weekend, Alabama will not play in this year’s College Football Playoff.
6. Ohio State: Inconsistencies all season have plagued the Buckeyes, but with a win against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game, the Buckeyes will have a legitimate chance to continue playing for a national title.
Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:
1. The 2017 All-Big Ten Football Teams were released this week. If you include first team, second team, third team and honorable mentions, 12 Wisconsin Badgers were named to the All-Big Ten Football Defensive Teams, by both the coaches and the media.
2. After last weekend’s loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Nick Saban is now 0-7 versus Auburn teams with at least nine wins. Including playoff games, Saban has lost 20 games in 10 years at Alabama, with 4 of them, 20 perecent, against Auburn. (h/t @ChrisVannini)
3. This Saturday marks Miami’s first ever appearance in the ACC Championship. When the Hurricanes joined the ACC Coastal after leaving the Big East, the thought was the U would compete in the conference championship game every year. That hasn’t been the case. Even Duke has played for ACC Championship.
TCU and Oklahoma (-7): The Oklahoma Sooners are going for their second straight Big 12 Championship Game win, albeit with a seven-year gap. Ironically, the Big 12 brought the conference championship game back because of the playoff committee’s importance on conference champions, but it might actually cost the conference a spot in the playoff if Oklahoma loses. The Sooners’ big-play offense lit up TCU earlier in the season, and the Horned Frogs will be without starting safety Nick Orr for the first half of this weekend’s game because of a suspension.
TCU’s defense needs to win this game for the Horned Frogs, and I don’t think they are capable of doing it against an explosive Oklahoma offense. The Sooners have been able to score on everyone this season, totaling less than 30 points just once. TCU will need Kenny Hill to lead them to a victory. Hill has been turnover prone in the past, and while he’s been much better this season, I still don’t trust him at all in this spot. Baker Mayfield versus Kenny Hill in a shootout: Advantage Oklahoma. Pick: OU (-7)
Georgia (+2.5) and Auburn: The last time these two teams played, Auburn destroyed Georgia 40-17 in Auburn, AL and yet the line is less than a field goal. Las Vegas is begging you to take Auburn -2.5, so the only appropriate response is to take Georgia +2.5. The Bulldogs’ offensive line was abused by Auburn’s defensive line last time out, and while that matchup still favors the Tigers, Kirby Smart’s defense won’t allow 40 points in a neutral-site game. The Dogs dominated this season, having just one game decided by less than two touchdowns. Auburn’s two biggest wins of the season were at home, and I think a neutral-site game will actually favor Georgia.
The shoulder injury to Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson could play a major role in this game, and even if he plays, I’m not convinced he’ll be able to finish the game against a hard-hitting Georgia defense. In addition, his back-up, Kam Pettway, is already out for the game and third-stringer Kam Martin has an ankle injury. Georgia needs to limit Auburn’s ground attack, but the injuries could be a major assist to the Bulldogs in this game. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm struggled against Auburn last time out, but a lot of that was because of the pressure from the Tigers defensive line. There’s no secret here: Georgia’s offensive line needs to do better. Will they show great improvement in just three weeks? Probably not. But will they slow down Auburn’s defensive line enough to give Fromm and the running game time? That’s the million-dollar question. Pick: UGA (+2.5)
Miami and Clemson (-9.5): The Hurricanes’ undefeated season hit a road block last week against Pitt, losing on the road to a Panthers team not playing in a bowl game this year. As well as Miami has played all season, particularly against Notre Dame, they have won some lucky games, especially on the road. The Hurricanes will be without their big-play threat, as Ahmmon Richards is out with a knee injury. This could be devastating for Miami. The Canes’ offense has been up and down all season, and the loss of lead running back Mark Walton might finally be catching up to Miami. Quarterback Malik Rosier is a year ahead of schedule, but the Clemson defense is too much for him to handle right now.
I would be shocked if Miami scores more than 14 points in this game. The total on the game is 46, and while the under is enticing, I think Clemson will have no problem running the ball against Miami. The Canes defense allows 152.4 rushing yards per game on the ground, including 152 yards against Pitt last week, and Clemson should be able to take advantage of this with quarterback Kelly Bryant and Travis Etienne. The Tigers should win easily. Pick: Clemson (-9.5)
Last Week: 2-2
Season Record: 23-19
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 81-66-0
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).