By: James Ward
Baker Mayfield: After winning the Heisman Trophy this year, Mayfield solidified himself in college football lore. Once a walk-on at Texas Tech, and then later at Oklahoma, Mayfield’s legacy can be furthered with a national championship. But he should already be remembered as one of the best players in college football history. Underrated.
The Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State: Both teams were expected to compete for this year’s championship, but instead, they’re playing in the Cotton Bowl. An interesting matchup on paper, but it wouldn’t surprise me if both teams didn’t show up for the game. Overrated.
Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know:
1. Great stat from Clemson football SID Tim Bourrett: If Clemson beats Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Dabo Swinney will move ahead of Nick Saban in career winning percentage – 77.86 to 77.72. If the Tigers win the national championship, Swinney will move ahead of Bear Bryant – 78.03 to 78.00.
2. In Jeff Tedford’s first season at Fresno State, the Bulldogs finished with 10 wins, becoming the second team in FBS history to win 10 games after losing 10 the previous season. Not bad for an offseason hiring that was universally panned. (h/t: @ESPNStatsInfo)
3. When Army beat San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl on a gutsy two-point conversion call by head coach Jeff Monken, the Black Knights won their 10th game of the season. This season marks just the second time in Army football history where the Black Knights won 10 games.
Peach Bowl: UCF (+10) vs. Auburn: When picking bowl games, motivation is a huge factor. Auburn has played two playoff games in a row, first beating Alabama in the Iron Bowl and then losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship. Will the Tigers get up for the Peach Bowl against UCF? See: 2014 Fiesta Bowl. Final Score: UCF 52 – Baylor 42. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is 1-3 in bowl games for his career, with the one win against Memphis in 2015 under an interim head coach. On the other side of the field, UCF is trying to cap off a perfect season. While Scott Frost has already been named the new head coach of Nebraska, Frost will coach the Knights in the bowl game. The Knights would love to send Frost out with a 13-0 season, especially after a lot of this roster finished 0-12 in 2015.
Both sides of the ball present matchup difficulties for UCF. The Knights defense has been solid, but they’ve yet to see a rushing attack like Auburn’s behind Kerryon Johnson. Johnson was banged up in the final weeks of the regular season, but he’s expected to play. The Auburn defense has been one of the strongest defenses in the country, but UCF has been able to score against everyone. The Knights are fast – and not just Group of Five fast; they have Power Five speed. It wouldn’t shock me if UCF won this game outright, but take the points.
Pick: UCF +10
Rose Bowl: Georgia vs. Oklahoma (+2.5): Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield was the best player in college football for the entire season and the best quarterback in the country. Getting points is an automatic play for me. Oklahoma lost one game all season, a dramatic upset to Iowa State. The Sooners haven’t had a game decided by less than ten points since mid-October. The Big 12 had issues stopping the Sooners offense and while Georgia should have more success, I would be shocked if Oklahoma doesn’t score more than 29 points – as they’ve done every game this season.
On the flip side for Oklahoma, the Sooners are the only team in the College Football Playoff without a top-10 defense. While the Oklahoma defense struggled immensely against Oklahoma State, the Sooners defense played well when it needed to play well. In the game against Ohio State in Columbus, Oklahoma shut down the Buckeyes passing attack, limiting Ohio State to just 16 points. In the Big 12 Championship game, Oklahoma stopped a TCU rushing attack that had been successful all season. Oklahoma’s defense is capable of slowing down the Georgia rushing attack, forcing freshman quarterback Jake Fromm into an unfamiliar position. Besides . . . is Georgia really going to play for the College Football Championship? I have watched sports long enough to know whatever could go wrong, will go wrong for Georgia sports teams.
Pick: OU +2.5
Sugar Bowl: Clemson (+3) vs. Alabama: The Trilogy. Rarely is the third movie as good as the first two (although Back to the Future III showed promise). Every year since the institution of the College Football Playoff, there’s been a team that doesn’t belong. This year that team is Nick Saban’s Alabama. (Wow, it feels weird to even type that.) The Crimson Tide finished the regular season with some key injuries on defense and while some of those guys have gotten healthy, they are still without linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. Dylan Moses was supposed to fill some of that void, but he is out as well. Similar to the Iron Bowl, if Clemson scores 20 points, they will win this game by a touchdown or more.
The Clemson defensive line has the ability to wreck this game. Alabama has given up 22 sacks this season and struggled greatly against LSU and Auburn, two teams with comparable defensive fronts. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the most underrated players in college football, but he needs time to throw the ball and lanes to run. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has been solid this year and the month off should help him, as he’s been battling injuries all season. Clemson will run Bryant more often, as they did with Deshaun Watson last year when it was needed. I love Clemson to win this game outright.
Pick: Clemson (+3)
Championship Weekend: 3-0
Season Record: 26-19
Ward’s Winners Overall Record: 84-66-0
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).