College football’s fourth week of action features a huge showdown in the ACC Coastal Division, a big matchup in South Bend between Michigan and surging Notre Dame and key battle in the Big 12 between Kansas State and Oklahoma.
Clemson (+14) at Florida State
The schedule has been ridiculously easy, but perhaps no team in the history of college football has been as statistically dominant as Florida State three games into the season. The Seminoles have defeated their three opponents — Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest — by a combined score of 176–3 and have outgained the opposition by an average of 440.4 yards per game. Now, however, comes the first true test of the season. Clemson, also 3–0, is loaded with playmakers who will challenge the stout Florida State defense. The Tigers boast star power at quarterback (Tajh Boyd), running back (Andre Ellington) and wide receiver (Sammy Watkins). Last year, Clemson beat Florida State 35–30 in a game that featured two 300-yard passers (Boyd and Clint Trickett) and no 100-yard rushers. Establishing the running game will be key for both teams.
Florida State 34, Clemson 24
Michigan (+6) at Notre Dame
Brian Kelly has a reputation as one of the finest offensive coaches in college football, but his Notre Dame Fighting Irish are getting it done this season on defense. The Irish manhandled Michigan State 20–3 in East Lansing Saturday night and have now allowed a total of 30 points in three games. The defensive front, which lost its best player in the spring when Aaron Lynch transferred to South Florida, was effective against both the pass and the run. This week, Notre Dame faces a dynamic offensive attack led by unconventional quarterback Denard Robinson. Last year, he threw for 338 yards and rushed for 108 in Michigan’s thrilling 35–31 win in Ann Arbor. Obviously, the Irish must do a better job controlling Robinson this time around. If you can take away his ability to run — which is easier said than done unless you are Alabama — you can limit the Michigan offense.
Notre Dame 24, Michigan 21
Kansas State (+14) at Oklahoma
It’s rare when a 10-win college football team gets outgained by 450 yards in one of its losses. That’s what happened when Kansas State, 7–0 at the time, hosted Oklahoma last October: The Sooners outgained the Cats 690-to-240 en route to a 58–17 win. Kansas State is once again undefeated, with all three wins coming at home by at least 14 points. It has to be a bit of a concern, however, that North Texas was able to score 21 points and pick up 353 yards of offense in last week’s game. The Oklahoma offense isn’t quite as potent as it was when these teams met last season, but the Sooners are still capable of scoring a bunch of points.
Oklahoma 36, Kansas State 21
Arizona (+23.5) at Oregon
The Rich Rodriguez era is off to a great start in Tucson. The Wildcats are 3–0 and playing an exciting brand of football. After struggling a bit to beat Toledo in the opener — the Cats won 24–17 in overtime — Arizona pounded defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma State 59–38 and then rolled past FCS foe South Carolina State 56–0. Now the real fun begins: A trip to Eugene to face an Oregon team with legitimate national title hopes. The Ducks have found their next great quarterback (redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota) and feature elite talent at the running back position. The Arizona defense has already faced two quality offensive teams (Toledo and Oklahoma State), but there is nothing quite like playing the mighty Ducks at cozy Autzen Stadium.
Oregon 48, Arizona 23
Missouri (+10) at South Carolina
It’s the Battle of Columbia as Missouri and South Carolina meet for the first time ever as members of the SEC. It’s also the battle of the injured quarterbacks. South Carolina’s Connor Shaw returned to the starting lineup after sitting out last week’s game vs. East Carolina, but he had to leave the game in the second quarter after taking a big hit to his shoulder. Missouri’s James Franklin is also nursing an injured shoulder. He did not play in the Tigers’ win vs. Arizona State and is questionable for Saturday. Missouri obviously stands a better chance to win the game with Franklin at quarterback, but a big key for the Tigers will be the play of their makeshift offensive line. This group had trouble with Georgia’s defensive front in the loss two weeks ago. South Carolina’s defensive line, led by ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, presents a huge challenge.
South Carolina 21, Missouri 17
Oregon State (+8) at UCLA
UCLA’s hot start doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention on the national scene. The Bruins, 3–0 under new coach Jim Mora, are averaging 40.7 points and 622.0 yards per game. And those numbers aren’t simply a product of a soft schedule; the Bruins rolled up 653 yards — including 300-plus through the air and on the ground — in a Week 2 win over Nebraska. Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman, has been terrific at quarterback, and the Bruins are getting great production from tailback Johnathan Franklin, the nation’s leading rusher. The sample size — only one game — has been much smaller for Oregon State, but the Beavers have also been a surprise. They opened the season two weeks ago with a 10–7 win over Wisconsin at home. The Badgers clearly aren’t as good as we expected, but this is still a good win for a program that has suffered through two straight losing seasons.
Rutgers at Arkansas
In one of the low points in Arkansas football history, the Razorbacks put up little fight in a 52–0 loss to Alabama. The Hogs, playing without quarterback Tyler Wilson, managed only 137 yards of offense and averaged a paltry 2.2 yards per snap. (Last year, in a 38–14 loss to the Tide in Tuscaloosa, Arkansas averaged 3.9 yards per play.) Rutgers isn’t Alabama, but the Scarlet Knights are pretty nasty on defense. They ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense and 14th in total defense in 2011 and have continued their strong play early in the ’12 season. Kyle Flood’s team has also experienced success on the road with wins at Tulane (24–12) and South Florida (23–13). Arkansas is hoping to have Wilson back at quarterback — and they need him. Last week, Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell combined to complete 11-of-25 attempts for 79 yards. If Wilson plays, the pick is Arkansas. If he doesn’t, flip a coin.
Arkansas 28, Rutgers 24
Vanderbilt (+15.5) at Georgia
Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will be making his first start against an SEC opponent. Carta-Samuels has played against quality competition — he faced Texas and BYU twice as well as Boise State, Colorado, Utah and TCU once during his two years at Wyoming — but this Georgia defense will present an enormous challenge. Last year, the Commodores threw for 149 yards vs. Georgia in a 33–28 loss in Nashville, but 78 of those yards (and the only passing TD) came via trick plays — a 43-yard throw by running back Zac Stacy and a 35-yard toss by punter Ryan Fowler on a fake. Vanderbilt’s two quarterbacks, Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers, combined to complete only 9-of-29 passes for 71 yards with three interceptions. Carta-Samuels will have to play extremely well to give Vanderbilt a chance for the upset.
Georgia 28, Vanderbilt 10
Syracuse (-2) at Minnesota
Minnesota is favored vs. an AQ conference team for the first time since the 2009 Insight Bowl vs. Iowa State. The Gophers are 3–0, but it’s a rather soft 3–0. Their two wins against FBS teams are by three in triple OT at UNLV and by five at home vs. Western Michigan. Quarterback MarQueis Gray isn’t expected to start due to a sprained ankle, but that might not be a bad thing. Sophomore Max Shortell has played well in relief, combining to complete 15-of-23 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns. Syracuse is 1–2 and looked much better in its two losses (by one to Northwestern and 13 to USC) than its win (by 11 over Stony Brook). Ryan Nassib has been terrific for the Orange, averaging 379.7 yards passing with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Syracuse ranked 90th in the nation in total offense last year with 348.2 yards per game. The Orange rank 15th through three games this season with 533.3 per game. This could be a shootout. Take the Orange at the other dome.
Syracuse 42, Minnesota 39
Utah (+7) at Arizona State
Give Utah a ton of credit. The Utes bounced back from a disappointing overtime loss at Utah State to beat hated rival BYU in the Holy War. And they did so without their projected starting quarterback (Jordan Wynn retired from football after suffering a shoulder injury vs. Utah State) and All-Pac-12 running back John White (injured). Arizona State is coming off its first loss of the season, a 24–20 setback in Columbia to a Missouri team playing without its starting quarterback (James Franklin). The Sun Devils had two chances to take the lead in the final minutes but had two drives deep in Mizzou territory end without points. We still don’t know too much about Arizona State. The Devils have played two AQ conference teams that didn’t have their No. 1 quarterback; they pounded Illinois at home and lost to Missouri on the road. We’ll know more after this weekend.
Arizona State 27, Utah 17
Last week: 6–4 overall (5–5 against the spread)
Season: 21–9 overall (16–14 against the spread)