Saturday will bring the start of conference play in earnest as key games in the SEC, Big 12 and ACC dot our highlights for next week.
Before league play though, there’s one major heavyweight non-conference game, and it could be a critical momentum game for the SEC and Big 12.
Thursdays have quiet since the opening week of the season, but Auburn and Kansas State will bring us an anticipated midweek game to rival the NFL’s new presence on Thursday evenings.
Here’s a look at the top games for Week 4.
The Week Ahead: Sept. 18-20
All times Eastern. All games Saturday, unless noted.
Auburn at Kansas State
Where and when: ESPN, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
We’re watching because... we want to see how many times Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters can punch and counterpunch. Both are effective runners trying to prove their wares in the passing game. We’re not quite sure what Auburn is bringing to the table in the SEC this season as Marshall has played only one half of a meaningful game this season. A win for Kansas State puts the Wildcats into Big 12 contention with Oklahoma and Baylor.
Vegas says: Auburn by 9 1/2
Florida at Alabama
Where and when: CBS, 3:30 p.m.
We’re watching because... neither team has found its footing. No one expected Blake Sims to start Alabama’s SEC opener over Jake Coker, but Sims has done enough to hold onto the job. Will Sims’ short passing game and Alabama’s ample skill position talent be enough to win in the SEC? Meanwhile, Florida’s offense reverted to its 2013 form in a triple overtime home win over Kentucky. The Gators averaged 5.7 yards per play and just 2.9 points per trip inside the 40 in regulation (two touchdowns, two field goals, two missed field goals and a turnover).
Vegas says: Alabama by 14 1/2
Mississippi State at LSU
Where and when: ESPN, 7 p.m.
We’re watching because... Mississippi State will try to join the conversation in the SEC West. The Bulldogs have plateaued under Dan Mullen, not that regular bowl games are a bad thing for Mississippi State. But this is still a team riding a 15-game losing streak against ranked teams. The Bulldogs believe Dak Prescott is the quarterback to get Mississippi State over the hump, but LSU is outscoring opponents 108-0 since falling behind 24-7 to Wisconsin in the opener.
Vegas says: LSU by 10
Oklahoma at West Virginia
Where and when: FOX, 7:30 p.m.
We’re watching because... this will be strength against strength. West Virginia’s offense has returned to form with Clint Trickett and a pair of standout receivers in Kevin White and Mario Alford. The Mountaineers have improved each week on offense, impressive considering the starting point was 393 yards against Alabama. Will the Mountaineers’ passing game be able to move the ball against a speedy Oklahoma offense? The Sooners have looked the part of Big 12 favorite and Playoff contender all year, but this will be the toughest test of the year.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 11
Clemson at Florida State
Where and when: ABC, 8 p.m.
We’re watching because... we’re expecting to see different teams than the ones that showed up in Week 1. Clemson was dreadful in the second half against Georgia, and Florida State hardly looked like a dominant title contender against Oklahoma State. Since the, both teams dispatched an FCS opponent and had a bye week. It’s the fourth week of the season, and Jameis Winston has been awfully quiet.
Vegas says: Florida State by 19