As great as Week 3 of college football was—the upcoming action in Week 4 will be even better. I’m tackling another jam-packed weekend of looming high-stakes marquee matchups, close calls, trap games, exciting and completely crowd-pleasing thrillers and earth-shattering upsets that will take the college football landscape by storm.
Please note the following rankings are not based on the AP, USA Today or BCS that will enter the equation later on in the season. Rather, they’re established weekly by your’s truly.
Last Week: 20-3 (59-7 Overall)
Louisiana Tech (1-2) at No. 25 Mississippi State (1-2) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
Coming off back-to-back disappointing defeats to SEC West rivals Auburn and LSU, Mississippi State’s suddenly dwindling high hopes have to be elevated with strong strides leading up to November. It starts this week against another group of Bulldogs from Louisiana Tech—a less of a push-over than you’d think, having lost to S. Miss and Houston by three points combined. Miss State advances comfortably. Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Louisiana Tech 14
No. 24 Notre Dame (1-2) at Pittsburgh (2-1) (Sat, 12:00pm EST)
It’s the 67th get-together in a long, hard-fought series. Notre Dame leads by a lop-sided 45-20-1. The Irish won last year’s meeting 23-17 but lost the year before that at Pitt, 27-22. The Panthers have been less-than-impressive in the first three games of the season and have looked as good as a stoned cold Lindsey Lohan in the 4th quarter. Against the likes of Iowa, Buffalo and Maine, Pittsburgh has been outscored by a jaw-dropping margin of 49-13. That’s enough to make Pitt fans’ eyes bleed and Irish fans to jump up with glee.
Notre Dame enters this week’s test with immense momentum after smashing the Spartans 31-13. Taking continued improved care of the football leads Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish to a much-needed and inevitable come-from-behind victory on the road. Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Pittsburgh 24
Florida Atlantic (0-2) at No. 23 Auburn (2-1) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
Florida Atlantic got put out like a fire extinguisher against Florida and Michigan State by an amalgamated score of 85-3. That’s just what the doctor ordered for Auburn after receiving a cold hard reality check on the road at Clemson. Prediction: Auburn 45, Florida Atlantic 17
San Diego State (3-0) at No. 21 Michigan (3-0) (Sat, 12:00pm EST)
Michigan might be a long-shot in the Big Ten Legends division, but the program has piled up over 30 points in its first three tests. San Diego State will definitely present a more arduous challenge than Eastern and Western Michigan.
The last time these two met was in mid-September of 2004. Chad Henne and Braylon Edwards were two of the biggest stars in the match which ended in a 24-21 Wolverines win. The Aztecs were three-touchdown underdogs. SD State will put up a fight, but won’t be able to contain Denard Robinson for four quarters. Prediction: Michigan 39, San Diego State 26
UTEP (2-1) at No. 20 South Florida (3-0) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
After knocking off the Fighting Irish in the season opener, B.J. Daniels and the Bulls beat Ball State by 30 and laid 70 on Florida A&M. UTEP has a points forced to points allowed ratio of 64-62 against Stony Brook, SMU and New Mexico State. This doesn’t bode well for the Miners. Prediction: South Florida 42, UTEP 7
USC (3-0) at No. 19 Arizona State (2-1) (Sat, 10:15pm EST)
USC boasts a comfortable 19-8 lead over Arizona State in the all-time series. Nonetheless, last year’s get-together in Pasadena left everyone on the edge of their seat, as USC outlasted the Sun Devils, 34-33. This time around Arizona State has the home-field advantage. The fans are planning a “goldout,” which is just like the blackout they had two weeks ago against Missouri. Moreover, the team is steamed after falling to the Fighting Illinois (great pick, Kirk Herbstreit).
As GridironGrit.com Analyst Dan Vasta points out, Arizona State hasn’t defeated USC since 1999. That changes under the lights on Saturday night, despite a valiant performance from the likes of Matt Barkely, Marc Tyler, a balanced offense and a reliable, very solid defense. USC’s offense is too predictable and AZ State is poised for a trip to the Pac-12 championship. Prediction: Arizona State 23, USC 20
No. 18 Florida (3-0) at Kentucky (2-1) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
When you lose 24 consecutive meetings against a rival you’re about to host, your odds of pulling an upset are about as slim as the never-seen Frasier character Maris Crane. Moreover, the Gators have ransacked the ‘Cats in the past three contests. Kentucky has scored less than 60 points this season against Western Kentucky, Central Michigan and Louisville. Florida has totaled 113 and tacks on one more win to its 44-14 advantage in the head-to-head series. Prediction: Florida 38, Kentucky 10
Portland State (2-0) at No. 17 TCU (2-1) (Sat, 2:00pm EST)
Style points may be a bit of a thing of the past for Gary Patterson and TCU, as evidenced by the 35-19 win over Air Force and 38-17 triumph against Louisiana Monroe. But I can assure you one thing isn’t—winning. Portland State is unbeaten and has scored 83 points in two games. The Horned Frogs are a totally different ballgame. Prediction: TCU 52, Portland State 0
Rice (1-1) at No. 16 Baylor (2-0) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
Robert Griffin III and Baylor are shooting for their 7th straight triumph against a non-conference foe at home and the first 3-0 start since 2005. The Bears lead the series over the Owls, 46-30-2. The two old rivals from the Southwest Conference are meeting for only the third time since the league disbanded after ’95. Rice’s defense has surrendered 436 yards a game against Purdue and Texas and the Owls offense has averaged only 288 yards. Prediction: Baylor 58, Rice 17
No. 15 Virginia Tech (3-0) at Marshall (1-2) (Sat, 3:30pm EST)
MSH: Marshall is dreadful offensively on third down conversions and its defense might miss more tackles than a six-man Pittsburgh Steelers unit. The Herd has also been damaged goods for road opponents West Virginia and Ohio—losing by a grand total of 58 points.
VT: Virginia Tech is also in some trouble. Not the Chiefs or Colts level of trouble, but along the same lines as the Bears or Rams. After delivering a 66-13 beatdown to Appalachian State in the opener, the Hokies escaped the Pirates of East Carolina in an inevitable trap game on the road 17-10 and Arkansas State 26-7 at home.
Virginia Tech has won the last six meetings against Marshall and leads the series, 8-2. VT is 0-2 in Huntington, WV, however, but both losses happened a long, long time ago back in 1939 and 1940. Second-year head coach Doc Holliday knows Frank Beamer extremely well as well. I have to put Virginia Tech on upset alert—the first team to receive the label this week. Nonetheless, sheer home-field advantage and an inevitable downfall for the Hokies won’t be enough for the Thundering Herd to pull the trigger. Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Marshall 17
Vanderbilt (3-0) at No. 14 South Carolina (3-0) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
This SEC East clash has the phrase “trap game” written all over it. After having to assemble a tremendous rally against East Carolina, the Gamecocks escaped Georgia and Navy both by just three points.
The offense has been superb with Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey; there’s a picture of the defense in the dictionary next to the word abysmal. South Carolina is the second team on upset alert this week.
The Commodores received a handful of votes for the Top 25 in the AP and USA Today poll—no seriously, they did. Vanderbilt’s strength on offense is the same as South Carolina’s weakness on defense—the ground game.
Keys To Upset: The keys to an upset for Vanderbilt is getting off to a fast start and limit the number of mistakes so the home crowd doesn’t get too into it. In addition, force error-prone Stephen Garcia to make a couple of turnovers, which shouldn’t be too tough considering the Commodores have already racked up 10 interceptions this season. Furthermore, Vandy has to stay true to its identity with the running game led by Zac Stacy. In thrilling, head-turning fashion, mission accomplished. Prediction: Vanderbilt 33, South Carolina 30
No. 10 Nebraska at Wyoming (Sat, 7:30pm EST)
Joining Virginia Tech and South Carolina this week is Nebraska—the third team on upset alert. With Wisconsin up next week in Madison, the Cornhuskers are facing a vintage trap game. It’s the first road test against an already mildly battle-tested Cowboys team in Laramie, WY. The elevation at the stadium is 7,164 feet—the highest of any FBS venue. The game has been sold out for months and will be the most jam-packed crowd the program has seen at home in ages.
The Huskers have surrendered 67 points the past two weeks to Fresno State and Washington, winning both games by 13 points. The defense is currently ranked 61st against the run, 78th versus the pass, 67th in total defense and 66th in scoring.
The unit will have its hands full once again against the 16th-ranked offense in the nation that will feature five-receiver sets against a defense that’s still without the services of Alfonzo Dennard. Wyoming will also utilize a high dose out of its trio out of the backfield to keep the Nebraska defense honest.
Keys To Upset: If Wyoming wants to really have a shot at pulling this off, it will have to force Taylor Martinez to throw early and frequently. Everyone knows the star duel-threat signal-caller can do great things, but he’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Moreover, Nebraska has put the ball on the ground nine times in three games, and albeit the Cowboys have given up 414.7 yards per game, the opportunistic unit has also racked up 10 turnovers. Another scare for the Cornhuskers, but no cigar for the Cowboys, as Nebraska wins in fun, shootout style….again by 13 points. Prediction: Nebraska 45, Wyoming 32
No. 9 Oregon (3-0) at Arizona (1-2) (Sat, 10:15pm EST)
Nick Foles and the Wildcats suit up for their third consecutive Top 10 matchup. Arizona’s defense failed to contain spread-style offense of Oklahoma State and Stanford’s pro-style power offense, giving up 37 points to both teams. At least this week’s test is back at home, which is a win-win since Oregon also performs better in front of its home crowd.
Furthermore, the ‘Cats D is better built to handle the Ducks’ fast-paced offense. Look for Arizona to play more efficient on both sides of the ball and give Oregon an arduous contest, but the Ducks win and add to their 21-14 lead in the series. Prediction: Oregon 38, Arizona 27
No. 11 Oklahoma State (3-0) at No. 8 Texas A&M (2-0) (Sat, 7:00pm EST)
Two dynamic offenses that churn more power than Duracell, two offensive lines with more experience than Joe Paterno, two signal-callers that produce better precision than laser hair removal and have more weapons with better balance than an Olympic gymnast ninja. Am I over-selling it a bit? It’s also a battle between Big 12 foes and arguably the Game of the Week with ESPN’s College Gameday on hand. It’s also a Top 10 matchup according to the other polls.
Expect this to come down to the final possession in thrilling, completely crowd-pleasing fashion. Texas A&M is the fourth team on upset alert. Oklahoma State has won the past three meetings, but A&M leads the series, 17-9. I like the Aggies with a superior defense and home-field advantage in College Station. Prediction: Texas A&M 47, Oklahoma State 40
No. 7 Florida State (2-1) at No. 22 Clemson (3-0) (Sat, 3:30pm EST)
With a win, Clemson could be shaped into the favorite in the ACC and a potential dark horse national title contender, while a loss could put an end to both aspects for Florida State. It just goes to show anything can change in an instant in the world of college football. Florida State is the fifth team on upset alert this week.
My mind says Florida State with E.J. Manuel back, but my heart is going with the team filled with confidence and home-field advantage in Clemson. Against my better judgment, I’m rolling the dice. Prediction: Clemson 23, Florida State 20
South Dakota (2-1) at No. 6 Wisconsin (3-0) (Sat, 3:30pm EST)
Russell Wilson and Wisconsin have outscored the first three opponents by 111 combined points and they were in the FBS (Oregon State, N. Illinois and UNLV). Look for this game to be Coyote-ugly, as Wisconsin badgers South Dakota. Prediction: Wisconsin 65, South Dakota 6
Tulsa (1-2) at No. 4 Boise State (3-0) (Sat, 8:00pm EST)
With LSU, Alabama, Florida State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State all potentially in trouble, head coach Chris Petersen is probably more excited about this weekend than seeing another spaceship or a green little life form. All kidding aside, this is when Kellen Moore and the Broncos should hit their stride with their first home game on the year.
Tulsa has already lost two games to two elite teams from the state of Oklahoma and now has to deal with Boise State. Talk about a warm welcome to the season! Prediction: Boise State 56, Tulsa 17
No. 13 West Virginia (3-0) at No. 3 LSU (3-0) (Sat, 8:00pm EST)
Woah, Nelly! I can’t wait for this contest to get underway and I’ve never cared for either team. LSU won the first ever get-together last year in Baton Rouge in tight-knit fashion down to the wire, 20-14. This game won’t have extremely contrasting results. West Virginia has 18 consecutive non-conference wins in the regular season; LSU has 35. Something’s gotta give.
LSU has an out-of-this-world defense. The front four has been truly spectacular, especially against the run, forcing opponents to less than 50 yards a game and 2.0 yards per carry. The offense is built to pound it out on the ground, but wide out Russell Shepard returns this week, adding a key piece to the passing game.
West Virginia’s defense certainly is less-than-impressive, but gets by from confusing the opposition and possessing one of the most premier offenses in the nation. The running game has struggled, but the aerial attack has been relentless on opponents led by QB Geno Smith. Smith may not have a No. 1 receiver, but he does a mighty fine job spreading the wealth, having aired it out to nine different receivers in every one of the first three games on the year.
This is an inevitable trap game and LSU is the sixth team on upset alert. LSU’s front four will apply plenty of pressure on Geno and co. but stopping the run game will not be a factor since West Virginia can’t run the ball effectively anyway.
An electric home crowd in Morgantown and Slot WR/PR/KR Tavon Austin, who ranks third in the nation in all-purpose return yards and set the second-highest receptions in a single game last week with 11 will be the keys to the stunning upset. Prediction: West Virginia 21, LSU 18
No. 12 Arkansas (3-0) at No. 2 Alabama (3-0) (Sat, 3:30pm EST)
I set a new personal record with placing nine teams on upset alert last week. Spoiler Alert: It ends with six this week.
The Crimson Tide rolled away with a nice 41-0 conquest in the contest against the Mean Green last week. Alabama made many mistakes despite pitching the shutout, which isn’t a bad thing considering improving on the little things can go a long way towards winning at home this week against Arkansas, a team that was given a close call in a 38-28 victory over Troy in Little Rock.
In addition, the Razorbacks will have to be razor-sharp on Saturday, ready to hit on all cylinders. And I don’t think they will. Tyler Wilson and company have exponential potential. Nonetheless, they’re not there yet. That doesn’t mean this won’t be a pretty close and competitive fun-to-watch SEC West collision. Prediction: Alabama 34, Arkansas 21
Missouri (2-1) at No. 1 Oklahoma (2-0) (Sat, 8:00pm EST)
Missouri hasn’t beaten Oklahoma in Norman since 1966. The Tigers are +20 point underdogs against the top-ranked Sooners. That can’t bode well for the confidence of the Missouri faithful. But apparently the players and coaches cited one positive this week—comfort.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series, 66-24-5. I picked Missouri to pull off the upset last year. But this isn’t in Columbia, the Tigers have lost some of their luster and Oklahoma is a better team this year. This could be competitive, though. Prediction: Oklahoma 41, Missouri 20
Oren’s Quick Picks
Alabama handles Arkansas at home.
Michigan falls in stunning fashion to San Diego State in the Big House.
Florida State escapes a looming letdown from the jaws of death at Death Valley.
West Virginia puts up a fight, but comes away empty-handed to LSU.
And my surprise of the week… Despite the fact the game’s not in Boulder, CO, Ohio State young signal-caller Joe Bauserman and the Buckeyes take a tumble against the Buffaloes in Columbus.
Verse Of This Piece: “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life. Don’t use your mouth to tell lies; don’t ever say things that are not true. Keep your eyes focused on what is right, and look straight ahead to what is good.” —Proverbs 4:23-25