2017 Week 4 NCAAF Weekend Preview

September 22, 2017

It’s somewhat hard to believe that we are already a quarter of the way through college football’s regular season.

Seriously, though – almost a month has passed since I was driving down to Tennessee for work, listening to seven hours worth of preseason talk. Yet it feels like it just happened.

I won’t bore anyone with the cliché saying, but you know what it would be…

We’re nearing the end of the non-conference slate, and for many teams, Week 4 marks the start of a stretch of conference games. This is typically met with excitement from the fans, as the cupcake games are for the most part in the rear view mirror.

There are a slew of good games this weekend, which my buddy Jack will attempt to predict better than me. Jack is one of the smartest peers that I have ever met, and although that doesn’t always translate to sports knowledge, the man knows how to do research. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s scouring Around The Corn’s site for the information he gets, but when the chips are down he typically has a good handle on what is going on in the sports world.

After Jared and I tied last week, the overall head-to-head prediction game records look like this:

K. Becks – 9-6

Guests – 9-6

Let’s take a look at the top five games to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#1 Alabama at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Commodores didn’t climb into the Top 25 rankings this week, but CBS isn’t the only one thinking they should have (hint: I do, too.). Vanderbilt stifled the Kansas State offense last Saturday en route to upsetting the formerly ranked Wildcats at home and now welcome the No. 1 team in the country to Nashville. The Crimson Tide are an 18.5 point favorite in this one, but don’t expect Derek Mason’s squad to be the least bit intimidated. Vanderbilt has been the doormat of the SEC for years on end so it has nothing to lose and moreover, is a good football team this season.

Vanderbilt faced what was a much lesser version of Alabama last weekend, so to say that the Commodores haven’t seen what Alabama has coming for them is not correct. Kansas State is last in the Big 12 in passing yards and thus attempted to try to run on Vanderbilt’s defense to score. Although the Wildcats posted 200 yards on the ground, they only put seven points on the board. Alabama may be able to break Vanderbilt’s defense via its running game a little better than Kansas State, but Jalen Hurts is still going to need to make some plays through the air as well to soften up the middle. Unfortunately for Hurts, the pass defense is Vanderbilt’s biggest strength. No one has managed to pass for more than 166 yards on the Commodores this season.

I’m really quite surprised that the spread is as large as it is for this game. Vanderbilt doesn’t have a potent, flashy offense, but appears to have a legitimate SEC defense. Additionally, this is the biggest game at Vanderbilt Stadium in years because, well, the Commodores are actually competent enough to spar with the likes of Alabama this year. I don’t think the Crimson Tide will drop this one, but they won’t cover the spread and Brad Nessler won’t need to go off on random tangents in the second half to keep the broadcast interesting.

My Pick: 28-14 Alabama

Jack’s Take: Alabama – might have gone with Vanderbilt if this were an academic bowl, but Alabama has the better team.

#16 TCU at #6 Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

In case you haven’t been watching college football the past few seasons, Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs had traded its reputation for being a defensive minded football team into one that could set fire to a scoreboard. But this year TCU is back to its old ways, leading the Big 12 in total defense while also possessing an offense that can score over 50 points on any given weekend. College football’s Million Dollar Mullet has to be happy with his offense as well – the Cowboys average 54 points per game – but will finally face a defense capable of slowing it down.

Mason Rudolph has been as good as advertised thus far, already throwing for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns with just a minor blemish (1 INT). Rudolph’s growth a smart signal-caller is the main reason why the Cowboys were pegged by some pundits as being a legitimate Playoff contender. The confident senior has to feel good coming into this game, as well. The previous two seasons Oklahoma State has easily taken care of the Horned Frogs, most notably in 2015 when TCU was ranked No. 7 in the country. The Horned Frogs should also be confident in their chances to exact revenge on the last two seasons. TCU has as many interceptions as touchdowns allowed through the air and allow fewer than 175 yards per game through the air. If Rudolph is going to be stopped, the defense to do it will need to force him to revert to his old ways, a talented passer that was prone to force things.

Although TCU appears to be solid on both sides of the football instead of just one, its defense will be trying to stop one of the most lethal passers in the college game. As mentioned above, unless Rudolph plays more like he did as a sophomore than he has this season, the Cowboys should be ready and willing to engage in a potential offensive shootout. If that happens, Oklahoma State will be just a bit too much for the Horned Frogs.

My Pick: 45-37 Oklahoma State

Jack’s Take: Oklahoma St – TCU’s best player in history is Andy Dalton. What does that tell you about the rest of the program?

#17 Mississippi State at #11 Georgia (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

Those that were uncertain about the Ed Oregeron hiring at LSU have lots of fodder after Mississippi State embarrassed the Tigers last weekend. But coming out of nowhere with a legitimate SEC title contender has kind of become Dan Mullen’s thing in Starkville. The Bulldogs have a chance to prove that last Saturday wasn’t just a fluke when they go Between the Hedges to take on a Georgia team that is knocking on the Top 10’s door despite playing without its starting quarterback since the third quarter of the season opener.

The Starkville Bulldogs were one of the better teams nationally last season in the running game, but it was unclear whether that would carry over into this season because there was no clear leader in the backfield stable. That question can be put to bed, because Aeris Williams has laid claim to the top spot in Mississippi State’s running back rotation. The 217 pound junior is a workhorse and is second in the conference averaging 112 yards per game rushing. The fact that he only has one rushing touchdown is a testament to the depth of the unit, because Mississippi State lead the conference with eight on the year. Georgia’s defense poses a formidable threat, however, as the Bulldogs from Athens allow just 71 yards per game on the ground, although that statistic is highly dependent on the Samford game in which Georgia allowed just 22 yards. We’ll find out this weekend whether Georgia is truly one of the nation’s stingiest run defenses this Saturday, as Mississippi State will bring a heavy dose of smash mouth football to the table.

Frankly, I’m just waiting for the weekend that the moment becomes too big for true freshman Jake Fromm, but Jacob Eason may be back before that happens. However, like the Notre Dame game two weekends ago, this is a good candidate for that moment. Mississippi State could very well dominate the possession game, forcing Fromm to conduct a quick drive to keep Georgia in the game late. Mississippi State has looked strong in the secondary this season and has the personnel to expose Fromm. I think the combination of being on the wrong end of a possession battle and Fromm’s inexperience will be the undoing of Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs at home.

My Pick: 20-14 Mississippi State

Jack’s Take: Georgia – the Bulldogs will run the yard between the hedges.

#4 Penn State at Iowa (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

Kinnick Stadium at night is no place for the faint of heart, so Penn State will need to play focused, disciplined football on the road this weekend to avoid what would be a costly loss with regards to its Playoff hopes. The Hawkeyes are not the flashiest team out there, but the program has made a habit of destroying the dreams of teams that are under Coach Ferentz.

Since this is an early Big Ten contest, most fans assume that this will be your typical knock down, drag out football game that has become synonymous with the conference. But that will only happen if Iowa gets its way. Of the 469 yards per game that it averages, Penn State’s offense gets over 280 yards of production through the air. As good as Saquon Barkley is and will likely be in the NFL, the emergence of Trace McSorley over the past year and change is why the Nittany Lions have such a feared offense. McSorley plays within his skill set, which isn’t to say that he would be categorized as a game manager. Rather, he seems to understand that with all of the talent around him, winning games doesn’t require that he force things on his end. The playmaking ability of the offense is good enough to post at least 30 points once again, a streak that dates back to last October for Penn State.

Iowa isn’t incapable of scoring a lot of points (the Hawkeyes scored 44 in an overtime victory over rival Iowa State two weekends ago), but Coach Ferentz’s team is clearly set up better to control the pace of the game and keep itself within striking distance. If the defense plays like it did against Wyoming in Week 1, then Penn State will have to deal with a grinding pace and few opportunities to score. But if the Nittany Lions are able to get Barkley going and McSorley is left with a soft secondary, this game could get out of hand. I think it will end up somewhere in between both of those outcomes, which still means that James Franklin’s team will win.

My Pick: 33-20 Penn State

Jack’s Take: Penn State is an exciting team this year. Iowa is always a tough competitor but Penn State has been steadily making moves and building a real program the last few years. Watch out for them as the real power to face Michigan in the East this year.

#7 Washington at Colorado (Saturday, 10 PM ET)

The Huskies are looking to make a return trip to the College Football Playoff this season, but the Pac-12 is full of potential land mines that could blow up that plan. One such potential trap against Colorado in Boulder, a team that will once again surprise people if it ends up being as good as the Buffaloes were last season. If you’re in the Eastern time zone and capable of staying up (and staying sober) long enough to watch this one in its entirety, you likely won’t be disappointed.

Although Colorado had to replace the majority of its defense this season, Mike MacIntyre’s team has appeared up to the task thus far in 2o17. However, Washington’s offense is the best that the new-look defense has seen this season and will likely raise the numbers that Colorado has been averaging in areas such as passing yards allowed and scoring defense (No. 4 in the country). This doesn’t necessarily mean much if the offense continues to hum, though. Steven Montez will need to take very good care of the football and avoid costly interceptions, but if he can do so then Colorado has the ability to hang with the Huskies offensively. Jake Browning will make things look simpler than Montez, but with senior laden skill players all over the field the Buffaloes will be able to keep the offense focused.

Washington destroyed Colorado in the Pac-12 title game last season, an unfortunate end to an otherwise terrific regular season for Coach MacIntyre’s squad. Much of the offense that played in that game is back this year, and it would be silly to assume that they aren’t using the 41-10 loss as motivation for Saturday night. I am a huge fan of Chris Petersen and nothing that he has been able to do at Washington surprises me, but in this rare instance I think that the underdog will sneak up on him.

My Pick: 38-35 Colorado

Jack’s Take: Washington – this team impressed me last year. Although Colorado can have moments of greatness this is Washington’s year to fight for the College Football Playoff and make up for last year.

5 Games to Flip To

#23 Utah at Arizona (Friday, 10:30 PM ET)

If this game doesn’t make you want to fall asleep, then it will have already exceeded the expectations set by watching last week’s Friday night contest.

North Carolina State at #12 Florida State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Wolfpack have been a thorn in Florida State’s side before and have an offense that is capable of putting points on the Seminoles defense. If this game isn’t close in the fourth quarter, it will be a surprise.

#5 Southern Cal at California (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

When is the last time anyone cared about this rivalry? Both teams are 3-0 so, arguably, 2017…

#20 Florida at Kentucky (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

It must be nice being a student at UK these days – not only do you expect to win the SEC in basketball, but now the football team heads into its matchup with a ranked Florida team tied for the SEC East lead.

UCLA at Stanford (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET)

Both teams are coming off of losses and Stanford could drop its third straight in this one. The other battle of California in the Pac-12 this weekend is sexier, but this one has an air of desperation to it which is also fun.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Jack did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

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