2023 NCAAF: Week 4 Preview

September 21, 2023

If you were a bit disappointed with the college football lineup last weekend, do not worry – it gets better. Much, much better.

In fact, Week 4 looks to be one of the best weekends for the sport in recent memory, with seven (count them below) matchups between Top 25 teams gracing the schedule throughout Saturday. Typically, temperatures in the Northern half of the country have already dropped by the time we get start to get that kind of action.

Additionally surprising is that the Pac-12 is arguably hosting the party, claiming three of those Top 25 battles, most of any conference. The league has an impressive eight ranked teams in the AP poll, the highest total in the conference’s history. It’s also three more than any other league in the country.

While that is subject to change, it is yet another sign that the Pac-12 is a conference that will be impossible to ignore as the season begins to heat up.

Let’s recap some lessons learned from Week 3 before taking a look at the best games of this weekend’s packed schedule.

3 Things We Learned in Week 3

As always, Week 1 performances can be misleading

How you feeling, Seminoles fans? What about you, LSU Tigers faithful? Anyone take a pulse on the expectations in Colorado Springs, Tampa Bay or Columbia, South Carolina prior to last Saturday’s games for Colorado State, South Florida and South Carolina?

Without getting any more unnecessarily cheeky, let’s just agree that all of the kneejerk reactions made after Week 1 performances can be placed next to the wastebasket (or for some of them, in said wastebasket). As the adage goes, you can lose a national title or ruin expectations in the first week of the season, but there is no way you can win one or meet them. For those still unconvinced, enjoy the season as it comes (and prepare to be wrong).

Georgia may not cruise through the SEC

The Bulldogs pulled it together in the second half of their game against South Carolina, but the first half performance by Georgia served to at least plant the seed of doubt that Kirby Smart’s team will just waltz through what has historically been the most competitive conference in the country. Yes, Spencer Rattler was terrific through the first two quarters of play, but South Carolina’s defense hadn’t done anything of note this season prior to allowing just three points in the first half.

Considering that Georgia still has several opponents remaining on the schedule with the ability to put together four quarters of strong defensive play, it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that the Bulldogs face a similar first half deficit at a later point this season. Does a better defensive secondary prevent a second half explosion from Carson Beck?

The QB situation is worse than we could have imagined in Tuscaloosa

Things are bad. Like, really bad. The Crimson Tide currently have the lowest completion percentage in the SEC on the fewest attempts, and trail only Mississippi State in average yards per game through the air. The quarterback competition is still actively ongoing, because of course it is, but there is seemingly no end in sight.

It would have been hard to imagine this reality for Alabama a year ago, but Nick Saban has a serious problem on his hands. Talk about trial by fire – the Crimson Tide will attempt to right the ship against Mississippi, the No. 9 ranked passing offense nationally.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#4 Florida State at Clemson (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ABC)

The ACC narrowly avoided disaster last weekend, with Florida State escaping Boston with a two-point victory over the Eagles in the red bandana game. Had the Seminoles lost, the conference would have been faced with having its early season marquee matchup spoiled by unforeseen losses on both sides.

As it were, the Seminoles maintained perfection and the Tigers get to welcome Mike Norvell’s squad to Death Valley as the underdog, something that Dabo Swinney’s team could take advantage of on Saturday afternoon. Florida State’s offense sputtered last week, and the defense has been generally poor against the pass all season. Cade Klubnik seems to have settled in for Clemson and if he avoids turning the ball over, the Tigers have the chops to finish the job that Boston College couldn’t.

My Pick: 33-30 Clemson (covers +2.5 spread)

#19 Colorado at #10 Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ABC)

Boulder, Colorado is the only place in the country right now where a performance like the one the Buffaloes orchestrated last weekend would fail to dampen the hype that has been created for Deion Sanders’ squad. Although this isn’t a shocker, it bears mentioning that Colorado is a mess defensively. The loss of Travis Hunter for a few weeks to a lacerated liver doesn’t make resolution of the issues in the secondary any easier.

Colorado’s loss, unfortunately, will seemingly be Oregon’s gain, which boasts an offense capable of lighting up the Buffaloes. Bo Nix is averaging nearly 300 yards passing per game and hasn’t thrown a single interception this season, but is being overshadowed by several other signal-callers in the Pac-12 right now. A strong performance against Colorado, whom everyone is watching right now, should change that. Offensively, Shedeur Sanders & Co. can produce enough to keep things interesting.

My Pick: 41-35 Oregon (does not cover -21 spread)

#22 UCLA at #12 Utah (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – FOX)

There are a few great matchups in the Pac-12 this weekend, but on paper this one looks to be the best of the bunch. The Bruins have stormed out of the gate, discovering they have something of a freshman phenom in quarterback Dante Moore. The young signal-caller is buoyed by a three-headed monster at running back, led by transfer Carson Steele and sophomore T.J. Harden, who are both averaging over 8 yards per carry.

The Utes have been incredibly unlucky when it comes to injuries and believe it or not that goes beyond just waiting for the return of Cam Rising and star tight end Brant Kuithe. Nearly every unit beyond the offensive line has been impacted by injury to a significant contributor, something that Utah has managed to navigate through the first three games. While it is rumored that Rising may be back to lead the Utes, it hasn’t been confirmed and it feels like a mild upset is brewing here.

My Pick: 35-33 UCLA (covers +6 spread)

#14 Oregon State at #21 Washington State (Saturday, 7 PM ET – FOX)

The Beavers have gotten just OK production from new toy DJ Uiagalelei, but the rushing game has been as advertised, with Damien Martinez scampering for over 350 yards through the first three games. The Beavers would be wise to try to control the pace of the game and keep the ball out of the hands of Cameron Ward, who has been excellent for the Cougars thus far.

Despite the offensive weapons on both sides, the defenses are nearly as likely to decide the outcome of this one. Oregon State’s unit is statistically the best in the Pac-12 in the early going, allowing just 260 yards per game. While Washington State’s defense isn’t as prolific on paper, opportunistic play on that side of the ball propelled it to an upset victory over Wisconsin earlier this season. Winning in Pullman as a visiting team isn’t easy, and it will take a complete game for the Beavers to avoid falling behind early in the conference title race.

My Pick: 31-27 Oregon State (covers -3 spread)

#6 Ohio State at #9 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – NBC)

Week 4’s top matchup has been circled on the calendar of college football fans for some time now, and early indications from both teams are that it could be a classic. Each has shored up weaknesses that persisted during the 2022 season (passing offense for Notre Dame, general defensive issues from Ohio State) and now boast premier units in those areas. Consequently, the now strengths of each team will go head-to-head in deciding this game.

Ohio State’s defense proved itself as legit against Western Kentucky, a team that has been prolific offensively for some time under Tyson Helton. While Notre Dame is significantly more balanced on offense, and the Buckeyes are unlikely to be helped by favorable field position thanks to multiple aggressive fourth down calls, there is reason to believe Ryan Day’s squad can go into South Bend and stifle the Fighting Irish. If this happens, there is enough juice behind the Kyle McCord led offense to head back to Columbus victorious.

My Pick: 28-24 Ohio State (covers -3 spread)  

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

#15 Mississippi at #13 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – CBS)

It is honestly hard to believe that the Crimson Tide is still favored by nearly a touchdown in this game following its performance against South Florida last weekend. The Rebels have one of the better passers in the country in Jaxson Dart, who could go Quinn Ewers on this Alabama defense.

Arkansas at #12 LSU (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

We’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but we’re going to beat it to death. The Tigers seemed to have shaken off the week one woes and look poised to climb back into the Top 10 soon.

Appalachian State at Wyoming (Saturday, 7 PM ET – CBS Sports Network)

It’s a bit of a shame that by the end of Saturday, one of these teams will already have two losses. They’ve both shown a lot of positive moments throughout the young season and look like two of the best Group of Five teams in the country.

#3 Texas at Baylor (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ABC)

Is this a trap game for the Longhorns? Baylor has already nearly knocked off a Top 25 foe at home, and the Bears were tantalizingly close to upsetting then-No. 4 TCU last season.

#24 Iowa at #7 Penn State (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – CBS)

When a clash of Top 25 teams is on the ‘5 to Keep an Eye On’ list, you know it’s a huge weekend. The comments seemingly made by Brian Ferentz last weekend were ousted as a deepfake, but if the Hawkeyes are able to produce enough offense to beat the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, perhaps we’ll get the real thing.

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