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Conference rivals go head-to-head
1:12 | College Football
Conference rivals go head-to-head
Thursday September 22nd, 2016

Week 3 was a monster, with four matchups of top-20 teams making for a loaded Saturday slate (though the games themselves proved to be more one-sided than expected, especially Florida State-Louisville and Ohio State-Oklahoma). While Week 4 doesn’t appear to have quite as many marquee matchups, there are still four games pitting top-25 teams, including a big SEC rivalry bout, and conference play is beginning in earnest as well. So expect to be entertained, college football fans.

On to this week’s matchup rankings:

For fiends

No. 13 Florida State at South Florida (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC)

Jimbo Fisher spent most of last Saturday’s postgame press conference and his time in front of the Showtime cameras discussing pride and will after his team was throttled by Louisville in Week 2. Now, there’s an opportunity to see if the Seminoles can rediscover some of their dark magic to run over a resurgent USF team. The Bulls’ aggressive 4–2–5 defensive scheme presents an intriguing test for a Seminoles attack that struggled with Louisville’s pressure. Star running back Dalvin Cook came under fire for his bad pass blocking last week, so Saturday will reveal if his ailing shoulder is any better and how willing the Bulls are to exploit his efforts.

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Duke at Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Hardly the most intriguing matchup, but this should be a good litmus test for whether Notre Dame’s defense is as terrible as Brian Kelly (or somebody operating Brian Kelly’s Twitter account) thinks it is. The Blue Devils aren’t good (they lost to a Northwestern team which had lost back-to-back games to Western Michigan and Illinois State), but head coach David Cutcliffe remains one of the game’s brighter offensive minds and will probably pick apart the numerous weaknesses that exist in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme.

The Irish are already eliminated from playoff contention. This week’s game will tell if the team is falling apart or not.

Colorado at Oregon (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

Maybe this is the time for your mid-afternoon nap, but put this one on upset watch. If Colorado QB Sefo Liufau is healthy, then the Buffs could shock a hobbled and ineffective Ducks team that lost two key contributors to season-ending injuries last week (offensive lineman Tyrell Cosby and wide receiver Devon Allen) and is playing with an injured star player (Royce Freeman). Oregon’s loss to Nebraska last week was one of its most debilitating in recent memory. Not only did the Ducks complete an awful 1 of 5 two-point conversion attempts, but they lost by three points to end the game! The good feelings from the Chip Kelly era are clearly over. A loss to the Buffs would send Oregon fans into fits of rage.

No. 3 Louisville at Marshall (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

This is an opportunity to watch Lamar Jackson compile about 500 yards of total offense by himself. The game won’t be close and there are better viewing options in this time slot, but if you missed Jackson’s open-field magic last week against Florida State, then this is your time to see him open up the field.

STAPLES: The new Superman: Louisville’s Lamar Jackson emerges as a star

Pretty good

USC at No. 24 Utah (Friday, 9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

USC remains racked by poor play, program dysfunction and uninspired play. Utah appears to have its usual formula of a ferocious defensive line, a limited offense and generally disciplined play. This game could be the coming-out party for Trojans freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, who was named the starter after USC’s Week 3 loss to Stanford. It also could be another embarrassment for head coach Clay Helton, who is on the hottest possible seat for a first-year coach and who appears to lack control of his program. USC derailed Utah’s promising season with a 42–24 win last year in Los Angeles, so vengeance may be a primary motivator for the Utes.

No. 12 Georgia at No. 23 Ole Miss (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN)

The Bulldogs were bailed out by Jacob Eason’s perfect fourth-down throw against Missouri last week, while the Rebels blew another three-possession lead in their loss to Alabama. A week after surviving a close call against Nicholls, Georgia looks flawed and over-ranked. But as we’ve learned from Ole Miss’s second-half performances against both Alabama and Florida State, no lead is safe!

No. 18 LSU at Auburn (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN)

When this game is trudging along at 6–3 with under two minutes to play in the third quarter, I’ll eagerly be awaiting the commentator who starts with the whole “these are just two SEC DEFENSES going toe-to-toe and brawling out at the line of scrimmage, Bob! You can’t find physical football like this ANYWHERE else in the country!”

That heap of malarkey is usually ascribed to us, the allegedly SEC-biased media, when in fact it’s a mythical narrative that’s upheld by Alabama’s prominence. The reality is that outside of Leonard Fournette, both of these offenses are impotent attacks that either lack identity (Auburn) or general direction (LSU). If Danny Etling can settle in and integrate two talented receivers in Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, then LSU should open up the offense enough for Fournette to roam. It looked like the offense found a balance last week against Mississippi State ... and then the attack stalled during the second half and nearly cost the Tigers the game.

There’s also a chance that Fournette sends an Auburn defender flying again.

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Oklahoma State at No. 16 Baylor (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

It’s the first major test for the new-look Bears, who have coasted through another easy non-conference schedule before Big 12 play. Rental coach Jim Grobe has Baylor looking like a formidable unit—the offense still flies and has a star in wide receiver KD Cannon, and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 13 points—but the team faces a significantly more daunting test in Oklahoma State. The Cowboys’ defense has struggled to stop pretty much everybody, but their offense is playing up to expectations. Wide receiver James Washington had a stunning 296 receiving yards last weekend, Mason Rudolph threw for, wait for it, 540 YARDS, and Rennie Childs had four TDs.

If we’re lucky, this will be some old-fashioned 70–63 Big 12 football.

Cal at Arizona State (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Cal can’t stop the run (or pass, honestly), and Arizona State has one of the nation’s most powerful running backs in Kalen Ballage (the guy who scored 8 TDs against Texas Tech). Arizona State had the nation’s worst pass defense last year (and this year through three games), while Cal has the nation’s second-ranked passing offense. The over/under for this game is set at 83.5. Maybe Vegas meant to set that number for the first half alone.

• ​THAMEL: A year after heartbreak, Ohio State’s Noah Brown is just getting started

Much better

No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 8 Michigan State (Saturday, Noon ET, Big Ten Network)

Your Michigan State drinking game of the week is to take a sip every time the commentators mention “disrespect,” “chip on the shoulder” or “little brother.” The Spartans’ mowing over of Notre Dame brought those narratives back into the media lexicon just eight months after they were being written in advance of the Alabama game. In fairness to the Spartans, they have a tremendous two-headed running attack with Gerald Holmes and LJ Scott. And the defensive line (Malik McDowell and Raequan Williams most notably) is every bit as fearsome as the more revered units at places like Alabama and Clemson. Yes, we’re all probably tired of hearing the “little brother” chat again. But then Michigan State goes out and whips some other team that many others predicted to reach the College Football Playoff.

No. 19 Florida at No. 14 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson invented a strange expression to indicate why Florida will win this game. Even if the Gators are starting a backup quarterback, Tennessee’s defense is so thoroughly injured that perhaps the Gators should be favored in this one. Tune in because the Gators have won this game 11—yes, 11—consecutive times, a winning streak so formidable that even Tennessee fans believe that they are cursed.  

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No. 7 Stanford at UCLA (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Stanford has beaten the Bruins eight consecutive times, the longest winning streak in the history of the series, and several of those have been Stanford-trademarked beatdowns. Typically UCLA enters this game with some degree of hype (this year it’s the presence of quarterback Josh Rosen) and Stanford enters with some concerns (this year it’s the defensive line), and then the Cardinal pummel the Bruins on both sides of the line while UCLA commits too many penalties.

Perhaps the Bruins are underrated enough (they are) to make this the most evenly-matched game since Jim Mora inherited the program. But David Shaw has been the source of his nightmares since Mora has been at the helm in Westwood.

• HAMILTON: Corey Clement is finally ready to be Wisconsin’s next great RB

No. 17 Arkansas at No. 10 Texas A&M (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Unlike LSU-Auburn, this is a clash of styles far more worthy of that SEC yapping that SEC fans like to do. Trevor Knight has proven himself to be a competent commander of Kevin Sumlin’s aerial attack, while Bret Bielema has Arkansas’s offense playing its usual ground-and-smash running style. The ramifications of this game will also spice up the SEC race. If Arkansas wins, the Hogs likely get a spot in the top-10 with an Oct. 8 matchup against Alabama waiting (they play Alcorn State the week before). If the Aggies win, they might get into the top-5 with Tennessee waiting.

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