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College Football Week 4 Picks: Trouble Lurks as Top Teams Wade Into Conference Play

Think Week 4 is light on battles between heavy hitters? With conference play in full swing, every outcome is on the table, every Saturday.
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There are only two Top 25 matchups in Week 4, and one includes Alabama, which just dusted a respectable division opponent by 55 points on the road last weekend. Still, plenty of traps lie hidden for favorites as conference play brings a new layer of familiarity—and sometimes animosity. Beleaguered first-year head coaches Scott Frost and Jimbo Fisher enter their much-anticipated league openers as clear underdogs, while heavyweights Georgia, Clemson and Washington take on conference foes that have given them trouble in the recent past.

If nothing else, last week was a lesson in the dangers of consensus: All eight of our pickers were burned by Auburn and Houston and had to sweat out Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Ohio State’s tightly-contested wins. Below, our straight-up picks for the biggest games of the weekend.

Season-long standings

Scooby Axson: 24–11 (68.6%)
Andy Staples: 23–12 (65.7%)
Laken Litman: 22–13 (62.9%)
Ross Dellenger: 22–13 (62.9%)
Eric Single: 22–13 (62.9%)
Max Meyer: 21–14 (60%)
Molly Geary: 20–15 (57.1%)
Joan Niesen: 20–15 (57.1%)

Florida Atlantic at UCF (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)


Andy Staples picks UCF: There’s still a talent gap between the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA—even for the team that might be Conference USA’s best.

Washington State at USC (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


Laken Litman picks Washington State: USC is coming off consecutive road losses to Stanford and Texas, while Washington State is 3–0. Are the Trojans bound for loss No. 3, this time at the Coliseum? It seems like this could be another rough night for Clay Helton & Co. True freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who has thrown one touchdown and three interceptions, is going to have to move the ball vertically. That’s because the Cougars have a stout rush defense, ranked No. 23 in yards per carry allowed with just 3.05; Texas, No. 30 in yards per carry allowed, limited USC to minus-five rushing yards on 16 carries last week. Meanwhile, Washington State transfer QB Gardner Minshew II has been lighting up defenses through three games, leading the Pac-12 with 401.0 passing yards per game,.

Georgia at Missouri (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN)


Joan Niesen picks Georgia: Even if Georgia's offense is missing a couple of guys, Missouri's defense hasn't shown itself as anything approaching consistent. Sure, it held UT-Martin and Wyoming in check, but it allowed a struggling Purdue offense 37 points. This will be a shootout, but Georgia should have what it takes to outlast the Tigers' productive offense.

Nebraska at Michigan (Noon ET, FS1)


Scooby Axson picks Michigan: Patience, Huskers fans. Things will get worse before they get better for new coach Scott Frost. The growing pains continue this Saturday against Michigan and quarterback Shea Patterson, who is starting to heat up, having completed 71% of his passes with six touchdowns in his last two games.

Texas A&M at Alabama (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)


Ross Dellenger picks Alabama: The Crimson Tide last weekend became the first SEC team to score 50 or more points in the first three games of a season. With Tua Tagovailoa operating the offense, Alabama and coach Nick Saban can now outscore opponents, something previous teams could never consistently do. That’s a scary thought, given Saban’s success. Jimbo Fisher is, maybe, ahead of schedule in his rebuilding effort at Texas A&M (he’s got sophomore QB Kellen Mond to partially thank for that), but if the Aggies can keep it close in the second half, that’d be a win.

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Clemson at Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)


Joan Niesen picks Clemson: Clemson has shown it can keep option teams in check this season—it allowed Furman and Georgia Southern to score a combined 14 points—and even if Georgia Tech is a different caliber team, there's no reason to believe the Tigers' foray into ACC play won't begin with a win.

TCU at Texas (4:30 p.m. ET, FOX)


Ross Dellenger picks Texas: This feels like a risky pick, but Tom Herman and the Longhorns thrashed USC to rebound from that season-opening loss at Maryland. Texas needs to hold serve at home before continuing this tough stretch with games at Kansas State and against Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl.

Mississippi State at Kentucky (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)


Eric Single picks Mississippi State: In a meeting of two running backs who sit top-25 nationally in rushing yards through three weeks, the edge goes to Mississippi State's Kylin Hill, who was the difference-maker for the Bulldogs' offense in their only Power 5 test so far, against Kansas State. Kentucky's Benny Snell is one of the most overlooked running backs in the country, but he will be barreling into an MSU front that has allowed a meager 2.5 yards per carry so far. Keep both these teams top of mind as divisional dark horses, but Mississippi State has too much on the line over the next month not to emerge from Kroger Field with its perfect record intact.

Florida at Tennessee (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)


Scooby Axson picks Florida: No matter how bad Florida has looked of late on offense, one thing has remained largely consistent through the years: a victory over Tennessee, which has happened in 12 of last 13 seasons. The Gators are still good enough to beat the rebuilding Vols.

Stanford at Oregon (8 p.m. ET, ABC)


Max Meyer picks Oregon: It's tough to fully grasp what Oregon is since the Ducks have arguably played the easiest schedule in the country so far. But in a game headlined by Stanford tailback Bryce Love and Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, I think the Ducks’ defense will be the difference. Jim Leavitt is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, and the unit allowed 5.0 yards per play (tied for 28th in FBS) in his first season in 2017, compared to 6.4 (tied for 113th) the year before. Oregon has a lot of talent in its front seven, headlined by defensive linemen Jalen Jelks and Jordon Scott along with linebackers Troy Dye and Justin Hollins. This is a group that has been excellent in stopping the run. Add in the fact that the Ducks suffered a 49–7 humiliation without Herbert at the hands of the Cardinal last season, and this seems like a ripe upset opportunity at Autzen Stadium.

Wisconsin at Iowa (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX)


Laken Litman picks Wisconsin: The Badgers are looking to make everyone forget that they were upset by BYU last week. A win over Iowa to start the Big Ten schedule won’t do it, but it’ll help them avoid a negative spotlight for a little while. Wisconsin really has no choice but to win this game, then be perfect the rest of the season if it wants to win the conference and get back among the College Football Playoff contenders. It’s possible for the Badgers to get right back in the national conversation by going undefeated in league play.

Arizona State at Washington (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)


Molly Geary picks Washington: The Sun Devils' first road test didn’t go so well at San Diego State last week, and Saturday’s trip to Seattle will be even tougher. Quarterback Manny Wilkins and ASU have done a great job taking care of the ball through three weeks, turning it over only once, but that will be challenged by a stout Washington defense that used three takeaways to shut down Utah’s upset bid. Jake Browning and the Huskies should be able to score enough to win this.