Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where USC can look terrible no matter who the coach is:
THIRD QUARTER: FRESH UNBEATENS VS. THE ESTABLISHMENT
A lot of teams that are uncharacteristically undefeated at this point in the season are facing major prove-it games this weekend. Congratulations to those teams for getting this far without a loss, but now the going gets tougher. The field of conference and playoff contenders could get a sharp whittling-down after this slate of games. The Dash looks at nine contests that match a rising program against one that has been around for a while.
Mississippi at Alabama (21). The fresh face: Ole Miss, which is 3–0 for the first time since 2015. Their coach is Lane Kiffin, who is trying to go 4–0 for the first time in his head-coaching career since 2010, his first season as the boss at USC. The establishment: Alabama, the most established of programs, led by Nick Saban, the most established of coaches and a man who once famously sent then offensive coordinator Kiffin packing in the middle of the 2016 College Football Playoff. Last time Ole Miss beat Alabama: 2015, the second half of a stunning, two-season comeuppance Hugh Freeze and the Rebels administered to the Crimson Tide.
This matchup: These are the top two scoring teams in the SEC, with the Rebels averaging 52.7 points per game and the Tide 46.5. Ole Miss hasn’t faced a defense of Bama’s caliber—but Florida creased that unit for 244 yards on the ground, and the Rebels are third nationally in rushing yards per game at 298. Quarterbacks Matt Corral of Ole Miss and Bryce Young of Alabama have risen to the top of most Heisman Trophy lists, so that’s an added dynamic to a game with no lack of story angles.
When: 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
The line: Alabama by 14 1/2.
Dash pick: Alabama 49, Mississippi 42.
Arkansas at Georgia (22). The fresh face: The Razorbacks are 4–0 for the first time since Houston Nutt was the toast of Fayetteville in 2003. They haven’t started 5–0 since 1998, Nutt’s first season coaching the Hogs. Head coach Sam Pittman was hired off the Georgia staff in 2019 in what has proved to be a stroke of genius by Hunter Yurachek. The establishment: The Bulldogs (4–0) have just completed their fifth consecutive unbeaten September and are the favorites to win the SEC East.
This matchup: Of the two biggest SEC games, the offensive pyrotechnics will be in Tuscaloosa, not Athens. Georgia leads the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense. Arkansas is third in the SEC in all those categories and has not allowed a point in the first quarter this season. This could come down to which quarterback can hit a couple of big passes while also avoiding turnovers, or perhaps break something in the kicking game—because driving the length of the field will be difficult. Arkansas has committed only two turnovers this season, while Georgia is intercepting an SEC-high 6.9 percent of opponents’ passes.
When: noon ET Saturday.
The line: Georgia by 18 1/2.
Dash pick: Georgia 24, Arkansas 7.
Cincinnati at Notre Dame (23). The fresh face: The Bearcats (3–0) have been good for several seasons under Luke Fickell, but this season they actually have some early-season respect to show for it in the form of a top-10 ranking and early favorite status in this matchup. The establishment: Notre Dame (4–0) has crafted undefeated regular seasons and made the CFP two of the past three years. The Fighting Irish have a home winning streak of 26 games, within range of the school record 28 straight in Notre Dame Stadium from 1942 to ’50. First-year Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was plucked from Fickell’s staff at Cincy.
This matchup: Notre Dame’s offensive line is its weakest in years, and it will get a difficult test from the Bearcats’ athletic front seven. In addition to not being able to run the ball (the Irish had three net rushing yards against Wisconsin), they will be tasked with protecting either a quarterback who is coming off an ankle injury (if Jack Coan is healthy enough to start) or an inexperienced backup (freshmen Drew Pyne or Tyler Buchner). But the Irish defense, which is tied for the national lead in interceptions with nine, could pose problems of its own for the Bearcats.
When: 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
The line: Cincinnati by 2.
Dash pick: Cincinnati 22, Notre Dame 17.
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Florida at Kentucky (24). The fresh face: Kentucky is 4–0 for only the second time since 2008, with two wins in SEC play. The Wildcats never trailed in defeating Missouri and South Carolina (though they did trail both Chattanooga and Louisiana-Monroe). The establishment: The defending SEC East champion Gators are 4–1 and have a nine-game winning streak against East Division opponents, all of them by double digits. That includes a 24-point win over Kentucky last year.
This matchup: This is a matchup of big-play offenses, with the Gators tied for the SEC lead with 13 plays from scrimmage of 30 yards or longer and the Wildcats right behind with 12. Florida is expected to have explosive backup quarterback Anthony Richardson back at full speed after missing two games with a hamstring issue. Kentucky receiver Wan’Dale Robinson has accounted for half his team’s 30-yard plays. The Wildcats are minus-9 in turnover margin, which is incredible for an undefeated team.
When: 6 p.m. ET Saturday.
The line: Florida by 8 1/2.
Dash pick: Florida 34, Kentucky 24.
Iowa at Maryland (25). The fresh face: Maryland is 4–0 for the first time since 2016 and shooting for its first winning season since ’14. The Terrapins haven’t been 5–0 in 20 years. The establishment: Iowa (4–0) has an active streak of eight straight winning seasons, and 12 of the last 13. Kirk Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten coaches and is No. 4 among active coaches in terms of victories (172, which is 160 more than Maryland’s Mike Locksley).
This matchup: Iowa’s very good pass defense goes up against Maryland’s very good pass offense. The Terrapins have thrown for more than 300 yards in every game, while the Hawkeyes haven’t allowed a 300-yard passing game since 2019. The impressive thing for the Terps is that just one of Taulia Tagovailoa’s 147 passes has gone to the wrong team, which is important against an opponent that thrives on hidden yardage—big returns off turnovers and in the kicking game.
When: 8 p.m. ET Friday.
The line: Iowa by four.
Dash pick: Maryland 26, Iowa 24.
Boston College at Clemson (26). The fresh face: Boston College is 4–0 for the first time since 2007, when Matt Ryan was the quarterback and Jeff Jagodzinski was the hot young coach. That was also the last time the Eagles won at Clemson. The establishment: Clemson is the ruler of the ACC until further notice—though that further notice could be arriving very soon. With CFP hopes all but gone, how committed are the Tigers to trying to turn this season around?
This matchup: Both teams have injury issues, and the Tigers have a million things to address with an offense that has ground to a halt this season. Even in its depleted state, it’s hard to see Clemson’s defense being gouged by Pat Garwo III the way Missouri’s was last week, which means backup QB Dennis Grosel will likely have to rise to the occasion and make some plays through the air. It’s amazing to see Clemson favored by 16 when it has yet to score that many points in a regulation game against FBS competition.
When: 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
The line: Clemson by 16.
Dash pick: Clemson 18, Boston College 14.
Baylor at Oklahoma State (27). The fresh face: The Bears are 4–0 after going 2–7 last year in Dave Aranda’s debut season. That season ended with a 39-point loss to Oklahoma State. The establishment: While the Cowboys (4–0) are hardly the kings of the Big 12, they do have an active streak of 15 straight winning seasons under Mike Gundy.
This matchup: Baylor hadn’t beaten anybody until last weekend, when the Bears upset Iowa State by intercepting a two-point pass in the end zone in the final 30 seconds. The Cowboys hadn’t won authoritatively until thumping Kansas State last week. So both teams should come into this game with peak confidence. Baylor is the only team in the Big 12 that hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season. Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders is coming off one of the best games of his career.
When: 7 p.m. ET Saturday.
The line: Oklahoma State by four.
Dash pick: Oklahoma State 28, Baylor 21.
Michigan at Wisconsin (28). The fresh face: It’s the Wolverines, who have gotten off to 4–0 starts before under Jim Harbaugh, but not with this much dominance since 2016. This is the first time Michigan has held each of its first four opponents to 14 or fewer points since the 1997 national championship season. The establishment: Wisconsin is a major disappointment this season but has been to six Big Ten championship games, while Michigan has been to zero. It’s also true that the Badgers have owned Michigan the last two times they've played—beating the Wolverines by a combined 59 points— and that has done as much as any team not named Ohio State to erode confidence in Harbaugh.
This matchup: Paul Chryst can’t keep trotting Graham Mertz out as his starting quarterback and expect different results. Between last year’s game against Michigan and this year’s, Mertz has thrown three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. The Badgers have to find a way to run that ball. On the flip side, a Wolverines offense that is heavily dependent upon the running game is going up against the toughest run defense in the nation. For the first time this season, Michigan is going to have to throw it more than 20 times.
When: noon ET Saturday.
The line: Michigan by one.
Dash pick: Michigan 14, Wisconsin 10.
Louisiana at South Alabama (29). The fresh face: South Alabama is 3–0 for the first time since moving up to FBS in 2012. The Jaguars are in their first season under Kane Wommack, the former defensive coordinator under Tom Allen at Indiana. The establishment: Louisiana (3–1) has beaten South Alabama five straight times and is 24–5 over the last two-plus seasons.
This matchup: Wommack has immediately improved the defensive product at USA, allowing just 15.7 points per game against pretty light competition. Sixth-year quarterback Jake Bentley, who arrived via Utah and before that South Carolina, has been serviceable at quarterback for the Jaguars. The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t been great thus far, but have an 8–1 record in one-score games over their last 15.
When: 8 p.m. ET Saturday.
The line: Louisiana by 11 1/2.
Dash pick: Louisiana 28, South Alabama 19.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Army (30) has now defeated Miami (Ohio) twice in the last four seasons without completing a single pass in either game. The Cadets were 0-for-5 throwing the ball against the RedHawks Saturday in a 23–10 victory. The last time Army went an entire game without a completion was also against Miami, in a 31–30 victory in 2018.
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