B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 4
In each of the first three weeks of the 2021 college football season, three ranked teams lost to an unranked opponent and one ranked team lost to a lower-ranked foe.
Will that trend continue into the final weekend of September? Will things instead begin to normalize?
Or might Week 4 be where we begin the descent into complete and utter chaos?
In preparation for Week 4 action, Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—joined forces to offer up predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:
- Will No. 7 Texas A&M or No. 16 Arkansas pick up a massive SEC West victory?
- Does No. 12 Notre Dame or No. 18 Wisconsin exit Soldier Field with the crucial W?
- Will Alabama, Georgia and Oregon win each of their games by five-plus touchdowns?
- Does LSU or Mississippi State show interest in establishing the run in that head-to-head clash?
- And how will the first full week of Pac-12 play pan out?
Our experts are on the case.
No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies vs. No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks: Who You Got?
Texas A&M generated some offseason hype as a potential threat to Alabama in the SEC West, but that doesn't appear to be the case three weeks into the season.
Starting quarterback Haynes King suffered a leg fracture in a narrow win over Colorado in Week 2. Though backup quarterback Zach Calzada showed some improvement last weekend, he isn't the same type of talent as King.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has been impressive in head coach Sam Pittman's second season. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom's vaunted front seven will be the key in this matchup. The Aggies are breaking in a lot of new starters along the offensive front, so that's a major mismatch in Arkansas' favor on paper.
While the Razorbacks will face tough sledding against a strong A&M defense, they'll do enough to win this game and continue surging up the rankings. They're tough, battle-tested and they have a chip on their shoulder. The Hogs will win this game in dramatic fashion, 30-24.
Texas A&M's defense has been outrageously good, holding opponents to only 5.7 points and 77.3 passing yards per game. But can the offense be trusted, considering it took the Aggies more than 57 minutes to finally find the end zone against a Colorado team that just lost by 30 to Minnesota?
Arkansas has been running the ball at will, including a 333-yard, four-touchdown performance in its statement win over Texas. But if the Aggies put eight men in the box and dare Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson to beat them deep, can he?
Texas A&M is 9-0 in this series since joining the SEC. However, five of the last seven games were decided by a single possession—three of them in overtime—and the Aggies now have a backup quarterback under center.
I don't love it, but give me Arkansas to cover and win outright 27-24 to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2003. But with road games against Georgia and Ole Miss coming up in the next two weeks, that zero in the loss column won't last much longer.
Will No. 12 Notre Dame or No. 18 Wisconsin Score a Huge Win in Chicago?
The Badgers are allowing only 11.5 points per game, which ranks 11th in the nation. They have a ton of experience as well, with eight starters returning from a defensive unit that limited opponents to a Big Ten-best 299.9 total yards per game last season.
However, Wisconsin's offense has averaged only 22 points over its first two games. Sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season, and he threw two picks against Penn State in Week 1. Expect the Badgers to lean on running back Chez Mellusi, who's rushed for 265 yards and two touchdowns over his first two games.
Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish have already flirted with a pair of upsets. Their season-opening 41-38 overtime win over Florida State looks much worse given FSU's 0-3 start and ugly loss to Jacksonville State. Notre Dame was also down 16-14 at halftime against an unranked Toledo at home, and then Purdue hung around with the Fighting Irish until the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame currently ranks 81st in the country in total defense, giving up 381.0 yards per game. Quarterback Jack Coan has thrown for 828 yards and eight touchdowns, but he also has two interceptions and has been sacked 14 times.
This defense will be the best unit Notre Dame has faced all season, so I like Wisconsin in a close one.
I'm not sure what to make of A&M-Arkansas, but I'm all about Wisconsin in this one.
When I picked the Badgers to reach the College Football Playoff, I thought Mertz would have accounted for at least one touchdown by now. They'll instead have to win this game in spite of their starting quarterback, but their run game and defense are both top-notch.
Even in the season-opening loss to Penn State, Wisconsin had 29 first downs to only 11 by the Nittany Lions. The Badgers lost that game because they came away with zero points on three different trips inside the Penn State 10-yard line. They'll do a better job of executing at the end of possessions against a Notre Dame defense that hasn't been special.
Wisconsin also has a major X-factor in its favor. Prior to transferring to Notre Dame, Coan spent the previous four years in Madison. The Badgers know his tendencies and capabilities better than anyone. It wouldn't be surprising if Wisconsin wins the all-important turnover battle as a result of that familiarity.
Which Matchup Between Unranked Teams Will Be Most Entertaining?
There are several intriguing battles down in the Lone Star State. SMU and Tanner Mordecai are taking on TCU, while a surprising 3-0 Texas Tech team will try to sneak up on Texas, which looked rejuvenated a week ago with Casey Thompson at quarterback.
Out West, California-Washington could be fun, as could Oregon State-USC, even though exciting Trojans freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart will be sidelined with a torn meniscus.
But I'm going out of the box with a Mountain West showdown between conference favorite Boise State and 3-0 Utah State.
After shocking Washington State to start the season, the Aggies followed that up with wins over North Dakota and a frantic 49-45 comeback win over Air Force last weekend. Utah State had fallen off the map before hiring head coach Blake Anderson, and it's remarkable what he's accomplished in such a short time.
The feel-good story faces quite a test this weekend against Boise State, who collapsed late in a season-opening loss to UCF and lost 21-20 at home to Oklahoma State in Week 3. The Broncos are better than their 1-2 record would suggest.
A bizarre 10 a.m. Mountain Time start in Logan, Utah could be a factor. Whichever team wakes up first could hold the advantage. But expect a ton of points, and even more twists and turns. Boise is going to win, but it'll be something like 44-41.
There are several intriguing conference clashes, such as LSU-Mississippi State, Kentucky-South Carolina, Wake Forest-Virginia, Texas Tech-Texas and Oregon State-USC. All five of those games will be key data points in our quest to figure out who is actually good this season.
But the cream of the crop should be the lone instance of an undefeated Group of Five team facing an undefeated Power Five team: SMU at TCU.
TCU has owned this rivalry as of late, winning 17 of its last 20 games against the Mustangs. But for a lot of those games, TCU was ranked and SMU was nowhere close to sniffing the AP poll. This time around, SMU is already well on its way to a third consecutive winning season, while TCU is looking to snap out of a three-year streak of mediocrity.
TCU has a pair of electric players in quarterback Max Duggan and running back Zach Evans, and its most recent game came right down to the wire. SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai has thrown for 16 touchdowns through three games, and after three years as a backup at Oklahoma, he'll now get to prove what he can do against a Big 12 defense. Mordecai also threw the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown this past Saturday at Louisiana Tech.
My gut says TCU will get the win at home, but this might be the best game of the entire noon slate.
Which Game Will Feature the Most Total Points?
Ole Miss is idle this week, so we won't get to see the Rebels' high-powered offense in Week 4. But we'll likely get a shootout when West Virginia heads to Norman to face No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday night.
Oklahoma is sixth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 46.3 points per game. Sooners quarterback and Heisman candidate Spencer Rattler has thrown for seven touchdowns and rushed for another two scores so far this season. He had a season-low 214 yards against Nebraska last week, but he still threw for one touchdown, ran for another and had zero turnovers.
Sooners running back Kennedy Brooks has yet to have a 100-yard outing this season, but he's scored a touchdown in each of Oklahoma's three wins this season. He's also averaging a robust 6.2 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, West Virginia is averaging 39.0 points and 413.3 total yards per game. Mountaineers quarterback Jarret Doege is averaging 243 passing yards and has six touchdowns on the season. WVU is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, but senior Leddie Brown had his best performance last week against Virginia Tech, racking up 161 yards and a touchdown.
Neither of these defenses is dominant, as is often the case in the Big 12. WVU and OU rank 39th and 45th in total defense, respectively, and both are allowing more than 300 yards per game.
We should be in for a fun one in Norman on Saturday night.
If you believe Vegas, the choice is Boise State at Utah State, which has a total hovering in the 70-point range. But it's hard to imagine those out-West offenses firing on all cylinders for a noon ET kickoff.
If you're looking for a game in which both teams might eclipse 40 points, you can do worse than LSU-Mississippi State. There should be plenty of passing touchdowns in that game.
But I'm going a bit off the radar with Massachusetts at Coastal Carolina.
As has been the case for a number of years, the Minutemen are awful on defense. They aren't allowing 52.7 points per game like they did in 2019, but 46.0 points and 525.0 total yards per game is still terrible. And Coastal Carolina (43.0 points, 508.3 total yards per game on offense) is more than capable of scoring on just about every possession in this game.
Massachusetts is moderately competent on offense, though, having scored 28 points in each of its last two games. And the Chanticleers have allowed at least three touchdowns and more than 400 yards in each of the past two weeks against Kansas and Buffalo, neither of which boast elite offenses.
I like Coastal Carolina to win comfortably, but there should be plenty of points. Chanticleers roll 56-27.
Combined Margin of Victory by Alabama, Georgia and Oregon: O/U 107.5 Points?
When the praise came pouring in for Alabama after its season-opening win, Nick Saban quickly jumped on the positivity. He pointed out that the Crimson Tide played a mediocre second half, so they hadn't accomplished much.
Since then, they've had a slow start against Mercer and nearly squandered an 18-point lead at Florida. I'm guessing Southern Miss is playing Alabama at a very bad time—not that there's necessarily a good one. Alabama by 41.
Vanderbilt put together a good comeback win at Colorado State a few weeks ago, which is more of a pleasantry than suggesting the 'Dores will be competitive. Georgia runs all over Vandy, the fourth-worst rushing defense (6.1 yards per carry) in the nation, for a 38-point win.
Oregon hosts Arizona, which hasn't cracked 20 points this season. Not only that, the Ducks are getting healthier on defense. Oregon wins by 34 for a combined total of 113. Over.
The "nobody's good this year" narrative will take a backseat for at least one weekend, because the top three teams in the country are going to demolish their hapless competition in Week 4.
Maybe Alabama will play nice and let Frank Gore Jr. score a touchdown, but Southern Miss got outscored 52-16 in two games against South Alabama and Troy. These teams have played twice since Nick Saban became the head coach in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama won both games by at least 40 points. I like the Tide by 49 in this one.
No. 2 Georgia has the toughest game of the bunch, on the road against Vanderbilt. But this one won't be close. When ranked No. 6 or better in the AP poll, Georgia has an all-time record of 9-0 against the Commodores, with an average margin of victory of 27.8 points. The past three meetings were each decided by at least 24 points. Give me the Bulldogs by 35.
For No. 3 Oregon hosting winless Arizona, it's just a question of how badly the Ducks want to prove to the CFP selection committee that the win at Ohio State was no fluke. Arizona lost a game 70-7 last year, and this year's Wildcats might not be any better. If the first two picks are correct, the Ducks only need to win this one by 24 for the over, but I like them by 34.
Total Number of Rushing Yards in LSU at Mississippi State: Over/Under 90.5?
Through three games, Mississippi State has only 136 total rushing yards on 50 attempts. The Bulldogs are currently last in the nation in rushing yards per game, which should come as no surprise to those who have followed head coach Mike Leach for some time.
However, it is surprising to see LSU ranked 120th in the nation in rushing. The Tigers are normally well represented in this department, but they have only 257 yards on 85 carries so far.
I don't expect that to change much this week. LSU quarterback Max Johnson has quietly been on a roll to start the year. He'll likely be asked to try to win this game with his arm yet again.
Both teams have top-40 rushing defenses, which adds another wrinkle to the equation. While 90.5 yards feels very manageable, I'm going with the under.
What a weird game this might be.
During Leach's eight seasons with Washington State, the Cougars ranked either last or next-to-last in rushing yards per game seven times. Last year, Mississippi State managed only 43.9 rushing yards per game, worst in the nation by a long shot.
But unlike his time in Pullman, Leach also has a rock-solid run defense in Starkville.
When these teams met last September, they combined for 89 rushing yards. Mississippi State at Georgia in 2020 featured 37 carries for 30 total yards. And two weeks ago against NC State, the Bulldogs rushed for 22 yards while allowing 34.
Meanwhile, LSU's rushing attack is looking dreadful for a second consecutive year. The Tigers have been held below 50 rushing yards in four of their last 11 games, and they have now been held below 4.0 yards per carry in nine consecutive games.
I don't like picking this under because the over could hit on one busted play. But betting against these rushing attacks is far less nauseating than counting on them to accomplish something.
Give me the under in a game that will easily eclipse 100 combined passing attempts.
Pac-12 Pick'em: Who Wins the 6 Games on the West Coast?
Easy one to begin: Oregon cruises past Arizona. No hesitation in taking Arizona State at home against Colorado, either.
USC should knock off Oregon State, but an uncertain QB situation complicates matters. Week 3 hero Jaxson Dart will be "out for an extended period" with a torn meniscus, according to Keely Eure of 247Sports, so the Trojans will have to go back to Kedon Slovis. That shouldn't stop them from picking up the win.
Utah switched to Cameron Rising last week, which caused Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer to leave the program. Rising's mobility is a nice boost for the Utes to win against Washington State.
Stanford has a great chance to show it's a real Pac-12 threat, but its 125th-ranked run defense (5.85 yards per carry) is a big concern opposite UCLA's Zach Charbonnet. Bruins win.
And lastly, I haven't given up on Washington. Ugly start, but give me the Dawgs in a home clash with Cal.
I'm going to tackle these in decreasing order of confidence.
Oregon is going to decimate Arizona. Moving on.
Colorado has a respectable defense, but it also has one of the most anemic offenses in the country. The Buffaloes won't be able to keep pace at Arizona State. Sun Devils win by three scores.
In Rising, Utah found something fun late in its triple-overtime loss to San Diego State. The Utes offensive line has been terrible, so his mobility at quarterback should be a game-changer moving forward. Against a Washington State defense that just gave up 45 unanswered points to USC true freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart, Rising should get the win.
Speaking of the Trojans, I also like them at home against Oregon State even though Dart won't get the start under center. They started slow in their first game of the post-Clay Helton era, but the talent on the roster eventually triumphed over Wazzu. Expect that talent to win out again against the Beavers.
I think Washington will win at home against California, but there's no way I'm laying the 7.5 points on an offense that was held to 17 points in the first two weeks combined. The Huskies win a close, low-scoring affair.
And I'll go with UCLA in a coin-flip game against Stanford. The Bruins have faced three pass-heavy offenses thus far this season, but their front seven has held up well against the run all the same. They'll stifle Stanford's rushing attack just enough for their offense to win the game.
Will Deuce Vaughn Rush for 100+ Yards and a Score for a Sixth Straight Game?
No running back in all of college football is more enjoyable to watch than Deuce Vaughn. Period.
The 5'6" bowling ball of a human being is currently ninth in the nation in rushing yards per game. Two of the defenses he's faced so far—Stanford and Nevada—are pretty respectable.
Enter Oklahoma State, which has the nation's 28th-ranked rushing defense. Thus far, teams are averaging only 2.58 yards per carry against the Pokes, which is tied for 17th nationally.
That changes this week. While I don't see Vaughn posting a gaudy stat line against a quality defense, he will be productive. For the Wildcats to win this game, he'll have to be.
Final stat line: 24 carries, 119 yards and two touchdowns.
As Adam noted, Oklahoma State's numbers against the run have been solid.
That was also the case three games into last season, though. I suspect those numbers are largely the product of the schedule, and things are about to change considerably.
Boise State entered its game against Oklahoma State averaging only 2.2 yards per carry. Tulsa followed up its 123-yard game against the Cowboys with a 73-yard game against an Ohio State front seven that got destroyed by Oregon the previous week. The Pokes also allowed 102 rushing yards to an FCS program in Missouri State.
When they finally faced a good running back in their fourth game of 2020, the Cowboys allowed Iowa State's Breece Hall to rush for 185 yards and a touchdown. Anything over 127 would be a new career high for Vaughn, but I like his chances of matching what Hall did to Oklahoma State last fall.