Week 4 of the college football season looks a lot more intriguing that it did in the preseason. There's no enormous game like Alabama-Florida State or Oklahoma-Ohio State, but there's a long list of intriguing games. That starts with ranked matchups between Georgia and Mississippi State and TCU and Oklahoma State, and it continues with potential upset opportunities featuring unbeaten teams like USC, Alabama, Penn State, Washington, Michigan and San Diego State going on the road.
All times are Eastern, and within each time slot games are previewed in order of importance and watchability.
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Saturday Early Afternoon
N.C. State at No. 12 Florida State
Because of Hurricane Irma, Florida State will be playing its first game since Sept. 2. The Seminoles are still 0-1 with a loss to Alabama in which they lost quarterback Deondre Francois to a season-ending injury. True freshman QB James Blackman was supposed to have two games under his belt as Francois' replacement by now. Instead, he'll make his starting debut in a tough matchup against the excellent N.C. State defensive front. Although the Wolfpack lost their opener to South Carolina, their chances of still acting as a sleeper of sorts in the ACC shouldn't be dismissed. That line, led by Bradley Chubb, remains fantastic, and if they can force Blackman to make some freshman mistakes, they'll have a shot. With that said, Florida State's defense as a whole is the strongest unit in this game, so the result isn't entirely on the arm of the young QB.
Pick: Florida State 23, N.C. State 17
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
Texas A&M has won five straight September games against Arkansas, the past three of which have been at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. Kevin Sumlin has been known for his fast starts to seasons, and Arkansas has helped with that. However, neither team enters this game happy this year: Texas A&M had the second-biggest blown lead in history in a Week 1 loss to UCLA, and it struggled against Nicholls and trailed at halftime against UL Lafayette before pulling away for a rout. Arkansas also lost its nonconference Power Five game, scoring only seven points at home vs. TCU.
Sumlin is in more imminent danger than Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, but there's nevertheless an uneasy feeling among both fan bases here, making this an intriguing game as both try to start SEC play off on the right foot. The Razorbacks are coming off an early off week, so they've had a couple weeks to prepare. The Aggies will at least get a boost from the return of standout RB Trayveon Williams, who missed last week's game with an injury. Arkansas has the more proven QB in Austin Allen, but with Williams back, Texas A&M has a few more proven playmakers, led by Williams and Christian Kirk.
Pick: Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 27
Texas Tech at Houston
Texas Tech gave up 45 points to Arizona State but managed to win anyway to start 2-0. It must prepare for a much more difficult defensive matchup this week. Houston is unlikely to be as strong defensively as last year, but it still has superstar Ed Oliver at defensive tackle and it held Arizona to 16 points in a road win a couple weeks ago. Meanwhile, he hasn't made many big plays, but transfer QB Kyle Allen has completed an absurd 86.2 percent of his passes in two games for the Cougars. As always, Texas Tech's offense is capable of keeping up with just about anyone. Houston, however, is the more well-rounded team and shouldn't be slept on as a New Year's Six bowl contender, even as all the early the attention goes to San Diego State, Memphis and USF.
Pick: Houston 38, Texas Tech 34
UNLV at No. 10 Ohio State
Noon, Big Ten Network
UNLV at least recovered nicely from a devastating loss to Howard by blowing out Idaho. Through two games, the Rebels rank fifth in yards per play, getting huge numbers from RB Lexington Thomas. But now UNLV goes from the Howard and Idaho defenses to the Ohio State defense, in Columbus. As a 40-point favorite, Ohio State has a chance to continue to retool its passing game and allow its defensive line to dominate.
Pick: Ohio State 45, UNLV 14
Old Dominion at No. 13 Virginia Tech
2 p.m., ACC Network regional
Virginia Tech trailed a struggling East Carolina team 17-7 after one quarter last week. It proceeded to score 57 straight points and win 64-17. The offense has been on a roll behind redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson, and that's not going to change back home against Old Dominion. The Monarchs won 10 games last year, but they're not as strong in the passing game and were blown out at home vs. North Carolina last week.
Pick: Virginia Tech 42, Old Dominion 17
Kent State at No. 19 Louisville
Noon, ACC Network regional
Louisville couldn't ask for a better way to recover from a blowout loss to Clemson. After that rough night, Louisville hosts a team that scored three points and had 120 total yards against Clemson in Week 1. The Golden Flashes also lost 21-0 to Marshall last week. Lamar Jackson should have a fun first half before presumably getting a breather in the second half.
Pick: Louisville 52, Kent State 10
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Saturday Late Afternoon
No. 16 TCU at No. 6 Oklahoma State
3:30 p.m., ESPN
It's become the headliner of Week 4, at least based on the polls. Despite last year's struggles -- which included a 31-6 loss at home to Oklahoma State -- the Horned Frogs have risen to No. 16 in the AP poll. They have an experienced roster, and they're off to a mostly strong start thanks to their Week 2 win at Arkansas in which they held the Razorbacks to seven points. Last week was a bit bumpier, though, as they were nearly even with SMU for three quarters before pulling away. So which TCU defense shows up?
Oklahoma State is as explosive as any team in the country, with Mason Rudolph throwing to the nation's best receiving corps and handing the ball off to a stellar tailback in Justice Hill. The Cowboys scored 49 first-half points at Pitt last week, and Rudolph has already passed for 1,135 yards and 11 touchdowns in three blowout wins. TCU has the weapons on offense and the ability on defense to challenge Oklahoma State as much as anybody left on the Cowboys' schedule with the exception of Oklahoma. But Rudolph is the far more consistent quarterback than TCU's Kenny Hill, who faces a difficult road challenge in Stillwater, where TCU has lost by double digits in each of its three Big 12 trips.
Pick: Oklahoma State 40, TCU 28
No. 1 Alabama at Vanderbilt
3:30 p.m., CBS
There's no doubt that this has become a more challenging cross-division draw for Alabama than Vanderbilt would typically be. The Commodores are 3-0 with a nasty defense coming off a 14-7 win over Kansas State. They've allowed 13 points in three games, and they have made strides on offense with QB Kyle Shurmur, although standout RB Ralph Webb is off to a slow start. Of course, Alabama hasn't lost to Vandy since 1984, and Alabama maintains a massive talent advantage over the Commodores. Vandy will challenge an Alabama offense that still needs to diversify its passing game -- Calvin Ridley is on the receiving end of seemingly every Jalen Hurts completion -- but Alabama's offense is far more likely to move the ball than Vandy's in this matchup.
Pick: Alabama 31, Vanderbilt 10
No. 5 USC at California
3:30 p.m., ABC
It's a matchup that screams trap. Consider the situation for USC: The Trojans blew out Stanford, then beat Texas in a physical, high-profile double-OT game. Next week, they lose a day of preparation and play at Washington State on Friday. Now consider the state of Cal: Little was expected of the Golden Bears, but the Justin Wilcox era is off to an excellent start, with a road win at North Carolina and a home win over Ole Miss in which the Bears shut out the Rebels in the second half. Both UNC and Ole Miss have problems, but those are big wins for Cal. Now, it welcomes the Trojans to Berkeley in a game that would be easy to overlook, squeezed into the middle of a difficult run of games for USC.
USC is the clear-cut better team. It has a fantastic backfield featuring QB Sam Darnold and RBs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr, and it is also far more talented on defense. However, given the situation, and given that USC has some lingering injury concerns, don't be surprised if the Golden Bears at least give the Trojans a scare.
Pick: USC 33, California 27
No. 8 Michigan at Purdue
4 p.m., Fox
After a 2-1 start -- close loss to Louisville, blowout wins over Ohio and Missouri -- Purdue has gotten more positive attention in three weeks than it did in all of the Darrell Hazell era. It deserves it, too, having made an exceptional hire in Jeff Brohm, who has instantly made the Boilermakers fun and competitive again to where they'll challenge for their first bowl bid since 2012. Does that mean Purdue is capable of pulling off an upset of Michigan? Let's not go that far. It's true that Michigan's offense has significant questions, as it has struggled in the red zone, is inconsistent in the passing game and just lost leading receiver Tarik Black to an injury. But Michigan still has an outstanding defense that is easily the best Purdue has seen so far this season. The Wolverines, led by an excellent D-line, have allowed a total of 624 yards and three offensive touchdowns in three games. Purdue is clearly improved, but not enough to beat a team like this just yet.
Pick: Michigan 33, Purdue 17
Boston College at No. 2 Clemson
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Clemson ended up allowing 433 total yards to Louisville last week, but it was a misleading number. The Tigers contained Lamar Jackson when they needed to and led 33-7 entering the fourth quarter of a dominant victory. This came after they sacked Auburn 11 times and held it to six points. So, beyond the possibility of a Clemson letdown after two big wins, this is the scariest of matchups for yet another struggling Boston College offense. The Eagles rank 127th in yards per play, and they've been blown out by Wake Forest and Notre Dame the past two weeks. This is a total mismatch in which it may only be closer than expected because of its position on the Clemson schedule: after the Auburn and Louisville wins and before next week's prime-time showdown at Virginia Tech.
Pick: Clemson 31, Boston College 13
Toledo at No. 14 Miami
3:30 p.m., ACC Network regional
After the cancellation of a trip to Arkansas State and the postponement of a trip to Florida State, Miami returns to the field for its first game against an FBS opponent this season (it crushed Bethune-Cookman in Week 1). The Hurricanes spent time practicing in Orlando, and they'll return to game action against a tough opponent in Toledo. The 3-0 Rockets won a wild game against Tulsa on a last-second field goal last week. They own one of the most potent Group of Five offenses, led by prolific QB Logan Woodside, and they'll push Miami after its long layoff. With that said, although we don't really know what to expect from Miami QB Malik Rosier yet, Miami is still owner of an outstanding defense, particularly in the front seven. Toledo is the MAC favorite, but it won't see another defense like this.
Pick: Miami 35, Toledo 24
UCF at Maryland
3 p.m., FS1
It's quietly intriguing matchup between two teams that lead the nation in scoring per game … but have played a combined three games. UCF scored 61 on FIU in its opener before its past two games weren't played. Maryland put up 51 on Texas and 63 on Towson before having an off week. These two teams met in Orlando last year, with Maryland winning 30-24 in double-OT. Both teams are built a bit differently now in Year 2 under their respective coaches, with UCF expected to be more explosive on offense under Scott Frost and Maryland boasting some intriguing offensive players like big-play tailback Ty Johnson and freshman quarterback Kasim Hill. It's been a while since we've seen either of these teams, but it makes for an enticing game that could go down to the wire like a year ago, only with more fireworks from better offenses.
Pick: Maryland 38, UCF 34
Duke at North Carolina
3:30 p.m., ESPNU
After winning just one time in 21 years in the football rivalry, Duke has taken three of the past five matchups with North Carolina. That includes a surprising 28-27 win last year, the Blue Devils' only ACC victory all season. Rising star Duke QB Daniel Jones is coming off a rough game against Baylor, but the Blue Devils still won by two TDs to move to 3-0 with wins over the Bears and Northwestern in nonconference play. Most impressive has been the unexpected dominance of the Duke defense, which has allowed just 4.1 yards per play thus far. Not that Duke should be overconfident here. After a brutal start in which it still lost to Cal and Louisville by only one possession each, Chazz Surratt is emerging as the clear go-to quarterback for the Tar Heels over LSU transfer Brandon Harris. Duke has been the better team so far this season, but if UNC's passing game continues to progress, it's capable of turning the tables in the rivalry at home.
Pick: North Carolina 34, Duke 31
Wake Forest at Appalachian State
3:30 p.m., ESPN3
Ordinarily, Wake Forest-Appalachian State wouldn't be a game that would be previewed in this space, but I feel compelled to give the Demon Deacons credit: They are 3-0 and have scored 131 points in three blowout wins over Presbyterian, Boston College and Utah State. Keep in mind that Wake Forest hasn't averaged more than 20.4 points per game in a season since 2011. Things, however, get so much tougher soon with Florida State and Clemson up next for Wake Forest. First, it must survive a difficult road trap against the Sun Belt favorites.
Pick: Wake Forest 31, Appalachian State 24
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Saturday Prime Time
No. 17 Mississippi State at No. 11 Georgia
7 p.m., ESPN
Georgia's home schedule looked abysmal entering the season -- Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky -- but at least this is shaping up to be a big game after Mississippi State crushed LSU by 30 last Saturday. Both teams are 3-0, and both teams have hopes of being the best non-Alabama team in the SEC. As I wrote earlier this week, this is an enormous opportunity for Georgia. The past two years, it has been embarrassed by its rotating cross-division opponent: Alabama in 2015, then Ole Miss last year. This is a big game as Georgia seeks to establish itself as the favorite in a winnable SEC East.
Mississippi State hasn't defeated Georgia in Athens since 1956, and it brings a fantastic backfield featuring running QB Nick Fitzgerald and RB Aeris Williams, plus a defense that looks better than expected under new coordinator Todd Grantham. Is that enough for Mississippi State to follow up last week's big home win with a tough road win at Sanford Stadium? Georgia has one of the most experienced defenses in the country, led by a fantastic linebacking corps, and it played a great game in the one-point win at Notre Dame in which it stopped a Fighting Irish ground attack that has otherwise been excellent. This is a tough matchup for Fitzgerald, and a big test for Georgia freshman QB Jake Fromm, who is likely to make his third start, although Jacob Eason is getting close to a return from a sprained knee. Georgia's defense can win this game as long as the offensive line holds up in front of the young QB to prevent too many mistakes.
Pick: Georgia 27, Mississippi State 21
No. 4 Penn State at Iowa
7:30 p.m., ABC
Last November, amid its stunning breakthrough in the second half of the season, Penn State pulverized Iowa in a Happy Valley night game, winning 41-14 and more than doubling up the Hawkeyes' total yardage. A week later, Iowa shocked the college football world by spoiling Michigan's perfect season with a 14-13 upset that changed the Big Ten race and opened the door for a Nittany Lions title. Iowa helped Penn State last year, but Nittany Lions fans are well aware of the dangers of Kinnick Stadium. After all, Iowa also beat an undefeated Penn State with a late field goal at home in November 2008.
The Hawkeyes play good defense, run the ball well and are more than capable of grinding out home upsets. So can they do it against this Penn State team? Iowa has been uneven thus far, shutting down Wyoming, escaping Iowa State in overtime and pulling away from North Texas after a slow start. It's safe to say that Penn State offers a far different challenge, given the explosiveness of its offense. Led by Heisman candidate tailback Saquon Barkley, Penn State has out-scored Akron, Pitt and Georgia State 141-14, giving up just one touchdown in three games. Not everything has gone smoothly on offense, but Penn State has done what was expected of it in three nonconference home games. The Nittany Lions will put stress on Iowa's new-look secondary like nobody else this season, and, of course, Barkley is always a threat to make big plays.
Fortunately for Iowa, Akrum Wadley is OK after an injury last week, but the Hawkeyes will be without injured Nevada grad transfer James Butler and can't match Penn State's firepower, even if the prime-time atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium is a daunting first road trip for the Lions.
Pick: Penn State 31, Iowa 23
Notre Dame at Michigan State
8 p.m., Fox
Last September, No. 12 Michigan State beat No. 18 Notre Dame 36-28, in a game it led by as much as 29. Nobody knew how bad Texas would be, and thus nobody thought that Notre Dame would collapse after losing to Texas. Thus, everybody wrote about how amazing it was that Mark Dantonio and Michigan State reloaded, again, and looked like a Big Ten contender, again. Oops. A lot was made about Notre Dame going 4-8 last year. Michigan State did even worse, winning only one more game to finish 3-9. A top-20 matchup actually featured teams with a combined 7-17 record, making it one of the most meaningless big games of the year.
This year, Notre Dame has lost by a point to Georgia and crushed Temple and Boston College. In the two wins, it was led by a dominant running game featuring a stellar offensive line performance and he running of QB Brandon Wimbush and RB Josh Adams. Michigan State is 2-0 with nondescript wins over Bowling Green (35-10) and Western Michigan (28-14). With a young roster coming off a tumultuous offseason, Michigan State is still the same mystery that it was in the preseason. This is still a rivalry game being played in prime time, and in that respect it will feel like a big game. But college football writers will also surely be much more cautious drawing any big-picture conclusions this time.
Pick: Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 24
No. 20 Florida at Kentucky
7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Florida is coming off a big rivalry win over Tennessee, but it wasn't exactly convincing, as it was filled with sloppy play and lackluster offense until the fourth quarter and, especially, the final prayer from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland for the win. The warranted skepticism about Florida continues as the Gators deal with the lingering suspensions to WR Antonio Callaway, RB Jordan Scarlett and others. Injuries are also an issue, with CB Duke Dawson unlikely to play. All of this, combined with Kentucky's 3-0 record, has made Florida just a 1 ½-point favorite at Commonwealth Stadium. That's particularly notable because Kentucky has not defeated Florida since 1986, a streak of 30 straight Gators victories.
Kentucky is coming off a stellar SEC East road win over South Carolina, but the question here is whether the Wildcats offense -- which has been underwhelming despite the team's record -- can actually move the ball against this Florida defense. Kentucky has scored more than 14 points in only one of the past nine games in this series.
Pick: Florida 19, Kentucky 13
No. 22 San Diego State at Air Force
7 p.m., CBSSN
San Diego State quietly joins the list of unbeaten teams going on the road for tricky matchups. Coming off the emotional highs of wins over Arizona State and Stanford from the Pac-12, San Diego State has to go on the road to meet Air Force, which blew out VMI in Week 1 and lost to Michigan 29-13 in Week 3. The biggest issue for the Falcons is how new their defense is with just one starter back. They did play fairly well at Michigan, but the Aztecs provide a formidable challenge, given their ability to line up and run the ball at will with breakout star Rashaad Penny, who has a national-high 588 rushing yards. This is nevertheless a tough spot where a letdown is firmly on the table. Don't be shocked if Air Force takes advantage and pulls off the upset.
Pick: Air Force 24, San Diego State 23
No. 15 Auburn at Missouri
7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Auburn's new offense, featuring new coordinator Chip Lindsey and QB Jarrett Stidham, has not come close to matching the offseason hype. The Tigers scored six points and allowed 11 sacks at Clemson, then committed five turnovers in a sloppy win over Mercer. The good news for Auburn? Missouri has had it a whole lot worse. After a bizarre 72-43 win over Missouri State, an FCS team, Missouri has been awful on offense in back-to-back games at home, losing 31-13 to South Carolina and 35-3 to Purdue. The offense managed only 3.9 yards per play against the Boilermakers, and while it is still capable of putting together scoring spurts, it's hard to imagine it'll come against this talented Auburn defense.
Pick: Auburn 34, Missouri 17
No. 3 Oklahoma at Baylor
6:30 p.m., FS1
The Lincoln Riley and Matt Rhule eras have gotten off to opposite starts. Oklahoma is 3-0, owner of one of the season's biggest wins by going into Columbus and beating Ohio State. Baylor is 0-3, losing to Liberty, UTSA and Duke. Obviously, Riley stepped into a much more favorable situation, getting promoted from offensive coordinator to lead a team with a Heisman candidate QB in Baker Mayfield, the nation's best offensive line and a defense with enough returning talent to turn things around after a subpar 2016. Rhule, meanwhile, has to rebuild Baylor, which has perilously thin depth in some places and is undergoing a schematic transformation. Help is on the way for Baylor with RB Terence Williams returning from an injury, but Baylor just doesn't have the depth and experience to match up with the Sooners right now.
Pick: Oklahoma 42, Baylor 17
Syracuse at No. 25 LSU
7 p.m., ESPN2
After losing by 30 to Mississippi State last week, at least LSU got some good news late this week: Star running back Derrius Guice was declared ready to play after initially being ruled out for the game with an injury. Although Syracuse is a Power Five nonconference opponent, this is a good opportunity for LSU to rebound. The Orange are likely to make strides forward in Dino Babers' second season, but they lost to Middle Tennessee at home in Week 2 and aren't ready to beat a team with the talent and athleticism of LSU in Death Valley. Expect the Tigers to bounce back, even if Guice doesn't get a full load of touches.
Pick: LSU 34, Syracuse 20
Nevada at No. 18 Washington State
6 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Jay Norvell's first season at Nevada started off with expected losses to Northwestern, a Big Ten team, and Toledo, one of the strongest Group of Five teams. Last Saturday was much harder to take: a 30-28 defeat at the hands of Idaho State, an FCS team that lost to Utah State by 38 the previous game and went 2-9 last year. There is a coaching storyline here, as Mike Leach helped develop the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme, whose son, Matt, has installed an Air Raid attack at Nevada. It's safe to say that Washington State's mastery of the Air Raid behind Leach and QB Luke Falk is far more advanced than the Wolf Pack's.
Pick: Washington State 45, Nevada 21
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Saturday Late Night
No. 7 Washington at Colorado
10 p.m., FS1
A backloaded schedule put Washington under the radar early this season despite its status as the defending Pac-12 champion and a playoff contender. The Huskies won sloppily at Rutgers, then easily beat Montana and Fresno State. Now comes their first real test: a rematch of the Pac-12 title game, on the road at Colorado. The Huskies won that championship matchup easily last December, rolling to a 41-10 win behind a dominant defensive effort. Despite losing most of its defense, Colorado has played well early in the season, particularly in allowing three points to Colorado State in an opening victory.
The Huskies didn't play particularly well at the line of scrimmage against Rutgers, and with a veteran offensive line and a stellar defense, Colorado is capable of putting up a fight on its home field, in Washington's biggest game of the first half of the season. Although this is a challenge for the Huskies, keep in mind that Jake Browning wasn't 100 percent for last year's game, and Washington still won easily. Washington is the more complete, more talented team, with a better passer at quarterback.
Pick: Washington 34, Colorado 20
UCLA at Stanford
10:30 p.m., ESPN
Last week was rough for both teams, greatly diminishing the national attention devoted to this matchup. After losing to USC, Stanford went on the road and lost to San Diego State to fall to 1-2. And two weeks after pulling off a comeback for the ages against Texas A&M, UCLA lost to Memphis on the road. Both teams lost to Group of Five major bowl contenders, and now they have to regroup against each other. It's a series that Stanford has owned, winning nine games in a row. It's still difficult to know what to believe about either team, as Stanford hasn't lived up to its preseason billing and UCLA is far too dependent on the arm of standout quarterback Josh Rosen. Stanford, however, is at home, and recent history has provided no reason to pick against David Shaw in a matchup with Jim Mora.
Pick: Stanford 27, UCLA 24
No. 24 Oregon at Arizona State
10 p.m., Pac-12 Network
After holding on to beat Nebraska and shutting down Josh Allen and Wyoming, Oregon is 3-0, only one win away from tying last year's win mark. The defense may still be a mystery, but it's safe to say that the Ducks are going to exceed what they did last year. They're going to be better on defense, and they have an explosive offense that, despite getting shut out in the second half of that Nebraska game, has averaged 56 points per game. Sophomore QB Justin Herbert has averaged over 10 yards per pass attempt, and senior RB Royce Freeman continues to be a star with 569 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. In the past two weeks, Arizona State's defense has allowed 216 rushing yards to San Diego State's Rashaad Penny and 543 passing yards to Texas Tech's Nic Shimonek. Believe it or not, it's easier to have confidence in the Ducks defense getting stops in this one.
Pick: Oregon 49, Arizona State 34