Week 4 of the college football season is the unofficial kickoff of conference play, which means one thing: It’s about to get real.
There have been some conference games played already this season, sure, but the upcoming gameweek features four matchups of Top 25 in-conferences foes and many more that should have teams on upset alert.
Here’s a complete look at the Top 25 and Week 4’s slate, with the Odds Shark-reported spreads and a look at some key matchups that will shape the narratives of Saturday’s action.
Top Games to Watch
Wisconsin at Michigan State
After the most recent round of action, it feels like the Big Ten is still very much Ohio State vs. everyone else. The Buckeyes rolled the Oklahoma Sooners on the road in a way that should make everyone sit up and take notice.
But it’s a long season. The Buckeyes are still a young team, and this could be a game that decides who would be in the line for the Big Ten title should such a fledgling outfit falter as the season goes on.
Both Wisconsin and Michigan State have made statements in non-conference play. The Badgers opened up the season with a 16-14 win over LSU, while the Spartans defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 36-28.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it seems like a year ago that they beat the Tigers. That’s what only beating the Georgia State Panthers by six points at home will do to a team.
For a team that’s rolling into Week 4 with a 3-0 record and a win over an SEC opponent, the Badgers still have a lot of questions. Those questions start under center.
In three games as the starter this season, Bart Houston has amassed just 527 yards on the season with two touchdowns and two interceptions and a 62 percent completion percentage.
As usual, the Badgers are going to do most of their damage on the ground, but they must find a quarterback who can make plays for them to reach their ceiling this season.
All indications are that the quarterback who could do that might just be Alex Hornibrook. The freshman has come in for Houston twice this season, including the second half of the game against Georgia State. In those two relief appearances, he has two touchdowns and one interception on 13-of-17 passing for 183 yards.
While Hornibrook may have accidentally let it slip he’s going to start, head coach Paul Chryst has essentially reopened the quarterback competition, per Jesse Temple of ESPN.com:
I told both kids, have actually told them this every week, they need to have a great week of preparation. I thought Alex did some good things in really the two games that he’s played in, and I think Bart’s done some really good things. So for us to be the best team we can be, we’re going to need them both.
Hornibrook might be the jolt this Wisconsin offense needs to move from the equivalent of a tractor with the governor stuck at no more than 10 miles per hour, but a quarterback controversy isn’t something you want leading into a Top 25 matchup against a conference team.
Michigan State looked much better than expected against Notre Dame, their season-opening struggles against Furman appearing to have been adjusted.
Prediction: Michigan State 28, Wisconsin 17
Florida at Tennessee
The Tennessee-Florida rivalry hasn’t been a balanced one over the course of the last decade.
Even in the darkest of times in the Will Muschamp era, the Gators have found satisfaction in beating Tennessee. As the video below notes, Florida has won the last 11 meetings between the two schools. The last time Tennessee won, Ciara was actually known for making music and not being Russell Wilson’s wife.
But if ever there were a year for the Volunteers to change their luck against the Gators it would appear to be this one. They get their rivals at home and are a touchdown favorite.
However, things won’t be easy. As the video notes, the Volunteers have relied heavily on the ground game. The Vols have averaged 43 run attempts per game. What the video doesn’t mention, which is even more concerning, is that those attempts haven’t been efficient.
Butch Jones’ squad is averaging just 4.3 yards per carry, which is good for 73rd in the nation. That’s not good against a defense in Florida that is surrendering a national-best 1.3 yards per carry.
There is some good news for Tennessee, though. Quarterback Luke Del Rio—who was off to a great start this season—won’t play, according to Mark Long of the Associated Press. In his stead will be Austin Appleby, a transfer from Purdue with 19 career touchdowns and 19 career interceptions.
Any time your defense can go against a Purdue quarterback not named Drew Brees, it’s a generally positive thing.
Still, the absence of Del Rio makes it even more likely that this will be a physical, defensive game that gets settled on the ground.
That’s a game that favors the Gators, even on the road.
Prediction: Florida 17, Tennessee 13
Arkansas at Texas A&M
Speaking of games that are going to be physical affairs, the SEC provides another battle of ranked conference foes when Arkansas travels to face Texas A&M on Saturday night.
Yes, the Aggies are known for electrifying offense, but it’s the defense that has looked impressive this season and has them off to a great start.
Kevin Sumlin’s team is 20th in the country in passing yards allowed per attempt, 33rd in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 3.2 yards and 15th in scoring defense, surrendering just 13.7 points per contest. Those numbers aren’t surprising when one considers the talent the Aggies have in the front seven, led by Myles Garrett at defensive end.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller recently moved the dominant pass-rusher to the top of his draft board:
The Aggies will need that defense when Arkansas comes to town. The Razorbacks offense is in the middle of the road statistically, but the defense isn’t too far behind A&M.
The Hogs only surrender 3.6 yards per carry and rank 26th in passing yards per attempt at 5.8.
That’ll be important, as A&M’s passing attack hasn’t taken off like one would expect from a Sumlin offense. It ranks 86th in yards per attempt, while the ground game has had much more success at 6.13 yards per game.
It’ll be tough sledding for both offenses, but its clear the Aggies are the ones with the only potent area of offense in the rushing attack.
It’s not enough to make this a blowout or be confident in them getting any breathing room, but it should be enough to pull off the close win.
Prediction: Texas A&M 21, Arkansas 17
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Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News