An early glance at Week 4
Three weeks of the 2014 college football season are in the books, and the path towards the inaugural College Football Playoff remains filled with many potential potholes for top contenders across the country.
Let's take a quick look at what could be in store for the best contests of Week 4.
Thursday, September 18
Auburn at Kansas State: The Wildcats' primetime clash with the Tigers will feature the Big 12’s third Top 5 non-conference opponent this season (West Virginia faced Alabama and Oklahoma State battled Florida State in the others in Week 1). So Bob Bowlsby's league will have another chance to claim a marquee early season win. Can K-State, which survived a road scare against Iowa State after allowing 28 consecutive points in one stretch of the first half, hang with Gus Malzahn's prolific offense?
Saturday, September 20
Bowling Green at Wisconsin: The Badgers host a Falcons squad that features an up-tempo offense that ran 113 plays (113!) in its 45-42 victory against Indiana last Saturday. The team averages 85 plays per game under first-year head coach Dino Babers, who of course coached under Art Briles at Baylor. Sound tackling in space is crucial for Badger defenders this weekend at Camp Randall.
Paul Johnson is trying to avoid his fifth straight loss to Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: Some of the luster is off of this ACC Coastal division game because of the Hokies' loss to East Carolina last week, although the Yellow Jackets haven't exactly impressed and are coming off of a four-point win over Georgia Southern. Paul Johnson's option offense has struggled against the Hokies in the past, and the Jackets are trying to avoid their fifth straight loss to VT. Last season Bud Foster's defense held GT's rushing offense to 129 yards on the ground.
Iowa at Pittsburgh: So much for the Hawkeyes being undefeated entering November. Kirk Ferentz's squad was held to just three points after halftime and fell to Iowa State last week, and now the Hawkeyes have the unenviable task of containing star Panthers running back James Conner, who has 544 rushing yards and broke Tony Dorsett's school record for most rushing yards in the first three games of a season.
Florida at Alabama: The Gators have a chance to assert themselves as legitimate SEC contenders once again when they battle the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. UF survived a triple overtime 36-30 win against an improved Kentucky squad last week, but the secondary gave up 369 yards to Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles. The good news is that Demarcus Robinson, who had 15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns against UK, emerged as a No. 1 receiving option for Jeff Driskel. But Alabama will be a much stiffer test. Blake Sims remains the Tide starter under center, but how much will Jake Coker play?
Virginia at BYU: Mike London has done a fantastic coaching job thus far for the Cavaliers, but their brutal early season stretch continues with a tough road game in Provo against a Cougars team that will be the third nationally ranked opponent Virginia has faced this season. Last season the Hoos beat BYU in very soggy conditions in Charlottesville, so Taysom Hill and Co. are looking for revenge.
North Carolina at East Carolina: Can the Pirates snag their second victory in a row over an ACC opponent? Last week, Ruffin McNeill's team went into Blacksburg and jumped on Virginia Tech early. Can ECU, which looks as if it's on a collision course with Cincinnati on November 13 for AAC supremacy and a possible Group of Five 'New Year's Six' bowl slot, stun another ACC squad?
Utah at Michigan: The up-tempo, high-scoring Utes come to Ann Arbor hoping to repeat their play in 2008, when quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 305 yards and beat the Wolverines 25-23 and spoiled Rich Rodriguez's debut. The Utes rank third nationally in scoring offense (57.5 ppg) and 14th in total offense (557.5 ypg), but their opponents were Idaho State and Fresno State. Michigan, meanwhile, leads the Big Ten in total defense at 252.7 yards per contest.
Mississippi State at LSU: The Tigers have not allowed a point since Wisconsin running back Corey Clement scored at the 12:24 mark of the third quarter in the season opener. Sure, the Bayou Bengals' last two games were against Sam Houston and Louisiana-Monroe, but this is still a nasty John Chavis-coached defense. Meanwhile, this is Dan Mullen's time to make a climb up the SEC West standings. Are his Bulldogs ready?
Oklahoma at West Virginia: The Mountaineers will be without starting cornerback Daryl Worley, who has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. That's a big loss for Dana Holgorsen's squad because Worley already has two interceptions on the season and possesses NFL talent. Meanwhile, Sooners top running back Keith Ford has a slight foot fracture and is likely to be out at least 2-3 weeks. OU coordinator Mike Stoops looks like he has a defensive unit that's reminiscent of some of those from his first stint in Norman, but the WVU offense looks rejuvenated after a rough 2013.
Clemson at Florida State: Last season, the Tigers were blown out at home despite having a veteran offense. It was obvious that Dabo Swinney's squad wasn't ready for the moment, as turnovers were a major issue and the team fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. This year, the defense is the veteran unit that will need to play well in order for the Tigers to have any chance at an upset. The wild card in this one could be Deshaun Watson, Clemson's prized freshman quarterback. Cole Stoudt is going to start, but Watson has led the team to five touchdowns on his six drives this year. His mobility will be needed against the Seminoles, and he has a strong arm as well. This is an ACC Atlantic division showcase game, though Clemson is a 19-point underdog.
Miami (FL) at Nebraska: The Hurricanes and the Cornhuskers battle in Lincoln in a throwback game as two former powers look to reclaim national supremacy. Talented Miami receiver Stacy Coley is questionable with a shoulder injury, while defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad was suspended for the season last week. Meanwhile, star Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah will go up against the No. 15 rushing defense in the country.
Other games to monitor on Saturday
Maryland at Syracuse
Rutgers at Navy
Northern Illinois at Arkansas
California at Arizona
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.