Another spectacular lineup of games is on the college football Week 4 schedule.
Starting Thursday night with a huge test for one of the nation’s best teams and ending with an SEC battle of undefeateds, the upcoming slate of games should provide plenty of drama and excitement for football fans around the nation.
These are the biggest storylines heading into college football Week 4.
1. Deshaun Watson’s first test against excellent Georgia Tech defense
Muddling through the first two games of the season against weak opponents, Deshaun Watson and the No. 5-ranked Clemson Tigers finally broke out with a dominant win at home against South Carolina State last Saturday.
The level of competition ramps up significantly this week, however. On short rest, the Tigers are heading to Atlanta for a meeting with Georgia Tech. Clemson has not won at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 2003 (five consecutive losses).
The Yellow Jackets have quite the potent stinger of a defense, so Watson needs to be razor sharp in this, a homecoming game for him as a Georgia native. It’s been quite a down season for him so far after his breakout 2015 campaign.
He played briefly the last time Clemson faced its rival in Georgia. Unfortunately a knee injury forced him out of the game.
“I have flashbacks about that play,” Watson said Monday, per TheState.com. “I just remember pretty much that whole morning from warmups to getting ready to play, coming back from a hand injury and being excited to play and then that first quarter going down. Of course it’s going to pop up in my mind, but it won’t be anything too serious.”
Georgia Tech hasn’t faced a top offense yet this year. But so far the Yellow Jackets rank No. 7 in the nation allowing just 10.3 points per game and No. 37 in yards allowed.
If Clemson isn’t firing on all cylinders Thursday night, we could have an early upset on our hands.
2. Can a quarterback change spark USC turnaround against Utah?
It took three games for USC head coach Clay Helton to figure out Max Browne isn’t the right guy to lead the offense. During that stretch, the Trojans were pummeled by No. 1 Alabama and were pounded into submission by No. 7 Stanford. Now at 1-2, it’s time to make a change, as Browne’s uninspiring performances were a part of the problem.
“He is not the reason we are 1-2. He is not the scapegoat here,” Helton said of Browne. “But the realism of football is when you are 1-2 and you’ve scored one touchdown against Alabama and Stanford, I wanted to see a spark in our offense, and I hope that Sam can bring that.”
Next man up is freshman Sam Darnold, who has more upside but who is also a raw product.
The Trojans face another big test on Friday when they take on No. 24 Utah in Salt Lake City. The Utes feature the nation’s No. 9-ranked scoring defense, so USC fans might want to brace for another rough game.
3. Can Ole Miss stop its free fall against Georgia?
It’s quite remarkable that Ole Miss (No. 23) is still counted among the ranked teams in the nation after dropping two of its first three games this year. Of course, the Rebels did put up quite the fight against both Florida State and Alabama, losing by a combined 16 points.
At home this weekend, it’s do or die time against another SEC powerhouse in No. 12 Georgia.
We’re going to see quite a contrast in styles in this one. The Bulldogs will attack Ole Miss’ defensive front seven with a relentless run game. It is led by Nick Chubb, who looks as good as ever after tearing ligaments in his knee last year.
On the other side, Ole Miss features a high-flying aerial assault led by quarterback Chad Kelly. The gunslinger has the frustrating knack of throwing the ball to the other team, but he also tends to make spectacular plays on a regular basis.
The Rebels cannot afford to lose this game. Falling into a 1-3 hole would doom their already razor think playoff hopes. Georgia presents quite a challenge, however, and the game could go down to the wire.
4. Upset special when FSU visits South Florida?
Florida State (No. 13) was humiliated at home last week when Louisville (No. 3) stomped the Seminoles 63-20. Lamar Jackson and Co. were too hot to handle, and the methodical offensive attack of FSU just couldn’t keep pace.
Dalvin Cook, Deondre Francois and the Seminoles offense faces a similar test this weekend on the road against South Florida. The Bulls feature a potent offense that averages 50 points per game so far this season.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher knows what’s at stake and is eager to see how his program responds to being punched in the gut.
“Be a very big test for us to see how we want to respond, how we want to react, who we’re going to be, who are we, and what are we going to do,” Fisher said, via Stats LLC.
The Bulls are undefeated. They’re at home, and Florida State is limping into this one. Keep your eye out for a potential upset special here.
5. Big Ten slugfest when Wisconsin takes on Michigan State
Michigan State (No. 8) is hosting Wisconsin (No. 12) Saturday. Given the way these two teams have won this year so far, nobody should be surprised if the final score is something akin to 13-12.
Featuring brutish offensive lines, stout defensive front sevens and strong rushing attacks, these teams mirror one another in many ways. Both have knocked off heavyweights to this point in the season. Wisconsin gave LSU the business in Week 1, and Michigan State did the same to Notre Dame last weekend.
The one twist that could potentially tip the scales is that Wisconsin will reportedly start Alex Hornibrook instead of Bart Houston after Hornibrook’s outstanding second-half performance in Week 3.
The Spartans playing at home should have an edge in this one. The program is rock steady, full of veteran leadership and always features an excellent game plan.
The key will be whether or not Gerald Holmes and LJ Scott can make hay against Wisconsin’s ridiculous run defense. If they do get free and make some huge plays on the ground, Michigan State will pull away in the second half.
6. SEC heavyweights collide when Florida travels to Tennessee
The Florida Gators (No. 19) have beaten the Tennessee Volunteers (No. 14) 11 straight times, including a one-point victory last year.
A significant issue stands in the way of a 12th straight win, however. Starting quarterback, Luke Del Rio, won’t play Saturday after taking a shot to his leg last weekend. In his stead, Austin Appleby will attempt to keep the offense afloat.
Tennessee has underwhelmed this season after starting the campaign ranked No. 9 in the nation. While the Vols have won all three games thus far, two out of three were narrow victories against teams that had no business staying close to begin with.
Needless to say, this one is impossible to call.
The one thing we do know is that the rivalry remains fierce, so we expect some serious hitting to go down. Buckle up your chinstraps, boys. This one could get ugly.
7. Can Auburn finally knock off a ranked team?
Competitive losses to Clemson and Texas A&M have to be counted as moral victories for this Tigers team, but 1-2 never feels good. Head coach Gus Malzahn discussed the team’s poor start and assigned blame to himself on Tuesday.
'I fully understand the fan base is disappointed… We're close, real close' to turning it around, says Auburn's Gus Malzahn. Watch video. pic.twitter.com/Jisx8lfCZQ
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) September 20, 2016
Up next for Malzahn’s program is another powerhouse in LSU, which also felt the sting of an early loss and has some serious work to do in order to climb up the polls.
Auburn has generally been mediocre against the run, and Leonard Fournette is coming to town. This could be a recipe for disaster. He gashed the Tigers for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
Shutting down Fournette is the biggest key for Auburn, which can snap a seven-game losing streak to Power 5 schools at home should the defense make critical stops.
Of course, it would also help if Malzahn’s signature offensive game plan ever got some traction this year.
8. Will we see 90-plus points when Oklahoma State plays Baylor?
It might be a bit optimistic to expect 90 points to be scored by these Big 12 schools, but they’re surely capable.
Both are averaging 43.3 points per game, with the biggest difference being Baylor has shut down opponents to the tune of just 10 points per contest.
But you get Mason Rudolph and Seth Russell on the same field and offensive magic is certainly capable of breaking out.
Baylor has a two-game winning streak in the series and has won three out of four. The Bears also haven’t come close to losing a game this year, winning by an average margin of nearly 35 points.
The Cowboys were victimized by the ineptitude of a referee crew in their only loss of the season, though. Realistically, they should be undefeated heading into Week 4.
It should be quite a battle Saturday evening in Waco.
9. Stars collide in Southern California
It should be quite an entertaining matchup when Stanford (No. 7) travels to Southern California to play against Pac 12 rival UCLA.
The obvious attraction here is that viewers will get the treat of watching two of the most exciting offensive players in the nation.
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is practically a one-man wrecking crew (watch him work here).
On the other side, UCLA’s Josh Rosen has an NFL arm and an unflinching attitude that serves him well going up against top teams.
Based on recent history, this could be quite a lopsided game overall. Stanford has won eight straight games, and it beat UCLA by an average of almost 19 points the last three meetings.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s always fun watching McCaffrey go to work, and Rosen can sling it with the best of them.
10. SEC West positioning at stake when Arkansas battles Texas A&M
This is an intriguing matchup between a couple of dynamic, rising SEC powers. The game is receiving prime-time treatment at a prime location, AT&T Statium in Arlington, Texas.
The winning team will be in prime position to chase Alabama in the SEC West, while the loser will be looking at a serious uphill climb.
Arkansas is a surprise 3-0 team at this point, having outlasted TCU in an entertaining double-overtime shootout in Week 2 in which Austin Allen willed himself to a game-winning touchdown. Texas A&M’s big achievement to this point was taking down Rosen and the Bruins in Week 1, thanks to a relentless pass rush and the clutch play by quarterback Trevor Knight in overtime.
One key player to watch in this game will be Myles Garrett going up against Arkansas’ tough offensive line. If he can get pressure on Allen and disrupt running plays on a regular basis, the Aggies will have a huge leg up.
Arkansas wants to control the pace of play. If the Razorbacks can get their running game going with Rawleigh Williams III, chew up the clock and sustain long drives, then they have a leg up.
If that doesn’t happen, look for Knight and his deep crew of receivers to gain momentum as the game wears on.