Week 4 of the 2018 college football season features a few ranked matchups. Before the meat of the conference slate gets underway, though, it’s important for the top-tier teams to survive potential pitfalls.
Some of this week’s top tilts are of the in-conference variety, though. Several of the best young quarterbacks have major challenges ahead, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they respond.
Read on to find out more about the most compelling Week 4 matchups across NCAA football.
Florida Atlantic at No. 16 UCF
The Knights have responded to an undefeated season and a coaching change by winning their first two out of the gates in 2018. McKenzie Milton is still the catalyst for the offense, a dual-threat quarterback who’s continuing to play at a high level.
One of the ways the Owls can counter UCF’s Milton-led attack is by pounding the rock with accomplished running back Devin Singletary.
In coach Lane Kiffin’s maiden campaign in 2017, Singletary scampered for 32 touchdowns — and has already found the end zone seven times in three contests this year. Five of those scores came in Week 3’s win over Bethune-Cookman.
Although UCF is a considerably tougher adversary, look for Singletary’s production to dictate the outcome of this showdown.
No. 17 TCU at Texas
After losing to Ohio State last week, it doesn’t get too much easier for the Horned Frogs. They’ll be facing a Texas team that has recovered well since losing its opener to Maryland.
The Longhorns are showing signs of life on offense in a 37-14 statement win over USC, suggesting perhaps greater things are on the horizon.
After surrendering two touchdowns due to Ohio State defensive scores, however, you can bet TCU will be especially mindful of ball security. The Horned Frogs aren’t facing nearly as tough a defensive front and should be fired up enough to bounce back and steal this game on the road.
No. 14 Mississippi State at Kentucky
Benny Snell Jr. is no joke, but neither is fellow Wildcats running back Asim Rose. The sophomore has done well in his limited chances for Kentucky, with 17 carries, 146 yards and three scores. It also helps that signal-caller Terry Wilson is a capable runner himself.
But Mississippi State is quietly working itself into the playoff conversation despite the departure of prior coach Dan Mullen.
Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has eight total touchdowns in two starts, but it’ll be up to his defense to keep Kentucky’s explosive rushing attack at bay. Otherwise Mississippi State could be handed an upset even before its brutally tough stretch: three of its next six games are against top-10 opponents.
Arizona State at No. 10 Washington
This seems like a turning point game for both teams. San Diego State just handed the Sun Devils their first defeat in coach Herm Edwards’ inaugural season. The Huskies, meanwhile have dubious quarterback play from Jake Browning, who can ill afford to get into a shootout with Arizona State.
Washington’s defense has been stout thus far this year, particularly versus the run. However, Sun Devils receiver N’Keal Harry is one of the premier talents in the country at his position.
If Arizona State can strike early and stop Myles Gaskin on the ground, the Huskies may need to count on the tenured senior Browning to help them avoid a second early-season loss.
No. 18 Wisconsin at Iowa
The Hawkeyes give up 4.13 yards per carry, which isn’t a recipe for success against the physical, bruising Badgers. Led by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor and a powerful offensive line, Wisconsin can pound its opponents on the ground all day long.
But the Badgers’ playoff outlook took a serious hit this past Saturday when they lost to BYU at home. Taylor averages 6.6 yards per carry in his college career, yet was limited to 4.5 per tote on 26 carries in the loss.
It’s vital for Wisconsin to establish the run early and not put the ball in quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s hands too often. Hornibrook threw 15 interceptions last season and has two through three starts this year.
Jimbo Fisher vs. Nick Saban
Texas A&M moved into the AP top 25 at No. 22, but the Aggies aren’t likely to be ranked for long. Unless their new coach, Fisher, somehow pulls off an upset against his legendary Alabama counterpart.
After losing to Clemson by only two points in Week 2, there’s reason to believe Texas A&M can hang tough. What a tall order for Fisher to face two reigning playoff teams within the season’s first four games, though.
Saban has the advantage at the most important position with Heisman Trophy front-running quarterback Tua Tagovailoa under center. Compelling as the tactical chess match between the coaches will be, Tagovailoa tips the scales in the Crimson Tide’s favor.
Jake Fromm vs. Drew Lock
Second-ranked Georgia and Fromm will take on Lock’s Missouri team, which has an offense that’s firing on all cylinders. Lock has thrown 11 touchdowns to only one interception.
That said, Fromm may have a field day. The Tigers yielded a whopping 576 passing yards to Purdue’s David Blough in Week 3. If Mizzou’s secondary is that leaky, it stands no chance of winning — even at home.
But Lock is used to engaging in shootouts. He did enough last week to orchestrate a 40-37 victory and saw the Tigers finished 7-6 last season despite throwing for 44 touchdowns.
Bulldogs cornerback Deandre Baker will likely be a first-round NFL draft pick in 2019, so Lock needs his receiving corps, led by Emanuel Hall, to come up big if there’s any hope of an upset.
Justin Herbert vs. Stanford secondary
Arguably the most talented passer in all the land, Oregon’s Herbert has also shown spotty accuracy and a tendency for turnovers in the early going of 2018. The Cardinal are easily Herbert’s toughest opponent yet.
What’s more, Stanford has a perfect counter to the Ducks’ up-tempo attack in the form of reigning Heisman runner-up Bryce Love.
The electric ball-carrier is the driving force of the Cardinal offense, and can keep the ball out of Herbert’s hands, forcing him into obvious passing situations while playing from behind.
Three of Stanford’s four starters on the back end are experienced: Alijah Holder and Ben Edwards are seniors, and Frank Buncom IV is a redshirt junior. That could be the difference in Saturday’s contest in Eugene.
Stanley Morgan Jr. vs. Lavert Hill
As Nebraska searches for its first win, it’ll need some big plays out of its best receiver, Morgan, to get it done against Michigan’s top-flight defense. The Wolverines ranked first against the pass last season and still have Hill, a 2017 all-Big Ten selection.
A big wild card is whether or not Cornhuskers true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez will be healthy. Martinez had a promising debut in a close loss to Colorado but exited that contest with a knee injury. He is questionable for the upcoming showdown with Michigan.
If Martinez is in the lineup, Morgan may gain the upper hand on Hill. Otherwise, it could be a long day in the Big House for the Cornhuskers.