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Top storylines for college football Week 4

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The first quarter of the 2018 season has already come and gone, and with it, some early winners and losers have been established. Last weekend provided some huge upsets for fans to enjoy, and we could see more of the same in college football Week 4.

Now headed into the second quarter, it’s time for the contenders to really separate themselves from the pretenders.

These are the biggest storylines we’ll be focusing on this coming weekend.

FAU back in the spotlight against UCF

The last time we saw Florida Atlantic on the national stage, Lane Kiffin’s Owls were rudely awakened to the truth that the preseason hype truly was rat poison. Since being dismantled by Oklahoma, FAU has squeaked past Air Force and won big against Bethune-Cookman.

None of that inspires a ton of confidence that the Owls will be up to the task of giving Central Florida a run for its money on Friday night. The Knights have been dominant in both of their first two games and feature one of the most potent offenses in the nation.

If Kiffin’s Owls put up another stinker on a nationally televised Friday night game against UCF, then any talk of FAU finishing the season ranked among the top 25 should be put to rest for good.

How far down the rabbit hole will USC fall?

The USC Trojans opened the season as the No. 15-ranked team in the nation. But that preseason estimate was nothing more than a mirage. Quite aside from the fact that true freshman quarterback JT Daniels wasn’t ready for prime time when he was thrust into the starting role, the entire team is in disarray.

Since taking care of UNLV in Week 1, the Trojans have been utterly dominated on the road by both Stanford and Texas in consecutive weeks. Now they’re coming home again for a Pac-12 contest against Washington State, which has yet to lose a game this year.

Unless Daniels sharpens up his game in a big way, and/or the running game finally asserts itself as a dominant unit, we’re smelling another loss for USC. Washington State can put points up in bunches, and to this point we’re not convinced the Trojans can keep pace.

Can Drew Lock somehow take down the Dawgs?

Since the start of the new season, Georgia has quietly been the most dominant team in the nation besides Alabama. This is a team that’s won by an average score of 45-8, and it had little trouble dispatching a darn good South Carolina squad in Week 2.

The Bulldogs will be on the road in Week 4 for a battle against Missouri. The Tigers probably don’t have enough defensive firepower to shut down Georgia’s high-powered offense. So if they have any hope of pulling off a monumental upset on Saturday, it’s going to come down to whether Drew Lock can put together multiple successful touchdown-scoring drives.

Going against lesser competition this year, Lock has been phenomenal, averaging 354 yards and nearly four touchdowns per game. Emmanuel Hall will give the Bulldogs fits down the field. So if the Tigers can protect Lock, then perhaps the talented senior gunslinger can make a game out of it.

First road test for Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish have been barely skating by ever since their Week 1 win over Michigan. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has just one touchdown — on the ground, no less — and three interceptions in the two games since then, which Notre Dame won by a combined 13 points against Ball State and Vanderbilt.

Needless to say, this is a program that doesn’t appear to be as good as its No. 8 ranking. Now it’s time for the team’s first road test of the season after three home games to open up the campaign.

Featuring a balanced offense that averages 542 yards and 36 points per game, Wake Forest has the firepower to really push the Irish in this one. Wimbush cannot afford to have another one of his signature mistake-filled performances. If he does, then Notre Dame will lose unless its defense saves the day once again.

Nebraska staring 0-3 in the face against Michigan

Scott Frost was hired to bring new life to Nebraska’s football program. It’s early, but so far things have gone about as poorly as you could possibly imagine. Not only did the Cornhuskers get beaten by Colorado in Week 2, but they lost starting quarterback Adrian Martinez to a knee injury and then got embarrassed by Troy on national television in Week 3.

Martinez might be healthy enough to make it back in time for Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor against Michigan, but it might not matter. The Wolverines aren’t exactly lighting opposing defenses up these days, but their defense has stiffened up and Jim Harbaugh has them playing much better since the opening weekend.

Nebraska is going to need a perfect game to come out of this one with a win.

Another chance for TAMU to make a national statement 

The Texas A&M Aggies very nearly pulled off an upset over Clemson a couple weeks back. Their defense played inspired ball, and young quarterback Kellen Mond opened our eyes with a tremendous three-touchdown performance against a darn good Tigers defense.

It’s probably asking too much to hope for a similar outcome this Saturday when the Aggies head to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 1 team in the nation. Alabama has been dispatching opposing teams with ease so far this year, including an incredible show of force last Saturday against Ole Miss.

But if Jimbo Fisher’s team can at least keep this one close and gives itself a chance to make a late run, that will be a victory unto itself.

Huge Texas showdown between Horned Frogs and Longhorns

Fresh off a gut-check loss to Ohio State, the Horned Frogs are going to need a strong bounce-back performance against Texas on Saturday. The Longhorns are coming off a very impressive blowout win over USC in which all three phases of the game were running strong.

Texas is a slight home underdog for this one, but it’s clear these two teams are fairly evenly matched from a talent standpoint. In the end, it’s going to come down to execution from the two quarterbacks, who both have the tendency to get careless with the ball sometimes.

This will be the first conference game for both teams. For TCU, it’s pretty much a must-win game to ensure it remains among the ranked teams nationally. For Texas, this is an opportunity to prove it belongs among that same group.

Another chance for Kentucky to shock a powerhouse

Two weekends ago, Kentucky went into The Swamp and shocked the Florida Gators, breaking a streak that had lasted over three decades in the process. Now the Wildcats have a chance to once again take it to a big-time program when they host Mississippi State on Saturday.

The Bulldogs are rightly favored to win by 10 points. They feature a defense that gives up just 85 rushing yards and under nine points per game. That doesn’t bode well for a Kentucky offense that runs through running back Benny Snell Jr.

Kentucky’s defense will also be hard pressed to contain Nick Fitzgerald, Kylin Hill and Co. Mississippi State can win on the ground and through the air and averages an even 50 points per game.

Needless to say, a Kentucky win this weekend would be one of the biggest stunners of college football Week 4.

Barn burner extraordinaire at Boone Pickens Stadium

Do you love watching teams score points in a defense-optional game? We’ve got the ticket for you! Texas Tech and Oklahoma State average nearly 1,215 yards and 108 points per game between them.

They’ll be taking the field at the same time on Saturday when the Cowboys will host the Red Raiders at Boone Pickens Stadium, and we cannot wait for the fireworks to begin.

Freshman Alan Bowman broke a Big 12 record last weekend against Houston. He will need another sharp game to give Texas Tech a realistic chance to pull off the upset over a Cowboys team that showed plenty of pluck last weekend shutting down Boise State.

Underrated SEC East clash between Florida and Tennessee

There’s a high-stakes SEC battle taking place on Saturday that not many people are talking about. Florida and Tennessee will slug it out in Knoxville in a game that could have some impact on how things shake out in the conference later this year.

Florida has already lost one conference matchup this year and cannot afford to lose another if it has any hope of keeping itself in the race to unseat Georgia atop the SEC East. Tennessee has yet to play an SEC opponent but was humbled big time in Week 1 against West Virginia.

The Gators have a bit more offensive firepower but have a defense that is wide open to getting gashed on the ground. This means we could see Ty Chandler (he went off last weekend) and/or Tim Jordan have a field day for the Vols. With that in mind, we’re leaning toward the home team pulling out an upset victory over the Gators, who are favored to win by a slight margin.

Michigan State on upset alert once again

The last time the Spartans played, they were upset on the road by Arizona State, an outcome we foreshadowed in the lead-up to that weekend’s games. After taking a week off, Michigan State is once again hitting the road for a matchup that could spell trouble once again.

Michigan State’s defensive secondary has been one of the biggest disappointments in college football so far. And while the Hoosiers have been making hay rushing the football early this year, they do have some playmakers on the perimeter that can take advantage of the Spartans’ struggles at defending the pass.

On the other side, Brian Lewerke has been extremely underwhelming so far this season, and Indiana features the No. 8-ranked passing defense in the nation.

All that to say, the Spartans are officially on upset alert once again.

Pivotal Pac-12 contest between Stanford and Oregon

The Pac-12 North is a highly competitive division, with Stanford, Washington and Oregon all vying for the chance to make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game later this year.

Two of those teams — Stanford and Oregon — are about to crash into one another on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, and this game will have lasting ramifications about how things play out the rest of the year. Interestingly, both teams are somewhat limping into college football Week 4, especially both starting quarterbacks.

The Cardinal will attempt to dictate the pace of the game by controlling the clock with Bryce Love leading a strong ground game and a stout defense, while Oregon’s offense, led by Heisman candidate Justin Herbert, is built to put points on the board in bunches.

This strength-versus-strength battle between Stanford’s defense and Oregon’s offense should be a compelling one to follow. The game will be nationally televised on ABC, starting at 8 p.m. ET.

Badgers facing must-win road test against Iowa

Fresh off a massive upset loss at home to BYU, Wisconsin goes from the frying pan into the fire for a road game at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa. Beating a ranked team isn’t anything new for the Hawkeyes, who absolutely blasted Ohio State last year.

Jonathan Taylor was stunningly held in check for the most part last weekend against BYU. He’ll need a big-time performance from his offensive line to avoid suffering a similar fate this weekend, as the Hawkeyes feature the No. 3-ranked run defense in the nation and allow just 42 yards per game.

For most of his career, Alex Hornibrook hasn’t been a quarterback that can carry his team to victory. So it’s going to likely come down to whether Taylor and Co. can make hay against this Iowa defense and whether the Wisconsin defense can keep the Hawkeyes’ offense in check.

Should the Badgers lose again this weekend, it’s hard to imagine they’ll remain among the top-25 teams heading into Week 5.

ASU needs perfect game plan to avoid second-straight loss

After opening up the season 2-0, beating Michigan State in the process, there was some serious hype building for Herm Edwards’ program. Last weekend, however, the Sun Devils ran into a hype-busting wall in the form of San Diego State.

Arizona State went into Week 3 with the nation’s best run defense, allowing just 1.1 yards per carry. Then Juwan Washington wrecked that same defense to lead the Aztecs to victory. Things won’t get any easier this Saturday night in Seattle, as Myles Gaskins, coming off a 143-yard performance against Utah last weekend, is starting to heat up.

Washington’s defense is outstanding all around, as well. All that to say, it’s going to take nothing less than a perfect game plan, and perfect execution from the Sun Devils, to pull off the upset at Husky Stadium late Saturday night.