Conference play opens for many teams across the nation Saturday in Week 4 of the college football season. And two matchups of ranked teams will be played at neutral NFL stadiums.
No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (-6½) at Chicago, noon, Fox29
Jack Coan used to be the Badgers’ quarterback, but a foot injury sidelined him for the 2020 season. When Graham Mertz took over his spot, Coan transferred to Notre Dame, and now faces his old team at Soldier Field.
Coan has passed for 828 yards and eight touchdowns for the Fighting Irish (3-0). But his offensive line, which has lost four players to the NFL since last season, has been a sieve, allowing 14 sacks, tied for second-most in the country. Meanwhile, Mertz has not thrown a touchdown pass yet this season for the Badgers (1-1).
Wisconsin welcomes back linebacker Leo Chenal, one of its best players, who missed the first two games after testing positive for COVID-19.
The two teams were scheduled to play last season at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, but the game was postponed because of the pandemic.
Prediction: Wisconsin 21, Notre Dame 17
No. 7 Texas A&M (-4½) vs. No. 16 Arkansas at Arlington, Texas, 3:30 p.m., CBS3
The Aggies (3-0) enter this matchup of two of the founding members of the old Southwest Conference with an 11-game winning streak. Sophomore Zach Calzada will start his second career game at quarterback one week after passing for 275 yards and three touchdowns against New Mexico State in relief of the injured Haynes King.
A&M also boasts the nation’s top pass defense (77.3 yards per game), and that could mean trouble for the Razorbacks (3-0) and sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson. The Arkansas defense is pretty good in its own right; linebacker Bumper Pool and safety Jalen Catalon are the top two tackles in the SEC.
Prediction: Texas A&M 30, Arkansas 27
No. 9 Clemson (-9½) at North Carolina State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Will this finally be the week that the offense of the Tigers (2-1, 1-0 ACC) breaks out of its slump? They have scored 17 points against two Power 5 opponents and sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who threw for more than 900 yards in two starts last year, ranks 101st nationally in passing efficiency.
Fortunately, the Tigers defense is playing at a high level, averaging 7.0 points allowed (second in FBS) and 263.0 total yards (17th). The Wolfpack (2-1, 0-0), who were picked to finish second to Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division, have received a boost from sophomore Zonovan Knight, who ranks third in FBS averaging 8.5 yards per carry and has run for 298 yards overall.
Prediction: Clemson 24, North Carolina State 10
Rutgers at No. 19 Michigan (-21), 3:30 p.m., 6ABC
Off to their best start in nine years, the Scarlet Knights (3-0) have completed the feel-good portion of their schedule, outscoring Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware by a combined 123-34. But their colossal task in their Big Ten opener will be to slow down the Wolverines (3-0), who lead the nation in rushing (350.3 yards per game) and are third in scoring (47.0).
Michigan sophomore Blake Corum has three straight 100-yard rushing games and averages 8.5 yards per carry. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral is completing nearly 72% of his passes for 606 yards and four touchdowns.
However, the chances of the Scarlet Knights’ defeating a ranked team for the first time since 2009 suffered a blow when defensive backs Malachi Melton and Chris Long were suspended after being charged with three counts of aggravated assault stemming from an incident in which three people were struck by paintballs fired from a passing vehicle.
Prediction: Michigan 45, Rutgers 20
West Virginia at No. 4 Oklahoma (-17½), 7:30 p.m., 6ABC
In the Big 12 opener for both teams, the Sooners (3-0) remain in the top five despite a rather unimpressive 23-16 win last week over former archrival Nebraska, a game in which Heisman Trophy candidate Spencer Rattler threw for only 214 yards and a touchdown.
The Mountaineers (2-1) feel as if the time has come to defeat Oklahoma for the first time since they joined the conference in 2012. They are coming off a 27-21 win over then-No. 15 Virginia Tech with the help of Leddie Brown, who rushed for 161 yards. WVU leads the nation in red zone defense.
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, West Virginia 24
Tennessee at No. 11 Florida (-18½), 7 p.m., ESPN
The Gators (2-1, 0-1 SEC) gave it everything they had last week in front of a frenetic home sellout, coming within a late two-point conversion of forcing overtime against mighty Alabama. The concern will be how well Florida will bounce back playing again in front of its home fans.
The contest figures to be a duel between the Gators’ productive rushing attack (335.7 yards per game, second in FBS) and the Volunteers’ stingy run defense (54.3 yards per game, tied for fifth). Florida’s quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson and redshirt junior Emory Jones, are 1-2 in rushing, combining for 506 yards.
The Vols (2-1, 0-0) have lost eight straight in Gainesville, with their last win there being in 2003.
Prediction: Florida 37, Tennessee 17