Week 4 of the college football season should create some separation in terms of the College Football Playoff picture.
Three marquee matchups take place between ranked teams, starting with No. 11 Michigan at No. 13 Wisconsin (noon ET, FOX). The CBS double-header of No. 8 Auburn and No. 17 Texas A&M (3:30 p.m.) and No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 3 Georgia (8 p.m.) are also big pieces of that puzzle. The ABC showdown between Oklahoma State and No. 12 Texas isn’t bad either.
Every week, Sporting News will survey the landscape looking for Heisman contenders, coaches on the spot, upset alerts and other trends. With that in mind, get ready for Week 4:
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Notre Dame’s Ian Book can write signature performances in different fashions in Week 4.
Taylor compiled 237 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards and eight total totals in Wisconsin’s first two games, but he can leave a mark with a big-time performance against the Wolverines. Consider that Ron Dayne had 22 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown in a 21-16 loss against Michigan in 1999.
He still won the Heisman Trophy, but Taylor can get in the mix by playing even better against the Wolverines and Buckeyes, who are on the schedule on Oct. 26. Heisman finalists Montee Ball (2011) and Melvin Gordon (2014) did not have the opportunity to play the Wolverines in those seasons.
If Book leads the Irish to a victory against Georgia, then he will be a de facto contender the rest of the season. John Huarte was the last Notre Dame quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in 1964. Brady Quinn — who finished fourth in 2005 and third in 2006 — is the last Irish quarterback to be a finalist.
Book has 553 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions through two games, but the loudest Heisman statements always come on the road.
Coaches on the spot
Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh are the obvious answers this week. Both have the chance to score huge road wins.
Kelly gets a chance to lead the Irish to another statement victory on the big stage, which hasn’t happened since 2012. Notre Dame is 2-4 against top-10 teams on the road under Kelly.
Harbaugh is 1-5 against ranked teams on the road, and this is a chance to keep the Wolverines in the Big Ten hunt.
Kelly is 11-17 as an underdog with Notre Dame. Harbaugh is 0-6 with Michigan in the same spot.
This is a big chance for both programs to buck that trend.
We picked Michigan to beat Wisconsin, but that’s not a true upset.
Keep an eye on Utah-USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Utes have never won there, and sometimes that psychological factor can take over a game. Utah tried to go for two — and the win — in the last meeting in 2017.
Oklahoma State-Texas should be fun, too. The Cowboys have the nation’s leader in rushing yards and touchdowns with Chuba Hubbard (521 yards, seven touchdowns) and leader in receiving yards and touchdowns with Tylan Wallace (390 yards, six touchdowns). Oklahoma State has won the last five in Austin, and the pressure is on the Longhorns after a Week 2 loss to LSU.
Appalachian State-North Carolina is another big game, and not just because of the in-state ties. The Mountaineers could become an excellent New Year’s Day Six candidate, but that starts with a win here. The Tar Heels can improve to 3-1 heading into a Sept. 28 showdown with Clemson.
Part of the reason for the recent criticisms of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence — who has thrown five interceptions this season — is looking at those numbers against some of the other Heisman-contending quarterbacks this season.
Let’s face it, the Heisman is about stats. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Justin Fields have been the headliners with those stats so far this season.
So, Sporting News judged those quarterbacks on seven statistical categories Heisman voters are sure to look at:
|Quarterback||Perc.||Pass Yards||Pass TDs||Rush yards||Rush TDs||Total offense||Total TDs|
If you ranked the quarterbacks 1-5 in each category and scored it out based on five points for the best and one point for the worst, here is how that would look: Hurts (27.5), Burrow (23.5), Tagovailoa (21.5), Fields (18.5), Lawrence (13).
With or without Lawrence, that is what the top four in the Heisman voting would like as of now. Watch those seven categories as the season unfolds.
Think about it …
Florida and Tennessee were both ranked in 19 consecutive matchups from 1985-2007, a streak that featured heated rivalry matchups involving Peyton Manning, Steve Spurrier and big stakes in the SEC East.
Both teams have been ranked in only two of the last 12 matchups, and No. 9 Florida (3-0) welcomes Tennessee (1-2) to The Swamp on Saturday. For Florida, it’s a chance to maintain its spot as the best challenger for Georgia in the SEC East. Kyle Trask will be making his first start.
For the Vols, it’s a chance to keep their bowl hopes alive. For second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt, it’s a chance to cool the hot seat talk.
What would be good for the rivalry? To be honest, it might be a Tennessee victory. The Vols haven’t won at The Swamp since 2003, and it would erase the sting of the last loss there, a 26-20 thriller that ended with a Hail Mary from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland.
At least that would make for an exciting finish.